July: Coaching in the 21st Century

The Role of the Coach in the 3rd Decade of the 21st Century

Coaching is in its most dynamic era as coaches’ work with increasingly diverse populations and face heightening demands from their athletes and the general public.

There are broader aims, higher expectations and more defined roles. There is access to greater information and visibility to a larger community in this digital age. All these factors make coaching both more exciting and taxing than ever before. The International Council for Coaching Excellence has established a framework of six (6) primary functions of a coach that will help to fulfill the core purpose of guiding development and improvement


 The coach creates a vision and a strategy based upon the needs and development of the athletes and the organizational and social context of the program.


 The coach recruits and contracts to work with a group of athletes and take the responsibility for setting out plans for both training and competition. The coach also seeks to maximize the learning environment in which the program occurs through personnel, facilities, resources, best practices and the management of other coaches and support personnel.


 The Coach builds positive and effective relationships with the athletes and others associated with the program.  The coach is responsible for engaging, contributing and influencing the atmosphere of the organization and program.


 The Coach organizes suitable and appropriate practices that challenge the athletes and targets preparation for competitions for the athletes. Positive competitions are required experiences for continued development and improvement.


 The Coach observes and responds to all events (practice and competitive) appropriately. Development of effective decision making is essential to fulfilling this function.


 UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden made the comment “You have not taught until they have learned.”  When the coach focuses on what the athletes are learning instead of what the coach is saying development and improvement will occur at a more effective rate.

Although one of the main roles of a coach is evaluating training programs and sessions, coaches must also support the development and education of other coaches.

Recent studies have shown that novice coaches are ill prepared in the following areas:

  • Motivating athletes
  • Managing and resolving conflict
  • Building relationships
  • Effective communication
  • Management topics
  • Competition preparation

Coaches can no longer depend upon their love of the sport to carry them through the complicated maze that is todays coaching arena. Therefore, coaches must develop or have available a plethora of skills to meet the needs of the athletes who they aspire to service. These include:

  • Knowing how to effectively communicate with the athletes
  • Understanding the learning process and training principles
  • Understanding and implementing the appropriate training methods
  • Understand the various coaching styles
  • Advise athletes on safety
  • Understand the causes and recognize the symptoms of over-reaching and over-training
  • Understand how to reduce the chance of injury for your athletes
  • Understand individual differences between athletes
  • Assist athletes to develop new skills

One of the KEY elements to being a successful coach is to understand HOW ATHLETES LEARN.

The table below is an adaptation from the approach to learning recommended by the International Center for Leadership in Education. It is of prime importance to understand that poor habits learned early are almost irreversible and that the pursuit of proper technique is paramount in all aspects of training.



What are the skills the Athlete needs to know?



Can the Athlete successfully complete these skills?



Can the Athlete successfully complete these skills routinely and automatically?



Can the Athlete successfully complete these skills routinely and automatically in a unique situation? (competition)

Coaches need to realize that each athlete will pass through the quadrants at their own pace and the ability of the coach to differentiate both training and coaching to fit the needs of the athletes is a skill to be developed. It does little good to create tasks or training programs that the athlete cannot successfully complete, especially when dealing with youth or entry level athletes.

Knowing which quadrant an individual athlete is in allows practice to be more effective and, again, successful for the athlete.

Nothing is of more value than the emotional, physical, cultural and even spiritual health of the athletes entrusted to our care. You can never control the factors that influence winning or placing but you can influence the factors that influence performance and in the, very, end it is performance that matters.


For those of us that will mentor and guide coaches the quadrant can be applied to the development of confident, competent and effective coaches.



What are the skills the Coach needs to know?



Can the Coach successfully complete these skills?



Can the Coach successfully complete these skills routinely and automatically?



Can the Coach successfully complete these skills routinely and automatically in a unique situation? (competition)


The Quadrant may be used as a reflective tool to reference back to the original 6 areas of the Coaching Framework developed by the ICCE.

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