The 8 Qualities of a Great Coach

By September 16, 2016 No Comments

What makes a great leader? What qualities or characteristics does a great coach possess? How do we know when we see great leaders and coaches? Does it come solely from win-loss records? These are all great questions which are asked often. I believe there are great coaches all around us, at all levels of sport. This week we’re going to look at one collegiate coach and eight traits he possesses which can help us all become great coaches.

On Wednesday morning I read one of the best articles I’ve come across in a long time. The article was about Clemson’s Head Football Coach, Dabo Swinney. It centered on his response to the National Anthem protest taking place in the NFL. His response was phenomenal and was in line with our post from a few weeks ago.

In his press conference Dabo said he would prefer his players to stand during the anthem, but he would not punish them for expressing their rights. He also said we have a sin problem in our country and we need to love our neighbors. Dabo also said he didn’t care if it was politically incorrect, but we need to get back to Jesus.

I really admire Dabo for speaking out on this issue and for not being afraid to share his opinion. After reflecting on his thoughts I began to think of the traits he has which make him a great coach. I believe these traits are ones we can emulate. Here are eight traits of a great coach:

Great coaches lead from the heart. It’s apparent from everything I’ve read on Dabo Swinney that he leads from the heart. When we lead from the heart we have a servant mentality. Servant leaders put others first and make sure their needs are being met. One of the greatest human traits is the ability to be empathetic. In a program it’s important that all members are valued and feel important. Leading from the heart naturally produces a genuine care and concern for team members.  Great coaches have genuine empathy for fellow coaches, players, and all members of the organization.


Great coaches treat others how they want to be treated. In his press conference Coach Swinney commented that we need to love our neighbors. Great coaches realize they can’t do it alone. No one can do life alone, we weren’t built for it. We need companionship. These relationships just don’t happen by themselves. People will only follow the leader if they truly feel as if they care about them and have their best interest at heart. Matthew 22:37-40 says to, “love your neighbor as yourself.” And that’s what great coaches do, they love their peers and players.

Great coaches learn from the greats. Coach Sweeney referenced the great Martin Luther King Jr. in his press conference. He talked about how through the use of love Dr. King was able to change the world. Great coaches and leaders all heed the lessons of the greats before them. John Wooden was a voracious reader. John Calipari is usually reading three books at a time. Great coaches are constantly seeking information, especially from successful peers. They understand the value in seeking wisdom from those before them. Great coaches ask more questions than anyone else, and they listen more than they talk.

Great coaches have contagious belief. One thing Dabo Swinney does is believe in his players. This belief is expressed on a daily basis. Coaches have to express this both publicly and privately. This is reflected in the old adage, “Shout praise and whisper criticism.” Coach Swinney expresses his confidence and belief about his players to them as individuals, together as a group, and publicly to the media. You cannot have a great team unless the players know their coach believes in them. Great coaches bring out the best in their players through their contagious belief.


Great coaches teach more than the game. If the only thing that matters is the win-loss record, the coach has failed his or her players. The memories of scores and games will fade but the shared experiences and lessons learned will last a lifetime. One of the greatest joys a coach can experience is seeing former players become successful working adults and parents. Sports are only a part of who we are. The person is always more important than the player. The great coaches believe this and make it a priority to teach valuable life lessons.

Great coaches have no ego. It’s not uncommon to see head coaches who surround themselves with peers who challenge them. The truly great coaches know it’s not about them. It’s about the players. They are not afraid to have assistants on staff who are just as good, if not better than they are. Great coaches know great programs achieve sustained success only by having different perspectives come together for the common good. If everyone’s always thinking the same thing, no one is really thinking. In order to be a great coach, one must not be intimidated by others, and be willing to surround himself with coaches who will bring out the best. Great coaches are not afraid of others getting the spotlight or credit.

Great coaches have fun. It sounds simplistic but it’s importance can’t be overstated. Great coaches, like Dabo Swinney, bring others up to their level. Their passion and energy is felt by all who come into contact with them. Great coaches also realize it cannot be work and business 24/7. There has to be fun team activities and events planned. Coaches must let their guard down and show players their true personality. Players respond when coaches let their guards down and have fun.


Great coaches express love and gratitude. Great coaches like Dabo Swinney, Mike Krzyzewski, Billy Donovan, and Geno Auriemma truly love their players. They follow the model of the greatest coach of all time, John Wooden. Great coaches go out of their way to get to know their players. They develop strong relationships with them and express their gratitude to them. Players know these coaches love them by their actions and words. Coaches show this love by always having genuine care and concern for the player and their family’s well being. Players play harder and sacrifice more when they feel loved. Great coaches love all members of the organization and express their gratitude to them.

What are some other traits you believe great coaches have?

As always, thanks for listening, have a great week, and be an RGP today!

Coach Elmendorf is available to speak to your team, group, or organization. Message him for details.