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10 Steps to Becoming a Successful 'High Performance' Coach'

coaching philosophy Aug 27, 2020

By Marc Sophoulis

So, you have made the decision to become a career coach working in ‘High Performance’ sport?


The definition of 'High Performance' is usually referred to as the level of player you are coaching, which is only one portion of the role of a high performance’ coach. High-performance coaching is about helping all people reach their full potential, in any area of their lives. For the coach, this means working your players or team to improve their performance on the field. High performance coaching is more to do with the quality and success of your coaching rather than the level of your athletes or team. ‘Being Performance’ means you are performing on the stage. The audience has bought tickets to your show and you need to give a ‘high performance’ each and every time.

So how do you become ‘High Performance’?

To learn more about high performance coaching you sit in classrooms, in webinars and read countless of books because we are brainwashed that we need to be growth minded and lifelong learners, which I totally agree with by the way. Although, we don’t become high performance by only acquiring knowledge. KNOWLEDGE is the first step to understanding your craft and learning the information needed to teach others, but it is EXPERIENCE that connects the dots and guides you to perfecting the art of ‘high performance’ coaching.

So how do you gain ‘Experience’?

The best coaches spend countless hours coaching on the field, reviewing endless amounts of videos of their athletes and opponents, making ‘real time’ coaching decisions, having tough conversations with support staff and athletes and making multiple mistakes along the way, contributing to the growth and experience of a themselves personally and professionally. Becoming high performance in anything, whether it be coaching, competing at high level sport or running a successful business, requires sacrifice. High performance requires time, focused attention and a 24-hour a day performance mindset. Many of the best coaches have had to sacrifice family time, going out with friends, and social time to get where they want to go in order to be successful.

Like any good high performing athlete, excellence takes time, commitment and passion. Once you make the decision to take your craft to a high level you need to be patient, be willing to make mistakes and be prepared to be critiqued heavily from others in your field. It’s a competitive landscape at the top end of sport. A minimal percentage of teams and athletes reach the highest level and the competition is fierce. There are minimal availabilities of spots as an athlete or coach at the highest level of sport. The fact is that 99% of people will never reach the pinnacle in their field and never coach at the highest level. Only the most resilient, consistent and hardest working survive.

So how do you take the first steps in becoming 'High performance'?

We have put together a 10-stage process to set you on the path to coaching excellence. Use them as a checklist to guide you to the top level. And don’t forget to be patient. It takes most coaches ten years to get themselves to that level, and ten more to cement themselves at that level.

1. Know Yourself – Before you can help others you need to know who you are.

"To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom." This famous quote is often attributed to Socrates.

It means knowing your strengths, areas for growth and development and most importantly what motivates you. The more adept you become at motivating yourself, the more adept you will be at sensing the factors that motivate others (and putting them to use). Self-aware coaches are often the most successful as they are honest, driven and always striving to make themselves better as well as their athletes.

To gain an understanding of yourself it is important to ask questions. Any ‘high performance’ coach understands that the use of open ended questions is the best way to communicate to athletes. Well, it is also the best way to communicate with yourself.

Ask yourself:

  • What MOTIVATES you to succeed?
  • What you your greatest Strengths as a person and coach?
  • How can you improve yourself and your coaching?
  • What are your Goals both personally and professionally?

To be able to set yourself on the right pathway answer the questions above to gain clarity of who you are and where you are going?

2. Have strong values - values set your expectations.

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are” - Roy Disney

When John Wooden, the great coach at UCLA finished eighth grade, his father gave him a card entitled, '7 Suggestions to Follow'.

They were:
1. Be true to yourself.
2. Help others.
3. Make each day your masterpiece.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Good Book.
5. Make friendship a fine art.
6. Build a shelter for a rainy day.
7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings each day.

Wooden kept a copy of the card in his pocket the rest of his life and used these philosophies in coaching winning 10 NCAA Basketball championships and having a win loss record of 664 wins – 162 losses.


Have a strong set of values

Values based coaching is an approach which recognises that understanding one’s values lie at the heart of any personal or organisational change programme. Put simply a value is what is important to you and something you will consistently choose to prioritise towards in your life and coaching. By asking yourself the questions below, you will be able to help form your coaching values to steer the ship in the right direction.

  • What are the values you live by?
  • What values do you think are the most important to be successful in life and sport?
  • Do you coach by your values?
  • Do your values or philosophy underpin your coaching messages?

