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Producing excellence (Part 1): The value of a coach

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18th September, 2021

This is the first part in a series of three articles which examines great sides and seeks to understand why they are excellent.

This article seeks to quantify the effect of coaches on a team’s performance as opposed to solely the skill of the players in producing excellent results. Both coaching skills and playing skills are necessary and both are critical to the overall success of a team, but some coaches harness their side’s abilities better than others.

If I were to walk into a room of 100 people and ask the question, “Who is the most successful coach you can think of?” I can guarantee that there would be a wide range of responses that would largely be informed by interest. Some would point to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool’s dominance. Some might argue Craig Bellamy or Bill Belichick as they have led their respective football sides to dominance over the past 15 years.

Others might point to John Buchanan or Greg Shipperd in cricket or Mick Malthouse in the AFL. So, what makes a good coach? Well, I believe that a good coach has five key characteristics: inspiration, preparation, determination, expectation and communication.

A good coach inspires his side to play well. They do that in a wide variety of ways. Bill Belichick inspires his players through the ‘Patriot Way’, encouraging his players to block out all the noise and focus on the upcoming game, to be versatile and ruthlessly unaccepting of mistakes. He has the ability to take players who might have allowed their off-field behaviours to impact their on-field performances and get the best out of them.

Randy Moss is a prime example of that. By contrast, Wayne Bennett is not afraid to laugh and joke with his players, even when they have lost, because he knows that they know how to fix what is wrong and he does not need to dwell on it.

Wayne Bennett

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

Secondly, a good coach works hard. No coach shows up to a match completely unprepared. Coaches at the elite level put in a vast number of hours preparing themselves and their teams for the opposition. They watch video, go through the numbers and train their sides to play a certain way to beat the opposition. Good coaches make their teams the fittest, strongest and most adaptable that they can be.

Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp are both good at this and prepare their sides well for the opposition. Few could argue that Guardiola’s or Klopp’s sides are underprepared for any opposition that they encounter. Likewise, Justin Langer is excellent at neutralising opposition threats and creating plans to optimise wicket-taking opportunities for his bowlers.


Thirdly, a good coach possesses a great deal of determination. No coach likes losing, and coaches who lose often have a greater drive to win more. Much like teaching, coaching can be a difficult job because coaches have to unite their team, make them all pull in the same direction, develop strategies and tactics for gameday and then pinpoint areas for improvement without impacting team morale. A good coach must possess a great deal of determination to continue to excel and get better. One of the main reasons why Wayne Bennett has had so much success is because he has learned to adjust his game plans to fit in with the changes in game styles in the NRL.

Every coach must possess a great deal of expectation. They coach their sides with the expectation of winning or at the very least competing in the match. For coaches who take over clubs that are perennial strugglers, this can be a difficult mindset to dispel. To create a culture of winning, a coach has to change the team’s expectations.

When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 2004, it capped off an 86-year losing streak for the side. They would go on to win the World Series again in 2007, 2013 and 2018. This change came about because of an insistence on high standards and high expectations. Boston teams are expected to challenge for the World Series every year.

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Finally, every coach must possess good communication skills. Gossip is nobody’s friend. It sneaks around the back channels and provides ammunition for the news-hungry media who continue to feed the beast. Coaches need to be frank with their players, have honest conversations with them and let them know where they stand.

Hearing Langer talk about the improvements that various players need to make in their games is critical for coaches and players alike to build a relationship and for coaches to get their messages across. Good coaches are good communicators and use their excellent communication skills to foster bonds of trust between themselves and their players.

The next instalment will look at players and how a player’s skillset drives them to want to achieve greatness regardless of the coach.