The Four Most Powerful Words of a Coach

In this article for coaches, youth coaching expert Steve Horan discusses the four most powerful words a coach can say to a player.

“I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you.”

This quote comes from the great French Coach Blaise Pascal.  Actually Pascal was not a coach, he was a 17th century physicist, mathematician, and religious philosopher.  But based on this quote alone, the guy had potential as a coach.  He knew a lot about people.

Most of us, if we are lucky, have had an experience where someone said ‘I believe in you,’ or words to that effect, at a crucial point in our lives.  Those words probably came when we were struggling in sports or in school or a discouraging life situation.  The idea that someone believed in us transformed the way we looked at ourselves and our future.  We moved forward with a new outlook and spirit.

“It’s an amazing thing if you can look in someone’s eyes and tell ‘em you believe in them. It’s one of the things that we do not do enough. I get kids that come to my summer camp, parents go to these Little League games and they’re watching kids… they’ve gotta tell them, ‘I believe in you. I believe in you.’”   Mike Krzyzewski

One of the pleasures of coaching is we get to deliver that same experience to our athletes.  The challenge, as Coach K alludes to in the quote, is remembering to do it often enough.

Coaches have a lot to deal with in a very compressed period of time.  We find ourselves preoccupied with all of the demands of life in addition to preparing a team to function in a competitive environment.  Amidst these responsibilities it is easy to forget that each of our athletes looks to us for affirmation.  This is especially true for those athletes who are injured or at the end of the bench.

The good news is we can incorporate brief affirmations into our daily coaching practice without spending an inordinate amount of time.  It only takes about 30 seconds to pull an athlete aside, affirm what he or she is doing well, and say:

‘I believe in you.  You can do this.  It’s inside you.  I’ve seen it in flashes.  You can bring it out all the time if you work hard and have fun with it. And I will help you.  But you have to be willing to do the work.’

The even better news is, ‘I believe in you’ wins.  Think about the things that bring athletes down.  At or near the top of the list are lack of confidence, lack of motivation, lack of commitment, and lack of trust. An ‘I believe in you’ from the coach is an immediate confidence builder.  “I believe in you’ also says ‘ I care about you,’ which is a key motivating factor in any player-coach relationship.  That sense of being cared about — that I as an athlete matter to this coach and this team - is the foundation of commitment and trust.  And it is commitment and trust which move the athlete to play hard and smart and quick and tough and together with their team.

Think about your athletes.  Which of them may be struggling?  It might be the star in a slump.  It might be the rising star confronting new responsibilities.  It might be an injured veteran who feels isolated from the team.  It might be a role player who sees little playing time.  They all need affirmation - and will play better as a result.  To look in their eyes and say ‘I believe in you,’ and mean it, is perhaps the greatest gift you could give them.  And in return, they will believe in you too.

About Steve Horan

Steve Horan is a long-time youth sports coach, administrator, and parent.  He is also a researcher, trainer, and consultant in leadership and community health.  He is the CEO of Community Health Solutions, and holds a PhD in Education from the University of Virginia.  Steve is also the founder and editor of, a website dedicated to coaching for positive youth development.

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