3. Build a Philosophy & Methodology – This will evolve over time but ensure to be clear and adaptable.

“My personal coaching philosophy, my mentality, has always been to make things as difficult as possible for players in practice, however bad we can make them, I make them.” – Bill Belichick

A Coaching Philosophy is a set of values, governing principles and beliefs which determine why you do what you do and how you behave in the context of your coaching role. Your philosophy is the guiding light to coaching clarity and is of upmost importance when aligning your messaging to your athletes. When thinking about forming your ‘philosophy map’ ask yourself the following questions to form the answers needed to gain direction in your philosophy.

  • Who am I and what do I believe in? - Be yourself.
  • What are the reasons I coach? - Define your coaching objectives.
  • What are my expectations of athletes/team? - Establish rules.
  • How do I individualise in my coaching? - Build and nurture relationships with athletes.
  • Am I well prepared for each session? - Be organised.
  • Do you have a supporting team around you? - Involve your assistant coaches.
  • What are my mechanisms for assisting others? - Help athletes manage their stress.
  • What are my coaching goals? - Focus on the big picture.

Methodology – Establish a coaching model that keeps you on track in your messaging.

“Concentrate on what will produce results rather than on the results, the process rather than the prize.” – Bill Walsh

Your coaching methodology is a process you follow to guide and shape the direction you want to take with your athletes. It is a stepping stone to achieve success and a clear pathway to excellence. We are all familiar with the GROW model or the SUCCESS model to achieving clarity in your coaching but what is your model?

Below is an example of a methodology that can be used but be creative and set in stone what you believe in.

  • G – Goals (Where are we going)
  • R – Reality (Current Situation)
  • O – Options (Obstacles)
  • W – Will (Way Forward)

Always remember a philosophy will change over time, with more experience, knowledge of your athletes and by making mistakes. Don’t be afraid to constantly review your philosophy as time goes on and evolve as the game and ‘you’ evolve.

4. Gain experiences – Vary your early experiences to help shape your philosophies.

“Experience helps you learn about the everyday realities of working life and most importantly equips you with the soft skills needed to succeed at any organisation. While a college degree might increase your peer base, experience gives you access to a huge network of people who have been there and done that.” - Unknown

Coaches who believe that you can go straight into coaching high-performance athletes without paying their dues is kidding themselves. Adding diversity to your coaching style by experiencing different coaching environments and coaching varying levels of athletes is critical. Experiences help us to connect our knowledge to reality and environments shape who we become. To be able to understand the level a player needs to get to you need to have experienced the top level of the game from either a playing, coaching or in a team at that level. The best coaches who have had the most success understand the level you need to be at and what it takes to get there.

  • Have you spent time coaching players of all standards & ages?
  • Have you spent time around multiple coaches and in multiple environments?
  • Have you experienced the highest level of the game?
  • Have you had multiple years to trial theories in practice?

5. Set Standards – Lead by example and allow your standards to determine your outcomes.

“The standards you walk past are the standards you accept.”

As a coach you are defined by two things: the way people speak about you and the standards you act upon as both a coach and human being. The standards you set are the foundation for consistent behaviours, and consistent behaviours turn into predictable results. The standards are guidelines to live by and hold yourself and others to account.

  • Do you present yourself professionally?
  • Do you have a strong brand and uphold that each time you step into your role?
  • Do you maintain high quality sessions every day?
  • Are you able to stay consistent in your everyday actions?
  • Are you able to maintain good coach/client relationships?
  • Do you adapt your approach to each individual?

6. Mentors & Support Team – Embrace the fact that you need others to help you achieve your coaching success.

“I encourage all of you to seek out teachers and mentors that challenge you to think for yourself and guide you to find your own voice.” – Renee Olstead

Success cannot be achieved as a coach without help and guidance. We need to surround ourselves with experts, people who make us better, and a support network that will do anything for you all to be successful. Choosing the right mentors and team is critical to sustainable success as a coach, as well as being in a relationship with a supporting partner.


Lleyton Hewitt has taken on a mentor role for Alex de Minaur 

Can you think back into your life to someone who you admire? Perhaps this is someone who is very successful in their career, their family life, or even socially? In our lives there are dozens of people who have managed to be very successful at what they do, and these people are a wealth of information, as long as we are able to tap into that wealth. That is why it's very important to find someone that you can learn from, a mentor.

Mentors have a wealth of experience and have generally walked in your shoes many times before, seen what works and what doesn’t and can give you some life lasting advice. They become part of your coaching team lending you both coaching and personal support.

