One Quick Way to Spot a Good Coach

Letting the players play: UCLA’s John Wooden, during a game

Here’s a simple truth: if you want to develop your talent, nothing will help you faster than finding a great coach.

Trouble is, great coaches are tough to find. They’re rare as diamonds. Their skills are subtle. They don’t tend to stand out at first glance.

So how do you spot one?

In LBOT, I give a few pointers (page 32, if you’re curious). But here’s another answer, a quick shortcut: To find a good coach, look for someone who is comfortable not doing anything.

Not talking or yelling or waving their arms. Not making speeches or issuing praise or pacing the sidelines. Not doing anything except the most important thing: sitting back and letting the performance happen.

Somewhere along the line, our culture started believing the false idea that the coach was a hero, the center of the action, and that coaching ability was related to the sheer amount of brilliant instruction they could produce. You see this especially in soccer — you know, those coaches who spend the whole game shouting detailed instructions — Pass to Stevie! Go to the endline! Cross the ball!— as if they are joysticking a live-action videogame.

Those people catch our eye because they are showy and loud, but they are not necessarily effective. A good coach spends a lot of time — especially during games — sitting calmly with their arms folded and their eyes on the action. They are comfortable in their stillness, at peace. Because they know their job is not to direct the action like an orchestra conductor, but rather to create learners, to equip players to encounter problems and solve them. That means leaving them alone.

PS – Of course, this isn’t the only way to spot good coaches. What works for you? Feel free to share any other “tells” below.