What it Means for a Coach to be a Leader

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Sports coaches are vital to the integrity of each of the teams and the games that they oversee. Coaches play a large role for the teams and the individual players. Not only are they mentors for their players, but they also provide guidance and act as confidants when needed. The best coaches understand what it takes to be a great leader, and they live by those rules every day.

To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by Ohio University’s Online Masters in Athletic Administration program.

What it means for a coach to be a leader infographic

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are more than a quarter-million coaches in the United States today. Certainly, athletes look for leadership in their coaches regardless of their age and whether they are playing on a professional, amateur, school, or just-for-fun team.

The median wage for coaches was just $30,640 in May 2014, taking in to account those amateur teams. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a head coach for an NFL or other major league teams will easily earn over a million dollars, with his or her assistants earning six figures. Indeed, the New England Patriot’s head coach, Bill Belichick, earns $7.5 million dollars. That salary would be extraordinary if it were not eclipsed by the $8 million dollars being paid to Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks or Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints. With an average salary of nearly $5 million dollars per year, no head coach in the NFL earns less than $3.5 million dollars. In the NBA, salaries top out at $11 million. Major League Baseball doesn’t officially disclose their coach’s salaries, but we know that many are paid over $3 million dollars. (Think New York Yankees and Joe Girardi or Mike Scioscia and the Los Angeles Angels.)

While those large salaries obviously make life a little easier for the families, these men are super-motivated to win by those salaries as well. In the big leagues, there are only about 30 head coaches per league or about 600 of these highly sought-after jobs available. Obviously, a losing coach will not keep his job for long — especially when he’s being paid the big bucks!

So what does a sports coach do, and how do they go from the ranks of average to superstar? Leadership!

Coaches are employed by teams to teach; they teach amateur or professional athletes what they need to know to succeed in their particular sport. In addition, they often serve as mentors, guides, friends, and confidants for these athletes. Life is part of the game, so coaches that can help athletes navigate through its trials will be the most beloved by their players. We all know what that means in terms of performance. Players will give 110% for a coach that they truly care about and whom they believe cares about them.

Coaches teach much more than the sport they are coaching — let’s take a look at all they are responsible for handling.

  1. Philosophy and ethics is vital training for athletes to learn acceptable and safe behavior and to abide by that philosophy. (Somebody down the line obviously failed with Johnny Manziel.)
  2. Safety and Injury Prevention is critical, as the coach is frequently the first one to respond when one of his athletes is injured. He must know emergency care and how to prevent further injury. Additionally, he needs to be aware of unsafe equipment or other conditions.
  3. Physical Conditioning is imperative for athletes to perform at their highest level, and it is up to the coach to implement the proper regimens for their athletes. It’s important to use appropriate conditioning that prevents injuries to the greatest extent possible.
  4. Growth and Development is a key area where the right leader can help guide players to readiness for competition.
  5. Teaching and Communication is one of the most important aspects of a coach’s job. He must be able to teach fundamentals, identify weaknesses and maximize the potential of each of his charges.
  6. Sport Skills and Tactics are crucial in addition, as knowing these specific game tactics will help all team members to participate and perform optimally.
  7. Organization and Administration is an integral part of the coach’s job as they provide information, communicate needs and facilitate accountability to policies.
  8. Evaluation is key. The best coaches can evaluate their players or prospects and decide whether they will be a good fit or not. They are also skilled at recruiting those players who will make the team better or the best in its sport.

There are a few different winning coaching styles that have been identified, and following any of these three styles should aim you for the top ranks pretty quickly.

  1. Transformational Leadership is identified by the type of coach who leads by inspiring others, the type of coach that believes in the team and the individual and shares his optimism about his player’s potential.
  2. Autonomy-supportive Coaching helps athletes meet these three basics: have control and freedom, feel connected, and feel competent and successful.
  3. Athlete-centered Coaching focuses on the individual athlete and the balance between each and the good of the team. This type of coach will emphasize teamwork and altruism.

Which type of leadership style is best for a coach? The answer is that it depends on many factors, including:

  1. The level of the league play
  2. The players on the team
  3. The motivation of each player to do his or her best to win

Little league coaches will likely use a more hands-on approach as they teach the basics of the game to their players while inspiring them to dig deep and do their absolute best. The coach of a professional basketball team filled with veteran players might call for a more autonomous solution; after all, these athletes have lots of experience under their collective belts.

No matter what level a coach and his players are at, the need for leadership never waivers. It might change from one type of leadership to another over time and as the athletes mature and gain experience. But even the most talented players defer to the best coaches to help them get the most out of every practice and every single game they play.

Learn more about earning your online Master of Athletic Administration from Ohio University.