Building the perfect coach for every player

By Coach Carrol


Not so long ago I was asked a really great question: Who was the best coach that I have ever had and what made them great?

Now some of you may be able to answer that with relative ease but if you are anything like me, you may have found yourself pulling characteristics from many of your past coaches to combine into your perfect, well-rounded coach. Maybe you even find it easier to identify the coaches that didn’t work for you and the reasons why this may have been the case.

The reality is, I have had many amazing coaches in my time. But, I have also had many coaches that simply did not work for me as a person or even as a player.



Throughout my playing years, I’ve had ‘the best friend coach’, the one who loved everyone but unfortunately, caused little skill and team development to happen; I have had the intense ‘win at all costs’ coach;  the ‘it’s all about having fun’ coach; the one who didn’t have the respect of the team and their work because they pushed for enjoyment, and I’ve even had former state and national representative players as coaches who by nature of their experience were “expected to excel.”


I bet you now are wondering which coaches are the ones that I thought were great, right?


My answer is simple – the coaches who had the biggest positive impact on me were those that ‘saw’ me not only as a player but also as a person. They were the coaches who were coaching me, with my personality and traits and not simply coaching the skills and the strategies. They took the time to understand me as a person and built their coaching around ways to get the best out of me.

On the contrary, I have certainly had my fair share of coaches who didn’t see who was, or maybe, simply did not care to. They had the knowledge of instruction and coaching to deliver and it was our job to follow and perform – and let’s just say, this style was certainly not for me! It did however help me start to forge a strong understanding of what I felt was needed in a great coach. Of course, you need to have an understanding of skill development and sport-specific knowledge, (and we’ve mentioned before the importance of communication,) but none of that is sufficient on its own. For me, great coaches understand that it is 80% about the relationship and 20% about the former! The realisation that you are coaching groups of individual people with varying and unique needs is a game-changer for every player. After all, the better you understand your players on a personal level, the more you can inspire them to perform well!


But how do we get to know our players to get the best out of them?

By learning about the players who struggle to take on verbal instructions, but when visually shown what to do can outperform the rest. Learn who needs more reassurance than others by looking for body language signals and signs that will help you modify your approach to get the best out of your players – be observant, be understanding, but never make assumptions! Never assume the player who looks disinterested is not listening; never assume that because someone doesn’t appear to enjoy what they are doing that they aren’t and never assume that you can run a one-size-fits-all approach when coaching and get good results because you simply can’t! Coaching is a tough gig, and it is even harder to be good, if not great at it! 

As a modern-day coach, you will be coaching kids on the Autism Spectrum, those with ADHD, those with auditory processing or other learning disorders. You will be dealing with players who have it tough at home for a variety of reasons, those who don’t like confrontation because it had a major impact on them in their childhood and those who need their personal space protected. As modern-day coaches, we must take into consideration aspects that often get neglected or overlooked. We must provide safe, inclusive environments that offer differentiated learning opportunities for our players, those who understand how each different player learns. We need to adopt an approach to coaching that enables young players to realise their own potential – regardless of differing levels and stages of development, but moreover, regardless of differing learning styles or individual needs.


As a past player of many years and now coach, I have come to believe that this is the true art of coaching – knowing how and when to communicate, but most importantly, knowing how this varies from individual to individual.

We know there will always be the coaches with the cutting-edge systems and tactical aspects of the game, but these are irrelevant if players feel you value them as a netballer, more than you value them as a person. Coaching with this in mind is undoubtedly an evolving approach. Every season we get a different bunch of eclectic personalities in front of us and we have to begin the process all over again. And don’t get me wrong, it is definitely not always easy, nor does it come naturally to everyone, but it is important and can be improved.
While I try to get it right, I’m not perfect, and I have certainly had moments where I have become frustrated with the young player who appeared not to care about anything I had to say. But I have grown, and continue to grow, and I am now very mindful of not making assumptions about ‘why’ players present as they do, or behave as they do, and I do the work to try to understand. This might happen in the form of quick conversations with parents (if juniors), asking questions about key areas such as what motivates them? What frustrates them? What are they like socially? How do they learn best? With an older group, you could pose the question ‘What would you like your coach to know about you?’ and ask them to write some things down. Remind them that it needs to be things about them as a person and how they learn best so that you as a coach can help them as best you can. In the past, I have asked similar questions with adult groups in an online format where results are submitted electronically. 
Whatever approach you take and once you begin, and you are on your way to working out which player needs extra praise, who prefers direct constructive criticism or who needs all-round high fives to be up and about. I guarantee you will start to see fantastic results amongst your playing group, and who knows maybe one day when they are asked ‘who was the best coach you ever had?’ your name will be up for consideration because you saw them!