What makes a good coach? Part 1

Coaching, Team, Sports

Coaching, at its most influential.

I could go on for hours on the topic of coaching, and over time I will. At the very least, I hope it will be interesting. So I’ve planned a series of posts on the topic.

For starters, I’d like to share a bit of a story: Mine. (Yeah, I know, boooring. Bear with me, it has some insights you might find valuable.)

This is the story of how I got started as an “athlete”. Or, more to the point, how I became an athlete without really realizing it.

And it’s all because of a coach.


As a young child, I did like most of the kids in my neck of the Canadian woods: I played hockey. Although I was reasonably good, especially as a goalie, I only lasted 2 seasons.

Somehow, at 5-6 years of age, I had to endure the politics of sports managed by grown-ups. So, no, the story does not feature that coach.

In retrospect, hockey wasn’t my thing, even though I continued to play for fun, on ice and on snow-covered streets, throughout my childhood. But officially, I retired from hockey at 6, and spent the next few years mostly reading books.

Until the end of grade 9, I was considered pretty much hopeless as far as sports went. Last to be picked at dodge ball, unable to swim to save my life, not able to score hoops at mini-basketball, no running endurance, etc. You know the type.

New Beginnings

All of that changed at the end of grade 9, when I showed up at a volleyball camp.

Coaching, Training, Sports, Volleyball

Beginnings are key. But there can be many beginnings…

You see, volleyball season was over, but the coach was setting up this camp in order to get kids interested for the next season. Through games and challenges, he got us to build some basic skills as well as have quite a bit of fun.

One thing you need to understand already about this coach is that he cared about the long-term development of his teams, and the athletes thereof.

I recall that it was pretty difficult. But the challenges were achievable. And then you’d move on to the next level.

It was enough fun that when the next school semester started in September of my grade 10, I signed-up for volleyball. Me, almost the least athletic nerd around.

At volleyball practice, however, it was all about rising to the challenges put before us by the coach. And having fun. Very progressively, he developed us into volleyball players. He knew what he was doing; so much so, in fact, that we didn’t have to do any more than show up at practice and do what he told us to do.

In relatively short order, without really noticing it, I became one of the best players from a technical standpoint. I could not do much about my height, but I also compensated reasonable well by being fast and jumping higher than almost everyone else. And everyone around me was progressing, too. Some faster than others; yet everyone was gaining skills and fitness.


If you are paying attention, you now also know that this coach was tailoring the training to the skill levels of his athletes, and making sure they could progress according to their own abilities. We, the would-be athletes, did not have to do any extra training, or even think about it: all we had to do was show up and do as we were told.

Our coach did not need to motivate us to learn, or to show up for practice. We wanted to. Because he made it fun to be there, fun to learn.

We had reasonable success in the local league that year, even though our large pool of players was split into two evenly matched teams, so that the entire league could have a full complement of 5 teams.

When the next season came along, we moved on to the inter-city league. Now we were “big boys”, in grade 11, playing against guys that were older and much stronger (at first) than us.

But it did not last.

Through more playful challenges and gradual development of play tactics, for which by now we were getting ready, I moved from “the small guy on the team” to starting setter, challenging and, by mid-season, beating, the other setter who was a year older than me.

The team, that year, went on to finish second in the inter-city league, and win the regional civil championship to earn a spot for the provincial championship.

How did we do it?


Our coach adapted tactics to the team we had; the unique blend of athletes we were, and the situations we were in. He had the right encouragement at the right time. He pushed us when it was time (we started serious physical conditioning only that year, for instance), and told us to let go when it wasn’t time to push.

When he was upset, we paid attention. When he was pleased, he was able to make us all feel good.

He was a friend, and a bit of cheerleader at times, but not all that often. For the most part, he knew his stuff, and he was extremely well prepared to guide us through planned training sessions that had both physical and technical development goals.

No idle play, ever. No wasted time. Every drill had a purpose. Even the 4 on 4, 3 on 3, 2 on 2, and 1 on 1 games we played were challenges to build personal skills and team cohesion. And by then it was fun to challenge each-other that way.

Are you getting the picture I’m trying to paint?

Coaching, Team, Volleyball, Training

To reach high levels of performance, a coach is the way to go.


As a side-story, by the beginning of grade 11 our coach had asked for help from us “athletes” to develop younger kids for future seasons. Some of us helped out, first by using or copying training sessions our coach would prepare, and later by applying the same principles and directing our sessions ourselves. That’s how I learned how to build a training session: by absorbing it, not by reading about it.

He encouraged us to learn as much as possible, but did not push. Not everybody got involved.

By the time I turned 16 and moved on to grade 12, my last year of high school, I was a certified coach and I had the responsibility of two local teams (about 20 kids, some barely two years younger than me). Oh, and I was the star setter of my admittedly small region.

Many of us from that team, built by that coach, went on to play varsity at the college and university levels. Some of the athletes I coached also did, but that’s more because they were later on coached by “my” coach as well…

We never found a better coach, no matter how far or “high” we went in our sporting careers.

Since that time coaching has been second-nature to me. You could say I learned well; I think I had an amazing example to follow.

And it’s been hard for other coaches to live up to that. But that’s an entirely other story.

One thing is certain: Learning to be a coach and coaching “the right way” has helped me through school (whether I tutored friends, or as a TA in grad school) as well as professionally (when it was time to train partners and resellers on new features, speak publicly, or simply give a presentation to colleagues). By witnessing, later on analyzing, and ultimately integrating how my coach was doing it, I was able to do the same in various settings.

The End (of the Beginning)

And that was the story. Next time, the lessons.

Pictures from Pixabay

What’s wrong with this picture?


Just a hint: It’s not just in the picture.

No, it is not the Navy game; nothing against that. It is not because it is American Football; though I’m not a fan, it is a very demanding sport. And it is not the picture itself, though I might have framed it differently.

Here’s what is wrong with this picture:

For some 40 guys that are playing a game, there are thousands in the stands just sitting on their rear ends, watching. And eating bad stuff. And drinking even worse stuff (and I don’t mean just the beer).

What’s worse, a large portion of them drove (see all the cars?) to be able to sit and watch a very small group of people move.

What’s worst, for those thousands watching the game in this stadium, there are many more watching from the comfort of their living rooms, not even having walked to their cars, and then from their cars to the stadium, to watch. And who knows what stuff those watching from home eat and drink? (Though you can bet it is less expensive than what is sold in the stadium.)

Why am I picking on this?

Just to make a simple point: As a society, we love to watch sports. And if you move plenty the rest of the time, it is not a bad thing. But we are way too sedentary; we tend to watch a lot, and not move nearly enough. And while we watch, all too often we eat at the same time…

It’s a perfect recipe for loss of fitness, weight gain, metabolic stress, etc.

Perhaps it is not your case. Perhaps I am preaching to choir, as they say. But the point remains: To be more fit, we need to watch less, and move more.

Photo from Pixabay.