4 Common Traits of Expert Coaches

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Expert coaches aren’t necessarily the ones on ESPN winning series, cups, bowls, or titles. They may instead be the ones working hard to help adolescents learn teamwork and responsibility at local high schools. The measure of an expert coach isn’t the prestige of the position, but rather the quality of his or her team and its individual athletes, be they adolescents or Olympians.

Female coach discussing over tablet with volleyball players sitting on steps

“The coach must be the personality model for his players, as the team will often take on the personality of the coach,” youth coach Morgan Sullivan, MS, explains in “Attitude from the Top Down” on his blog. “By midseason, coaches will often see players imitate mannerisms and sayings displayed by the coaching staff. This is especially true in difficult situations, as the players will revert to what they know to be successful — and they can’t go wrong if they do what they think the coach would do. Make sure those mannerisms and sayings are ones you want your kids to repeat.”

Those considering a master’s in coaching degree can learn from expert coaches who have paved the way in their field. Experts get to where they are because they know how to strike a balance between winning games and providing a positive environment that enables athletes to grow and develop as a team.

Striking a Balance as a Coach

Coaches are responsible for the personal as well as physical development of their athletes. They must know how to communicate effectively, motivate their teams, and push young people toward improvement without endangering them.

“Most [coaches] have also undergone a shift in leadership styles, moving toward a leader-follower approach, in which care and empathy are critically important,” coaching expert James Vaughan writes in “Latest Research: Key Characteristics of the World’s Best Coaches” on PlayerDevelopmentProject.com. “[Athletes] truly believe their coaches care for them as individuals.”

Here are some of the most common qualities of a good coach, regardless of sport or venue:

Leadership by Example

Coaches who want their athletes to train, play, and act a certain way should lead by example. To show the way, coaches have to work on how they live their own lives, exhibiting the value system they want to see in their students.

“Coaches should expect their players to demonstrate positive attitudes, display good sportsmanship and treat others with respect,” according to “5 Traits of Highly Effective Coaches” on the Hudl.com blog. “The best way to ensure your players implement these behaviors is to lead by example. Coaches who show up on time, stay focused throughout practice, stay positive, and treat their athletes with courtesy are more likely to receive the same treatment from their players.

“Of course, even the most effective coaches get worked up from time to time. These incidents can be used as teaching moments as well. By managing their tempers and articulating their grievances in a productive way, highly effective coaches can show their players the right way to handle frustrating situations.”


The best intentions of coaches count for nothing unless they are skilled at communicating their thoughts and visions to others. Interacting with student-athletes involves knowing ahead of time exactly what you want to communicate, who is listening to your message, and how that message should be delivered to maximize its impact.

“Be it spoken or written word, or through our body language and facial expressions, our everyday social exchanges are often shaped by numerous factors, such as our personality, gender, age, environment, and the type and level of sport in which we take part in,” according to “Communication Tips for Effective Sports Coaches (& Teams)” on 5-a-Side.com.

Context is also important, the article notes. Coaches have to adapt their tone, language, and approach to their listeners, explaining the how and why as well as the what of the information they are trying to convey.

Finally, even conflict doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. A good leader can find a way to turn conflict into resolution.

“Most people assume that conflict is negative,” according to 5-a-Side. “However, it can actually be positive. Through the promotion of constructive discussion and exploration of problem solving, conflict can in fact help increase self-awareness and social skills, such as negotiation and listening, and can support the continued development and growth of team goals.”

Organization and Consistency

A team that trains in an unorganized, chaotic manner will likely be disorganized on the field. Expert coaches are often known for their organizational skills and for being consistent in what they say and do. Student-athletes who follow a disciplined, well-organized, consistent training regimen can grow and develop more effectively than those in a less organized environment.

“Though effective coaches may have different expectations for athletes of different skill levels, they set universal standards for things like effort, attitude, and attendance at the beginning of the season, and they maintain them throughout,” according to “5 Traits of Highly Effective Coaches” on Hudl.com. “Coaching is a challenge, but it becomes a little easier when your team walks into every game or practice with an idea of your expectations.”

Willingness to Listen

Leaders who ask a lot of questions of their teams and listen intently to the answers go into a game knowing how to maximize the team’s performance on the field. The more knowledge coaches have, the more problems they can solve effectively and efficiently.

“Research with experts consistently reveals that superior leaders ask a great many questions and then listen intently for the answers,” Paul G. Schempp, president of Performance Matters, Inc., writes in “Are You Listening?” on his blog.

“In fact, their highly developed listening skills are one reason they became outstanding performers, and why they continue to get better. Experts listen to gather facts, understand how something can be done, how it can be done differently, and most importantly, how it can be done better than it is currently being done. They listen in order to act.”

These traits are beneficial to coaches not just for sports activities, but for the personal growth of student-athletes. Beyond simply winning games, coaches can help guide their athletes into being better men and women in other aspects of life — especially if the coaches work in interscholastic sports with impressionable adolescents.

“The team members feel a collective responsibility to learn and follow the team values,” writes proactive coaching author Bruce Brown in “Ten Traits of Successful Programs” on CoachesNetwork.com. “People commit to the team values and live it in their actions. ‘This is the way we do things around here’ is something the team members are proud to express. The feeling is that ‘we don’t want to do anything that would let down the coaches, the team, and each other.’ Everyone is accountable.”

Ohio University’s Online Master of Coaching Education Program

Studying successful coaching leaders can help MCE students mold themselves into the coaches they hope to be one day. But aspiring coaches also need a strong educational foundation upon which to build their careers.

Ohio University excels at preparing coaches for positions ranging from middle school athletics departments to college. Graduates of OHIO’s master’s in coaching program can develop the technical and leadership skills required to coach a sports team, as well as learn how to improve their athletes’ athletic performance.

A master’s of coaching education curriculum includes management, leadership, and finance for coaches; injury prevention; performance and conditioning; ethics and diversity; and risk management. For more information on OHIO’s online coaching education master’s degree, contact OHIO today.


Recommended Reading

Coaching Careers on the Rise

Top 5 Most Inspirational Coaches of all Time

Establishing Core Covenants and the National Standards for Sports Coaching’s 8 Domains



Attitude from the Top Down – CoachMorganSullivan.com

Characteristics of the World’s Best Coaches – PlayerDevelopmentProject.com

5 Traits of Effective Coaches – Hudl.com

Communication Tips for Coaches – 5-a-Side.com

Are You Listening?  — PerformanceMattersInc.com

Ten Traits of Successful Programs – CoachesNetwork.com