Great Player Turns Great Coach is Rare

Author: Gil Ash
Posted on November 19, 2019

From an article in Sports Retriever by M. Savir


It is easy to assume that because a person was a great athlete that they will make a great coach.

And while you can probably name a few coaches who were once great players, the reality is that it is rare. Yes, there are successful coaches who were once great players like Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd, Steve Kerr, Diego Maradona, and Johan Cruyff. However, as great as they were as players, many might still debate their effectiveness as coaches. Although we have mentioned a few, we still wonder why we could not list more.

The reality is that our assumptions may be wrong. Just because a coach, once an athlete, dominated the leaderboard in their prime years, it does not mean that they will automatically make great coaches.

Indeed, it helps for a coach to have played the sport for them to later be good at coaching. And when you think about the best coaches across all sports, the majority of them did play the game on some level. However, were they necessarily the best or most celebrated player on the team?

The reality is, great coaching doesn’t demand that you were an exceptional athlete nor does it require that you have ever even played the sport before. Surprised?

What is the most important skill that a coach should have?

It’s not athletic skill. And it’s not an in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals and rules of the game either. All those are great, it’s true. But the most essential skill that a coach must have is the ability to communicate with their players.

Coaching is more than just sharing your experiences as an athlete to your players and hoping that they will learn from your mistakes or acquire skill based on your demonstrations. Coaching certainly is not about expecting your players to become the same athlete you were back in your day. Often, skilled athletes have a hard time putting their actions into words. Performing is one thing and teaching it is clearly another.

There are characteristics that all great coaches have. Leadership is one of them. While leadership skills can be taught, knowing what it takes to be a leader does not automatically make you one.

Traits like passion for coaching also cannot be taught. You either have a genuine drive for molding athletes so that they can reach their highest potential or you do not. Coaching is about bringing out the inherent talents of your individual players.

Being a great athlete does not equate to being a great coach. In fact, they are two different trades. As an athlete, you train so that you can compete. As a coach, you manage those athletes so that when they are called to compete, they are physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared.

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