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“Coach” is a Verb, Not a Noun

By Brett Klika C.S.C.S.

What makes a great coach? Is it the number of years they spent in school studying coaching? Probably not, as the 5 most successful coaches that immediately come to mind do not have a “Dr.” in front of their name. Is it their own successful athletic prowess? No again, as I cannot really recall many, if any, hall of fame athletes that went on to be hall of fame coaches. Are there secret drills, equipment, or other methodologies that give certain coaches an edge? Access to technology and advanced training methods does not hurt, but if it were that easy, any geek of the street could win a national title if they could fortify their equipment shed and coaching notepad. Merely being knowledgeable and experienced in a sport does not guarantee coaching success. Then what does? The answer to the question is that great coaches inspire greatness in their teams by COACHING.

While any team can win in a fluke year when they get the best recruits or their players just “click”, when a team repeatedly demonstrates success year after year, there is something special going on. It isn’t a mere random occurrence. When you watch these teams train, it is like a well-orchestrated performance. There is no wasted time. The coach doesn’t utter a wasted word. The coach and players are well aware of their expectations and put it all on the line to fulfill them. When you watch these practices, the coach isn’t hard to find. He or she is not off talking on the cell phone, fraternizing with other coaches, or spending time and energy inventing diabolical punishment drills for shortcomings of random expectations. The coach of a successful team is in the action. They EXUDE a clear expectation. It is clear that their primary interest is in the success of everyone involved with the team or training environment. The coach creates an environment in which the athletes want to get better.

While much of coaching is an art, there has actually been quite a bit of scientific research observing the specific coaching behaviors of successful and unsuccessful coaches and teachers in the athletic realm. Research on coaching and physical education in the United States suggests that many athletic educators fail to employ coaching skills effectively during training and class time. This significantly compromises the quality of training and resulting outcome of the limited time they have to impact their youth. Behavioral sports psychologist, Dr. Tom Mckenzie, has dedicated his career to researching effective teaching and coaching in the realm of physical activity. I had the opportunity to study under Dr. Mckenzie in grad school and what I learned from him made a tremendous impact on my coaching career.

Through tens of thousands of hours of observation in athletic and physical education environments around the world, Dr. Mckenzie and his team were able to identify specific coaching behaviors and assess their effectiveness based on the outcome of individuals and teams. They found that some coaching behaviors detracted from the effectiveness of the practice environment, some made it flourish. Below is a description of some of these coaching behaviors and how they contribute, or detract, from creating an optimal environment for learning and performance.

Detracting Coaching Behaviors (minimize): These are coaching behaviors that decrease the effectiveness of the training environment.

  • Administrative Activities: These are identified as activities that may be necessary for the management of a practice and team, but do not contribute to the learning environment. Setting up and tearing down drills, talking on the phone, taking roll, doing paperwork, talking to parents, etc. are all examples of administrative activities. These are necessary to a degree, but should be minimized while engaged with athletes and classes. Research determined that this is how many coaches spend a majority of their time with athletes in the U.S. ATTENTION: GET OFF YOUR CELL PHONE!
  • Punishment: Punishment is identified as negative repercussion for a shortcoming of some coaching expectation. Punishment activities such as push-ups, extra running, etc., do not teach any skill and actually compromise the ability to execute the skill properly in the future. No coaching is happening during punishment. Research determined that many coaches spend a disproportionate amount of time punishing athletes. ATTENTION: THE MORE PUNISHMENT YOU USE, THE WORSE COACH YOU ARE!
  • Unrelated Conversation: It is important as a coach to connect with your athletes, but when personal conversations and other matters that do not pertain to the coaching tasks at hand begin to consume a majority of time, this can significantly detract from the focus and intensity of training. ATTENTION: KEEP YOUR PERSONAL AND COACHING LIVES SEPARATE!

Successful Coaching Behaviors (maximize): These are coaching behaviors that increase the effectiveness of the training environment.

  • Corrective Feedback: This is communicating specific, corrective strategies for athletes to improve their abilities. Corrective feedback can be found in the definition of the verb “coach”. Corrective feedback is a coach’s primary job. A majority of coaching time should be spent creating opportunities for corrective feedback. Unfortunately, research determined that most coaching interactions forgo corrective feedback in favor of communicating to an athlete what their shortcomings are without providing strategies for improvement. ATTENTION: “COACH” IS A NOUN, NOT A VERB!
  • Specific Praise: Specific praise is commending an athlete for an accurate response to corrective feedback. This is a great communication strategy as it allows the athlete to positively assess their progress. ATTENTION: AS A COACH, BE SPECIFIC!

Inert Coaching Behaviors: These are coaching behaviors that don’t necessarily contribute or detract from the coaching environment. The result is not necessarily negative, but no learning is really taking place. While these will and should be present while coaching, the more time spent with successful coaching behaviors the better.

  • General Praise: These are “cheerleading” activities that are very effective for creating a motivating, engaging, practice environment, but do very little for teaching. General praise should be used often during coaching, but should not account for a majority of coaching time unless you are working with extremely young athletes (3-5 years old). ATTENTION: CREATE A POSITIVE ENVIRONMENT, BUT DON’T FORGET TO COACH!
  • Silence: This is when a coach isn’t saying or doing anything. They may be watching, evaluating, etc. Silence isn’t bad, as there is more to coaching than spewing verbiage at your athletes all day. Continuous silence however, would suggest that you are unengaged as a coach. Your athletes desire and expect feedback. It is your job to provide this as a coach. ATTENTION: USE SILENCE SPARINGLY

Dr. Mckenzie has won international acclaim for his work. As I said, it has made a significant impact on my coaching career. If you desire to be a better coach, teacher, or trainer, audit your practice time. How much of your time do you spend on the above activities? Is a majority of that time in the “success” or “detracting” categories? Running an honest self assessment, or having an outsider evaluate you is one of the best ways to continue improving as a coach.

Let’s be better coaches and use our time with youngsters wisely. We are at the front lines in the battle for the future of the physical health and well-being of our nation. Let’s work together to create happy, healthy, pain-free future adults!

Brett Klika C.S.C.S. Director of Athletics at Fitness Quest 10, is a world renowned human performance specialist, motivational speaker, author, and educator. In his 14 year career, Brett has accrued more than 20,000 hours of training with youth, athletes, executives, and every day people. He uses this knowledge and experience to motivate individuals and audiences around the world through his writing, speaking, DVD’s, an d personal correspondence. For a copy of his new e-book and exercise program “The Underground Workout Manual- Exercise and Fat Loss in the Real World” visit To contact Brett, send correspondence to

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