10 Signs To Look For When Picking A Coach

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Ara Parasheghian, football coach at the University of Notre Dame, once said “A good coach will make his (athletes) see what they can be rather than what they are.” No matter the age or competitive level, most of us involved in sports need a coach of some sort. Whether you rely on a friend, family member, acquaintance, or yourself for your coaching, the bottom line is you need one. I don’t recommend the last option but to each their own. Coaching is a training or development process in which an individual is supported while achieving a specific  goal. With the emergence of social media and self promoting, there is a plethora of “experts” out there claiming to take your talents to the next level. For a relative newbie just trying to get started, it can be hard to navigate. Who’s legit, who’s fake? In order to help you “trim the fat” on your coaching search, we put together a list to adhere by and allow you to get exactly what you are looking for. Keep in mind this is not the end all be all, but a list of suggestions. From this you should be able to develop a more specific idea of what you are looking for in a coach. With that being said let’s get started:

1. Accomplishments As An Athlete and/or Coach

I am going to be completely honest with you, in some sports what you have done as an athlete means absolutely jack. Can anyone tell me where Bill Belichek played college football? Or how about where Phil Jackson hooped it up in the pros? No you can’t, my point exactly. In my experience what I have come to realize is that the natural talented athletes (usually referred to as the tops of their games) don’t have the full picture of what they actually do when they perform so when they teach or coach they are telling what they “think” they do. Whether that is accurate or not is 50/50. For example, Michael Jordan is considered the greatest basketball player of all time but how is the team he runs doing this year? This is not always the case with athletes. In my experience athletes who compete in more individual sports (track & field, weightlifting, gymnastics) make a smoother transition into coaching because during their competitive years they were the only ones they had to rely on and teammates were not an option. My point is this, try not to focus on what they have done as an athlete as much and look for at their successes as a coach. Who have they learned from? Who have they worked with? Where have they taken their athletes?

2. Credentials/Certifications

This is another point that has some weight, but the same applies for this one as the successes as an athlete, approach with caution. There are all sorts of certification classes and seminars that one can take and boost their status but the best credential for me is results. What has the person done with their athletes. But if a bunch of letters after a name mean that much to you, I would at least make sure they are certified or registered with the governing body of the sport that you are trying to compete in. All the other certifications are just icing on the cake. Bottom line, make sure they are well educated and versed in what they are coaching you on and don’t be easily distracted by multiple plaques from various companies on their wall. All that shows is they spent a lot of money to have that plaque.

3. Reputation Amongst  Peers

Piggy backing off of #2, how is your potential coached viewed by his/her peers? In the age of social media it is really easy to type a coach’s name into the google search and pull up all sorts of info on them. Also human interaction is a good thing too, so go to local competitions or events and ask around. Chances are you will find someone who knows something about who you are interested in and can give you the scoop. The last thing you want is to walk into a situation thinking about sunshine and rainbows and find out your new coach has the nickname “The Butcher”. I would like to stress that you also need to use common sense when talking people. Realize the difference between a person trying to tarnish someone’s reputation and a person who is just repeating what they have heard about an individual. Ask around but don’t take everything you hear to heart and do some investigating for yourself.

4. Have An Obvious Passion For Their Trade

I think this point needs to be bolded, highlighted, and underlined. This is one of the biggest ones for me. If the potential coaching candidate doesn’t seem to have any passion whatsoever why are they even in the running for working with you? Don’t mistake lack or passion for an isolated incident of frustration or exhaustion. When I think of passionate coaches Bob Knight is the first person I think of. Sure he was a hard knock and demanded the best, but you cannot tell me that this guy did not care about his kids and their success. That reminds me, don’t confuse passion for success with passion for winning. John Wooden (if you don’t know who that is, you need to type that in your next Google search) was asked how he would know if his athletes were successful or not. His response: “I will let you know in ten years.” While the main goal of your coach is to reach goals in your specified sport, they should also have an interest in your personal growth and development as well.

5. Open to Experimentation and New Ideas

I also think this is a big one when looking at coaches. A coach that is set in his ways and unwilling to change will make working together difficult. A sign of a good coach is one who is always willing to learn and expand their knowledge and try new things with their athletes. This is how development and progress are achieved. Don’t get tweaking and constant adjustment confused with completely new plans every few weeks. Consistency is key in any form of training and modifying the general template when tweaks are needed is good. This also shows their attention to your individual progress. If you train with a group of athletes, the programs should all look similar but only have minor differences to each individual’s needs.

6. Commitment To Athletes and/or Their Institution

This one is pretty self explanatory. If the candidate you are looking at is constantly jumping around from gym to gym, has a difference job every few months, or recycles athletes faster than Waste Management you might want to walk away. As stated already, consistency is key and it wouldn’t be wise to uproot everything for a coach who will jump ship in a few months. Also use social media to your advantage and see how your candidate projects their institution or products to the public. If they don’t believe in their own situation why should you believe in them?

7. Sets Realistic Goals and Plans Accordingly

This one is a slippery slope for me. You want a coach who believes in you and wants you to accomplish your goals and dreams, but you also don’t want someone who will tell you what you want to hear just so they can keep you around or collect your money. In my experience the best sign of a motivating but realistic coach is one who says “This is what I see for you and this is how we are going to accomplish it.” A plan, whether it has little detail or is all out in details, is better in my opinion than empty promises and a great sales pitch.

8. Realizes Stuff Happens

Not everyone is a full time athlete or can train like one. Having a coach that realizes you have a job, school, family, other obligations on top of your training is a good thing. Remember when I mentioned a coach wanting you to not only succeed as an athlete but also as a person? This is another time that comes into play. When a coach remembers birthdays, a big test coming up, or simply asks how your family is doing, this is your hint that they get you have a life outside of training.

9. They Know They Are Human

This may be THE BIGGEST point for me. Can they admit when they were wrong or made a mistake? If things are never their fault or they project the blame everywhere except themselves, run as fast as you can. No one is perfect, that goes for coaches too. I have more respect for an individual that can come up to me and say “I messed up, I’m sorry, this is how I’ll fix it.” Whether it can be fixed or not is besides the point to me, but a person who is able to remember they are human is good by me.

10. Knows How To Have Fun And Stresses It Often

Ok, I lied. this is the biggest point on the list. Numerous times I have had coaches say that I need to have a life outside sport. You ever hear the saying “Stop and smell the roses”? it goes along with having fun. Some of my fondest memories with teammates, training partners, or coaches have been not in the gym or out on the field, but sitting around a dinner table, bonfire, or out and about. Laughter is the best medicine and sometimes the best thing you need for a rough day.

As I stated before this is not the most comprehensive guide to selecting your next coach, but rather a few things I look for in a person I want to work with. Before trying to figure out who your next coach is, my advice is to make a list of things that are important for you an find a few people that fit your key points and go from their. This is your well being that is at stake so let’s not take your coaching selection likely. Remember that coaching is an action, not a title and actions are what result in success.


  1. Adam C says:

    Hi Tom, I’m a powerlifter and I happen to work at CoachUp (https://www.coachup.com) where we connect athletes with private coaches, I wonder if something like CoachUp would be useful in picking a coach for the people reading this blog. We have strength coaches on there, but knowing, for example, what particular certifications would be useful to look for, as well as what kind of peer reviews would matter in their profiles.

  2. Jimmy Pitts says:

    Great points..I loved it

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