Sport Management Leadership and Coaching

Bo Hanson
4x Olympian, Director, and Lead Consultant

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“You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach”

Recently we saw a great article in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network by Monique Valcour, titled “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach”. We thought it would be useful to discuss how this topic can be adapted for Sports Management Leadership. Valcour’s article begins by saying:

“If you have room in your head for only one nugget of leadership wisdom, make it this one: the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is making progress at something that is personally meaningful. If your job involves leading others, the implications are clear: the most important thing you can do each day is to help your team members experience progress at meaningful work.

To do so, you must understand what drives each person, help build connections between each person’s work and the organization’s mission and strategic objectives, provide timely feedback, and help each person learn and grow on an ongoing basis. Regular communication around development — having coaching conversations — is essential. In fact, according to recent research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching.”

Sport Management Leadership

Sports Management and Coaching are intricately linked. Sport Managers often have a background in coaching, or being coached as athletes. Either way sport managers usually have an implicit understanding of what makes a good coach. But do you utilize effective coaching techniques when working with your colleagues and followers? There is a difference between knowing something and doing it. Doing more coaching within your workplace is assured of making a massive difference to your effectiveness as a manager and leader. As quoted by Valcour:

“70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training programs.”

However most sport organizations do not emphasize the importance of sport managers to be both leaders and coaches to their followers. Research shows that job candidates value learning and career development opportunities more than most other aspects of a potential job. Your ability to coach your followers through their development could make the difference in recruiting and retaining key employees.

One of the most valuable coaching techniques applicable for sports managers is the coaching conversation- which managers often believe they don’t have the time (or skill) for. But if you as a manager aren’t supportive and actively involved in your employee’s development (like a coach is for their athlete’s development) you may find employee growth, engagement and retention is impacted.

So how can you ensure that your sport management style is using effective coaching techniques? Well as we mentioned before, sport managers often have the advantage of a background in sport and coaching. Think about what makes a good coach? There are many attributes which create effective coaching. In the rest of this article we discuss ways you can add effective employee coaching to your management toolbox.

5 Minute Conversations are Valuable

Starting off with something simple. Although all good sports organizations should have an effective performance review process which is the most effective place for critical conversations, oftentimes these happen annually (if then!) Catch up with your employees informally throughout the year. It can be as simple as a 5 minute conversation. Some questions to get the conversation started include:

“Is there anything you would like to do more of, or develop in?”

“Have you noticed anything we could do to support you in your role better?”

What questions you use is less important than demonstrating to your employees that you are engaged in their development. These 5-15 minute conversations create engagement and you never know where a conversation can lead. You may gain more insight into your employees or ideas for unique business opportunities.

Tailor your Leadership Coaching Style

In our article on the Four Coaching Styles we discuss how all coaches have a preferred way they like to coach, their “coaching style”. It is essentially the way they naturally behave when they are coaching. In the same way, leaders have their preferred way they like to lead, their leadership style. Sometimes this leadership style will work well with one employee, and poorly with another, or work very well in some situations but not others.

However leadership styles are sets of behaviors rather than personality traits- which is important because behavior can be changed. You can alter your leadership style to adapt it to the situation or employee you are managing.  But for this to happen, the leader needs to be self-aware of what style they prefer and whether this style is giving the results they are wanting.

Being aware of your preferred leadership style, and being able to adapt it is critical to appeal to the different types of employees you lead and the varying situations you encounter in your role as a sport manager.


Applying coaching techniques to your leadership as a sports manager creates engagement. The benefits of employee development are greater retention and strong relationships which make all the difference to peak performance.

DISC’s primary purpose is developing self-awareness and providing a framework to understand, then build effective relationships with others. Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles are made specifically for sport managers, coaches and athletes, and are the fastest and most effective way to develop the ‘people side’ of sport.

If you’re a Sport Manager Educator, interested in the professional development of Sport Managers or want more information on DISC profiles, read on to learn about how Athlete Assessments can help you gain the competitive edge.

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Athlete Assessments' Academic Program has everything you need!

Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiles are specifically tailored to sport.

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