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Three Coaching Mistakes | Sports Psychology Today

coaching-youth-sports-sport-psychology-todayAt its core, coaching is a noble profession. Whether you’re working in youth sports or in a professional league, there’s a lot riding on your shoulders. It’s your job to help your players be the best they can be. That’s a lot more difficult than we imagine, especially for first-time coaches. 

Whether teaching kids, youths or adults, coaching is challenging work. You’re responsible for the performance of an entire group of people. For leading your team to victory and helping them through the defeats they suffer along the way.

It isn’t something just anyone can do.

Of course, even if you’re suited to be a coach, you might get off to a rocky start. Everyone makes mistakes, after all. That’s what I’d like to talk about today.

Here are a few common mistakes I see new coaches make.

Focusing Too Much on Outcomes

When training a player, treat it as a journey. Focus on incremental improvements. 

Too often, I see novice coaches laser-focused on getting a particular result: 

  • On how many games their team is able to win
  • On whether or not their team members can execute a drill to perfection. 
  • On the journey’s conclusion rather than the journey itself.

The truth is that winning a game doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the result of a ton of smaller factors. Of each player incrementally learning to be better and learning to play to their strengths. In other words, it’s hard work

Don’t lose sight of the journey for the destination. As a coach, your responsibility is first and foremost as a mentor to your team.  Act as such. 

Caring Too Much About Being Liked (or Being Too Overbearing)

As a coach, your job is not to be everyone’s friend, your job is to be a leader. 

That means sometimes playing the bad guy. You’ll have to push a player past their limits. Discipline a player for being out of line. Call out a player’s mistakes.

Sometimes they’ll be angry at you. At the time, they might even hate you for it. But that’s fine. The players that are worth keeping around will understand that you’re doing this for the good of the team. They’ll see past their immediate circumstances and respect you for doing what needs to be done.

With that said, be careful you don’t swing too far in the other direction. Your goal here is to be motivational and inspiring without being demeaning, intimidating, or overbearing. With that in mind, I have a bit of advice:

  • When addressing a player’s mistake, frame it alongside something they’re doing well. Approach it as an opportunity for improvement rather than a call-out. 
  • Don’t blame your players for a lack of motivation or effort. As a coach, it’s your job to inspire them. Hold yourself accountable for your own shortcomings.
  • Listen to your players, and pay attention to their body language. Learn to recognize the signs that someone is having an off day, and act accordingly. Ask them for feedback, don’t just talk at them. 
  • Motivate instead of intimidating. Instead of relying on threats and demeaning language, position yourself as though you’re each player’s biggest fan. Push them as hard as you can, but do so while cheering them on. 

No Follow-Through

As a coach, accountability is everything. If you make a promise or set an expectation for your team, you need to follow through on it. If you don’t, your players will lose respect for you.

And once you’ve lost their respect, getting it back is an uphill battle. 

Understand both your own limitations and the limitations of your players, and set expectations accordingly. Don’t over-promise. And if you set an established rule, enforce it. You can’t afford to be wishy-washy or unfocused as a coach. 


As a coach, there’s a lot riding on your shoulders. You are ultimately responsible for helping your team succeed. For helping your players learn, improve, and thrive. 

You are a teacher, a mentor, and a leader in equal parts. Always keep that in mind. 

About the Author: 

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.


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