I previously outlined what I think are the factors which drive coaching success, and how I define success in this discussion. In this post I address one of those factors – talent.

What I mean by talent

Let me first be clear about what I’m talking about here. When I say talent is a requirement for coaching success, what I’m basically saying at the core is the coach with the better players tends to win.

Don’t just take my word for it. Listen to what Pep Guardiola – one of the best soccer managers in the world – has to say.

“I try to figure out things, but at the end the players … the success we had is because we have top players. This is the secret, no more than that.”

You might have an immediate thought that a good coach can make their players better than the players on another team. That’s certainly true, and it’s something I discuss in the training part of this coaching success thread.

What I’m talking about here, however, is the starting point. It’s about the base line capabilities of the players a coach has access to at the beginning of the season.

There are actually two parts to this.

The player pool

The first factor in determining the level of talent a coach has to work with is the pool from which they can select players. This can be influenced by different factors.

For a high school coach, for example, the size of the student body is a big factor. Generally, the more students a school has, the deeper the pool of players from which a coach can select. This is why states generally split schools into divisions based on student body size.

For a club coach it is similar with respect to the size of the local community. Generally, a higher population gives the club a deeper pool of players from which to select.

At the college level, a number of factors can influence the player pool from which a coach can recruit. They include things like budget, scholarship availability, school size and location, academic programs and rigorousness, and administrative requirements (e.g. a focus on recruiting only from your own state).

At the professional level the salary budget tops the list when considering the caliber of players a club can consider in their pool of prospective signings. Bigger budgets mean better players. There are, however, additional considerations. For example, a league perceived as “higher” is likely to be more attractive of players of a given caliber.

I should also include here prior team performance. Better teams attract a higher level of talent. For example, a high school team with a history of winning is more likely to attract the better athletes in its student body than a losing one.

None of what I’ve outlined is in the control of the coach. They just have to deal with these fixed elements. There are some ways they can influence things, though.

How one can influence the talent pool

Basically, what I’m talking about here are the things that can happen around the edges to encourage more of the better athletes to make themselves available for selection and/or to improve the average ability of the athlete pool as a whole.

Let me provide a couple examples.

  • A high school coach could start a juniors program for the local kids to give them additional practice and playing opportunities outside the school season.
  • A juniors coach can attend local school competitions and practices to help recruit players to the club.
  • A college coach can fund-raise additional money to expand their recruiting capabilities.
  • A professional coach can develop good relationships with player agents to perhaps allow the club to sign better players at a slightly discounted rate.

Think about your coaching context. What could you do to attract more of the better prospects to your team or raise the overall level of the player pool?

Player selection

In some cases the coach just has to take into the team every player who comes out. That’s either because of low numbers or rules against making cuts. Similarly, in some cases (think lower level teams in juniors clubs) players and are simply assigned to teams and the coach gets what the club decides. For everyone else, though, there are decisions to be made.

A coach might not have much influence on who comes out for the team. They certainly can, however, pick the best group of players for the season to come. Partly this is a function of running good tryouts, which is in many ways a function of good administrative skills. Even more importantly, it’s a function of good talent identification skills.

And it’s not just about picking the best however many players. You have to consider how they will fit together with respect to playing as a unit and your competitive philosophies. You will also need to think about how they will develop based on your abilities as a trainer.

In other words, you’re not just basing your selection on individual abilities today. You’re doing so based on future collective performance. And potentially that might go beyond the current season.


So basically what I’m saying here is that the size and quality of the talent pool from which you can select players, and your ability to pick the best combination of athletes, goes a long way in determining your success as a coach. Some of this you have little influence on. Some is very much driven by your coaching skills with respect to talent evaluation. If you have the advantage of a strong player pool and good evaluation skills, you will start each season ahead of your coaching peers. If one or both is lacking, you likely will start behind. So long as the gap isn’t too big, though, excellence in one or more of the other elements of coaching success can make up the difference.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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