What Skills Do Sports Coaches and Athletic Directors Need to be Successful

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Coach with a player on the field


Sports coaches may be voices on the field and strategists in the locker room, but their influence runs far deeper. Coaches play a variety of roles for their athletes, from parent figures to life mentors. Athletic directors set the tone for a successful athletic program through hiring great staff and ensuring that the background work gets done.

No matter the role, the success of accomplished coaches and athletic directors is earned through hard work and ceaseless education for those who are willing to commit themselves. There are skills that coaches and athletic directors can develop and utilize in order to grow from a competent coach into a highly successful one.

Clear Communication

Effective communication is the lynchpin of success; not just for sports coaches, but in every aspect of life. Most challenges and obstacles arise from miscommunication, making it a vital skill to master in the pursuit of success. Miscommunication can also lead to player injury and mediocre performance.

To coach is to awaken, develop, and enhance skills and performance, yet there are still more responsibilities that are critical. To coach includes the building of relationships through genuine communication. Coaches who can truly connect with their athletes will make further progress than if they simply bark instructions. The ability to truly connect with athletes is one of those skills that cannot be taught, but can be strengthened through different forms of communication.

Communication isn’t only about conveying a message; it includes listening intently. Listening may be the most important part of the communication process. People naturally speak more than they listen, so a successful coach must master the skill of focused listening. When a coach listens to his team and individual athletes, they accumulate information that will benefit training and progress; attentive listening can also help to build trust and a stronger relationship between coaches and players.


As a skill, organization is critical if an athletic director wants to achieve success. Planning and organization keep the athletes engaged. Without a plan, athletes and coaches may lose motivation or sight of the goal, and progress will be challenging.

Systems and routines not only nurture progress, but allow coaches to track progress in detail. Attaining reachable daily goals, individual goals and external goals helps players maintain focus. When visible progress, through data, can be verified, coaches are exercising a method of motivation and inspiration.

Maintaining organization glues the team together, and can reduce anxiety about competition. Treating game play as if it was another day helps athletes’ better handle stressful situations. This skill is also valuable in dealing with external life situations, such as staying calm during an interview or reducing stress in a delicate situation.

Observation and Analysis

Coaches must see beyond the physical and perceive beyond the basics. They must observe details, and analyze how to enhance their athletes beyond what they find possible. Understanding all aspects of performance — both mental and physical — is not easy and can be taxing. Successful coaches stay vigilant, aware, and comprehend their athletes spoken and unspoken needs.

A coach’s observation and analysis must be inward as well. As an important part of the overall evaluation process, coaches need to stay aware of themselves and maintain humility. Coaches who are self-aware and humble set model behavior for their players to follow. Through a coach’s analysis of themselves and their players, innovative new methods can be discovered to improve and enhance performance.


Finally, but no less important, is the ability to produce original and fresh ideas. The biggest leap taken toward success by coaches involves finding unique methods to invigorate and energize their athletes. Through never-ending education and commitment, coaches eventually create their own distinctive strategies for success.

Innovation is what drives progress. Learning and practicing successful methods inspire new and interesting ways to push athletic limits higher. Not all new ideas work, but failures can be just as helpful as successes. Just as Wayne Gretzky once said, “you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” Coaches who can learn from failures are taking advantage of every situation, and once again setting a positive example for their athletes.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). For more information, contact an enrollment advisor at Ohio University.


Brian Mac Sports Coaching, “Coaching Roles and Skills”
The Sports Journal, “Characteristics Contributing to the Sucess of a Sports Coach”