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5 Sure-Fire Ways to be a Great Head Coach

Think of the best coach you ever had. What was it that made them so good? Now, if you are a member of a teams staff could you explain what makes a great head coach and why you would want to keep working with them.

Here are five sure-fire ways you could be a great head coach. It’s not an exhaustive list but these would be very high on my priority list.


Just like a player in a team, staff need to know exactly what is required of them and because they work in a team environment they need to know how what they do positively impacts the teams performance. Being clear, as a staff member, on what they are expected to do makes life a lot easier and goes along way to the efficiency and effectiveness of the teams performance.

A head coach is ultimately responsible for ensuring each staff member knows their role in the team and how that fits in with the teams performance. The second part of the equation is vitally important because the staff may know what their roles are but if they can't recognise when and how to do the role within the team environment, then they aren’t going to be as effective as they would like. For example, as an S & C coach they may know exactly what is required of them to develop speed in the players because they have sat down with the head coach who has made it clear that the players need to be faster. However, if they are not sure what the head coaches plans are for preparing the team or what format the sessions will take then the S & C coach will be coaching blind in effect. 

The process of clarifying the role and the how and why and when of executing it is also not a one-way street. The head coach has to create the opportunity to create that role clarity but the staff member has to be in on the process. It lends itself to the psychological safety of staff members to feel their opinion is valued, that they are seen as an expert in their field, and that they have some ownership of their role. By the head coach facilitating the process of creating role clarity for each staff member and not dictating it to them, they will develop loyalty and trust, which will add fuel to the development of team culture.


A head coach has to make their staff feel comfortable to disagree. One of the worst things to happen to a head coach is for them to surround themselves with “YES” people. The result is a dominance dynamic that stifles creativity, innovation, and diversity of thinking as soon as complexity is introduced to the team culture, functioning and execution. YES people simply nod and smile at everything the head coach says and don’t challenge their thinking. 

There needs to be an element of dissent in the staff ranks held together with a healthy respect for everyones opinion. This dissent provides the necessary challenge to current thinking that will help develop and push the teams performance forward.

The head coaches role in this is to continue to reinforce the need for the staff to voice their opinions, and create the environment that when they do voice an opinion it is respected by all, not just the head coach. It may be a slow process initially because there will be some staff who may not feel comfortable to voice their opinion, but consistent reaction to all opinions will normalise the behaviour.

This does not mean that opinions can’t be challenged and questioned, on the contrary, the psychological safety needs to reflect that opinions will be argued rigorously to ensure they are sound yet respected at the same time.

Feeling judged for having an opinion will undermine the teams culture and result in a distinct lack of trust.


For many of us we listen to somebody but we don’t actually hear. We see their mouth moving, we hear the sound of their voice yet we are not thinking about what it is they are saying. We are already preparing our next comment because we have something we need to say. A good tip when someone else is talking is to remind yourself it is not about you, it is about them, and our first reaction should be to understand what it is they are actually saying.

If you have been to an active listening workshop, you will have been provided with a list of things you should do to actively listen. I find it funny that you need to be given a checklist to run through to prove you are interested in the conversation. If you are truly engaged in the discussion all of these things will happen automatically and if anything you will give more in terms of body language, eye contact, acknowledgement and you won’t need to paraphrase to let the speaker know you are captivated by them. You will prove you’re in to the conversation because you will continue to ask great questions to find out more. If you’re not in the conversation politely excuse yourself or let them know you have something else on your mind. They will be disappointed either way because they may feel a sense of rejection. At least by letting them know you are distracted by other thoughts, you will be fostering a relationship of honesty and not just poor body language and listening behaviour.

As a head coach dealing with your staff, listen ….. really listen, and you may be surprised what happens. A great idea might pop up that benefits the teams performance. 


Head coaches shouldn’t forget about their own learning and development. They got to where they are because they learnt and developed a skill set that the job requires. If they are satisfied with that then they are going to quickly meet their ceiling and so will their teams. They will in effect limit their potential and the potential of their staff and players.

They are coaches because they want to develop others. They should include themselves as well. By working on themselves they will continue to serve their staff and players, and the staff will recognise this because the head coach will be able to continue having a positive influence on those around them.

It is a great example of a win win situation.


A head coach who gives their staff the confidence and support to do their job without constant interruption and micro managing will reap massive rewards. Employees who are given the space and freedom to express themselves through their work feel far more appreciated, are willing to give more of themselves to the cause, and will stand loyal to the cause when times get tough because they are invested in the process. 

A head coach can promote this amongst their staff by asking a lot of questions instead of barking orders, and by finding out what the staff members need to perform as opposed to assuming they know what they need. The head coach will find out a lot by watching the staff do their thing and seeing how they go about it, this then gives the head coach a greater understanding of how to approach the staff member about their role.

Knowing when to provide the guidance and support and how to provide it also helps. it is not going to always be plain sailing and a staff member may need to be pulled back into line with the team culture but if the relationship is solid then the positive conflict will help develop the culture and not undermine it.

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