I’ve written on the subject of coaching success a couple of times previously – specifically here and here. It’s the latter one I specifically want to expand upon here. Much of the thinking for this post came during my trip around Europe in August and September of 2019.

What do I mean by “success”?

The first point for this discussion is to define the main term here – success. For this purpose I’m using success to mean winning. That’s it. No other definition involved.

This is not me saying success can only be measured in terms of victories and championships. I would be the first to argue against that measure. There are loads of coaches I’d consider quite successful who don’t have a trophy case full of hardware.

So why winning, then?

Honestly, I’m framing this discussion in terms of success in the form of winning because of two things. One is it’s an easy and common metric that everyone can understand and compare. The other is that all too frequently what actually drives this type of success for a given coach isn’t well understood – even by themselves.

The elements of success in coaching

To address both aspects of this subject I want to speak to the elements I think contribute to winning. Here they are.

Talent: By this I mean the quality, depth, and breadth of players available to the coach.

Team Organization: This is the coach’s ability to field the best possible team from their players and get them performing optimally as a unit.

Training: How effective the coach is in developing both individual and collective skills and tactical capabilities.

Player & Team Management: This is the coach’s ability to get the most out of their players, both individually and collectively from the perspective of communication and psychology.

Competition Management: These are the coach’s abilities with respect to making match-time decisions, scouting the opposition, and preparing a strategy.

Administration: How well the coach is able to keep things organized away from the court.

Resources: All the other stuff that influences the quality and/or quantity of what the coach can do with their team/program.

I address each of these elements separately in their own post. Just click the links above to see my thoughts and observations on that particular topic. I don’t really think of them as individual silos. There is quite a bit of cross-over influence. Overall, though, I think the above list captures the drivers of coaching success.

Winning in spite of

A big part of what motivated me to write this post, and those linked above, is the idea of the coach who wins in spite of some short-coming in their methods.

This is the coach who wins despite dated training techniques. These might be offset by really good player & team management skills. They have players who are always well-motivated and ready to do anything for them.

What about the coach who screams and yells all the time? They might offset those poor player & team management skills by the fact they simply have access to significantly better talent than everyone else in their league.

How about the coach who doesn’t do a great job organizing their team? That could be offset by good training skills and the ability to do all the right things during competition.

Losing in spite of

The flip side of winning despite some coaching short-coming is losing despite being really strong in one or more areas. You could run the best, most effective training sessions in the world, but if you get things wrong when it comes to match time it won’t be much good. You may have the most talent of anyone, but if your player & team management skills are poor then they are likely to under-perform. And you can have all the other five elements fully in the positive category, but if you fail on the administrative side of things you could destroy a whole season – or more.

What’s most important?

So if you want to really be successful, where do I think you should concentrate your time and energy? Let me put the talent and resource aspects aside, because many coaches have little control over this element of things – especially in the short term. Among the remaining five I’d suggest team organization is the element that has the greatest influence on team performance – particularly early in a new season.

Now, if your team comprises a bunch of kids who’ve never played the sport before, then you likely need to prioritize training over organization. That said, you can (and probably should) easily incorporate organization work into training to accomplish dual purposes.

But I’m definitely not saying the rest of the list isn’t as important. Given how they overlap and how focus requirements can shift over time, they all can potentially be extremely important at different points.

And that actually brings up a good point to close on.

You could actually add an eighth element to the list above in the form of knowing what’s most important for you to focus on now. That is probably the most influential element of them all. And it means you probably need to continuously work on improving in all seven areas above.

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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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