7 Things Teachers and Leaders Can Learn from Coaches

When we stop to analyze what coaches do on a regular basis to grow individual players and teams, it doesn’t take long to realize they are modeling excellent teaching and leadership strategies. Oftentimes they may not even realize this. It’s just what effective coaches do. 

We can all learn from our coaches, and I hope this reflection encourages all of us to step up our games as we seek to grow the students and teachers we serve.

Below are seven things great coaches do extremely well. 

Great coaches share their vision of high expectations for players and teams. Expectations for personal conduct, individual growth, and team success are discussed regularly during practices, games, and film sessions. A vision and subsequent expectations drive a team’s effort and commitment towards excellence. 

Great coaches are excellent communicators. Not only do they regularly communicate their vision and expectations, but they visit with players individually to offer feedback and evaluation. Their players have the opportunity to share what they believe to be their strengths and weaknesses, as well as how they envision their contributions to the team. Together, coaches and players set individual goals for improvement. Coaches will use these opportunities to share with their players what they see as their strengths, where they can grow, and how their contributions can benefit the team.

Great coaches have a team of players who will “run through a brick wall” for them. This doesn’t happen by accident. Great coaches make a point to build relationships by: 
  • Offering regular encouragement
  • Demonstrating care, concern, and interest in their players as people
  • Providing players a voice on the team. Players appreciate when their perspective matters and when they’re empowered with freedoms and responsibilities. 

Great coaches set an amazing example of providing effective feedback. The feedback is timely, purposeful, and followed by an opportunity to demonstrate understanding. It is common for coaches to stop practice multiple times to provide feedback to individuals and the team. Feedback also occurs in games during timeouts, at halftime, and when a player is resting on the bench. This feedback is driven by the vision and expectations which have already been shared by the coach, and understood and agreed upon by the players.

Great coaches must first, and foremost, model expectations of excellence for personal conduct, character, and integrity. Great coaches are also effective at modeling what excellence (success criteria) looks like in their particular sport. They constantly model proper techniques while continuing to provide effective feedback. Players are then able to visualize what success looks like and use their new mental images to correct mistakes and grow as players. 

Great coaches use video so players can see themselves in action. The conversations and feedback during film sessions can be extremely powerful at showing players where they’re performing very well and also areas which need improvement. 

Professional Learning
Great coaches are students of their craft. They constantly seek ways to help their players maximize potential. One way they do this is by searching for new drills to improve their players' fundamentals. Practice time is limited, so it is important to get the team game-ready in the most effective, most efficient manner possible. They observe what other coaches do in case there's something which could be implemented with their own team. Sometimes it's a drill, as mentioned, while other times it's an offensive or defensive set or scheme. If there's a way to make their players or teams better, they are quick to add it to their repertoire. Great coaches are constantly finding ways to learn more about their sport, coaching, and leadership. They do this by networking with other coaches, watching film, observing other coaches in action, reading coaching literature and playbooks, etc. Great coaches understand they do not have all of the answers and must constantly be learning and improving to give their players the best opportunity for success.

Each of the first six things are related to some of the most powerful influences on student achievement according to John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research. The hinge point in the Visible Learning Research is 0.40, which is one year’s growth for one year’s time. Below are effect sizes for some of the strategies mentioned above:
  • Vision, expectations, and goal-setting may be most closely related to Teacher Clarity which has an effect size of 0.75 - almost two years' worth of growth in one year’s time.
  • Student-teacher relationships have an effect size of 0.52.
  • Feedback has an effect size of 0.70. Modeling can also be an important component to feedback.
  • Micro-teaching has an effect size of 0.88.

As I reflect on these seven areas, I am reminded of the need for me to be better with each of them. Whether you serve as a coach, teacher, or administrator, how can these help you foster a culture of growth and excellence?

Doug Dunn is currently athletic director and junior high principal for the Licking (MO) School District. He has previously served as a K-8 superintendent and elementary principal. Doug can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.