The Three Most Important Coaching Roles Every Coach Should Master

three_important_coaching_roles_postCoaches can play many roles - including medic, psychologist, chauffeur and sometimes equipment manager to name a few. There are three key roles that define the philosophy, practice and impact of a coach. The coaches who confuse these roles can find themselves making serious mistakes. The coaches who manage these roles effectively are the ones who win and change lives.



The coach as teacher - Every coach is a teacher who provides instruction in sport-specific skills and strategies. The best coaches also teach positive life skills like healthy living, positive character, self direction, teamwork and leadership. Even when coaches are not teaching with words, they are teaching with action. Their athletes watch them closely and learn from what they do.

The coach as leader - Every coach is also a leader, whether they realize it or not. As a leader, it is the coach’s job to provide purpose, direction and motivation to the athletes on the team. Like teaching, some coaches are better leaders than others. The best leaders produce teams that get the most out of their talent and play with a high degree of spirit, honor and trust. Coaches who lack leadership skills usually have teams that under-perform for their talent.

The coach as competitor - The third role of a coach is that of competitor. We don’t talk about this role as much as the roles of teacher and leader, but the coach’s competitive disposition is always a factor. A coach with a controlled and positive competitive disposition can teach their athletes important life lessons about competing with honor. Coaches who lack competitive self-restraint can cause serious problems for athletes under their supervision.

Role Confusion

Most coaches who make serious mistakes are confused about their role priorities. They may have good intentions about teaching and leading for positive youth development, but when they get into competitive situations their own need to win over-rides their commitment to doing what is right for their athletes’ personal development. They make rash decisions aimed at winning in the moment without realizing or caring that they may be damaging the positive development of their own athletes. Their athletes see this for what it is, and revoke their trust in the coach as a teacher and leader. Then the coach wonders why the team plays tight under pressure and why the athletes don’t stay loyal to the program.

Taking Action

The truth is that few coaches are completely immune to the risk of putting their competitive instincts ahead of positive development of their athletes. The driving will to win can get the best of anyone. Positive competition is good, but we do need competitive self-restraint, which is simply the practice of putting the needs of our athletes ahead of our own need to win. We can accomplish this by:

  • Reminding ourselves that as adults we are teachers and leaders of young people first and competitors second.

  • Committing to make positive youth development our highest mission as a coach.

  • Judging ourselves not on our win-loss record, but on the content of our athletes’ competitive character and positive development.


None of this means that winning is unimportant or not worth pursuing.  It simply means we will not compromise the positive development of our athletes for the sake of a scoreboard.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Elevating Athletes for this encouraging article.
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