Choose the right mentors and team mates;
1. Mentors need to have had experiences in the area you are trying to achieve in.
2. Mentors need to be honest, good communicators and trustworthy.
3. Mentors are not people who tell you what you want to hear.

Your team needs to;
1. Be supportive of your goals and plans.
2. Follow the team processes and stick to your philosophy
3. Speak up when they have an opinion.
4. Not get dejected when their ideas are rejected.

7. People Management – Athletes are people much longer than they are athletes. Coaching is managing the human side more than the skill component.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” – Theodore Roosevelt

Coaching is more about the people and relationships than it is about the skills and drills you provide. Understanding the people in your organisation is pivotal to designing your goals, plans and philosophy. Coaches are labelled as high performance through gaining incredible success in terms of outcomes, but outcomes are achieved by getting the best out of your people, and the art of influence is the most important factor in High performance coaching. Consider the following list of skills and measure your abilities against the topics provided.

  • Do you have high emotional intelligence?
  • Do you show empathy towards your athletes?
  • Do you listen to your athletes and hear what they say? Or do you listen to respond?
  • Do you have the ability to give feedback in a way that is easily digested by the athlete?
  • Can you handle criticism or is it your way or no way?
  • Do you own up to mistakes or blame others?
  • Do you create strong and healthy relationships with your athletes?
  • Do you treat everyone in your team equally?
  • Have you got the ability to positively Influence people?

8. Develop a learning Environment – People work best when they feel safe and happy, therefore put work into creating the ultimate environment where people can thrive.

“Coaching is one thing and one thing only: It is creating an environment so the player has an opportunity to be successful. That is your job as a coach. When you teach him to do that, get out of his way.” – Chip Kelly

A good work or training environment is a place where people can either come to work or training and are allowed and encouraged to be themselves and not put on a façade. You feel comfortable, yet challenged. You feel loved but pushed hard. You are listened to, yet told to work hard.

A positive and successful training environment needs to have:

  • Clear communication by the leaders yet everybody has a voice to be heard.
  • Its leaders listen to everyone's ideas and acknowledge them.
  • Everybody’s hard work gets recognised.
  • The coach and leaders show trust.
  • A lot of fun.
  • Coaches and leaders lead by example.
  • A positive feel.
  • An energetic atmosphere.
  • A productive outcome.
  • Caring & respectful communication.

9. Ability to coach the fundamentals of the game – The people element is the most important side of coaching but you also need to understand the finer details of your sport.

"A coach is someone who tells you what you don't want to hear, who has you see what you don't want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be." - Tom Landry.

To become a ‘high performance’ coach in your sport you need to have a high level of understanding of the game and the fundamental skills needed to perform. Dealing with issues that arise in your athlete or teams’ skills, designing game plans, analysing performance are all part of a high-performance coach’s job description. The best coaches in the world have multiple skills and a clear understanding of the game they coach. A coach needs to be a ’Jack of all trades’, and the knowledge of the following components is critical to having a holistic approach to your coaching model.

  • Skill & Technical Development.
  • Tactics & Strategy.
  • Physical development and implications.
  • Psychological processes and its effects on performance.
  • Biomechanics and its role in functional movement.
  • Match planning and opponent analysis.
  • Match analysis and learnings from game play.
  • Data and its use in modern day coaching.
  • Technology and the ability to access and impact your students anytime, anywhere.
  • Nutrition and its affects on performance.

Research your game. Be a student of your work. Ask questions and follow in the footsteps of successful coaches who have walked in your shoes before.

10. Don’t be afraid to fail – You will make mistakes, but those mistakes get you closer to your success.

“Ever Tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” – Samuel Beckett


Stan Wawrinka has this famous Samuel Beckett quote tattooed on his arm

To be able to achieve greatness in anything we do, we need to follow the process. Develop, make mistakes, learn from them, improve from them. Do it differently. REPEAT.

If you haven’t heard the Colonel Sanders story (The KFC founder), we suggest you check it out. Success came at age 74 after years of hardship and challenging times. He was rejected, kicked to the curb, and told his ideas would never amount to anything. But it is the constant striving for excellence and persistence that stands out. To become a 'high performance' coach, it is all that and more.

You will fail. You will have success. But what you are ultimately striving for is consistency in performance. Success leaves footprints. Every biography of the greatest athletes and coaches tell the story of multiple failures, of times when they felt like they wanted to give up.

All you need to do is have passion, follow the process, give it time and be persistent in your pursuit of excellence. Coaching isn’t a job, it’s a passion. Dream it, live it, love it.

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