By Bo Hanson – 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments

If you are a young coach starting out in the sporting world it can be hard to get advice. Everyone has a different opinion on how to best interact with your athletes, their parents and club committees. I had a conversation with a rapidly progressing Hockey Coach, Jessie McCartney about the lessons he has learnt as a coach, both general advice and advice for starting a new role. In the discussion, many of the things he said hit home to me about my own experiences in the sporting world.

1. Control what you can control. Don’t sweat the small things. 

Dale Carnegie’s wisdom continues to be relevant today. Most young coaches have a tendency to micromanage, wanting to have a hand in every aspect of their programs. Whilst you need to be “across” all aspects of your program, the reality is your control can only extend so far before the effort of trying to control everything wears you out. Learning to delegate effectively is a critical skill. Being able to see the big picture as well as the details is a key ability to develop. Being able to step in and out of the picture is what great coaches do well.

2. Learn off good people.

Surrounding yourself with positive people who know how you work, and can work with you is vital to success in coaching and in life. W. C. Stone said “Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” This relates to the first point, when you work with people you trust and they are respected in their fields, let them do their job! Delegate and enable them to be part of the program and they always shall deliver for you and the program. Jessie said:

“You can learn off everybody. Sometimes, it will be what to do, and sometimes what not to do.”

3. Invest in your development.

There is no doubt the vital importance of continued personal development for your career. Many young coaches neglect this initially. As Jessie said “as soon as you stop learning you go backwards”. There is always someone wanting to move forward. Coaching sport is as competitive as being an athlete playing it. Move forward or be passed by someone who “wants it more…”

4. Know your brand and protect it at all costs. Reputation is everything. 

In sport as in life, everyone knows the value of a good reputation. This can be the difference between getting your ideal job and just missing out. You have to be self-aware and recognize the impact your behavior has on those around you. This includes dealing with other staff, your athletes, and representatives in sporting bodies. A bad impression once made can be very difficult to undo.

5. Be stable.

In the highly stressful world of elite sport, the small habits you create to keep yourself stable can be a defining factor of your success as a coach. Watching what you eat and getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep each night is a great way to start. This stability can spread to other aspects of your life such as money and relationships and will allow you to consistently perform at your highest level.

6. Build a network of supporters.

As a head coach it is hard to convey your ideas to the entire organization, get people thinking your way and buying into your ideas. Identify key people who can be your ‘philosophical extension’ and help get your message through to others. This is key when choosing team managers, captains, assistant coaches, dealing with your committee and the local environment of your sport.You don’t want ‘yes’ people everywhere, but you do need people who can understand the good you are doing, want to become a part of it and have useful skills to enhance your program.


Assess the level you are coaching.

It is so important to be aware of what athletes need at each level. Your expectations of them and their expectations of you may vary. Use your expertise and experience to see what they need – ask where they want to go and how they want to get there. Make a critical decision on whether you are the coach to meet (and exceed) their needs. Do not take the job if it does not fit with your values and areas of expertise. Jessie said:

“Your job as head coach is to leave the place in better shape than when you started. The progress the club makes because of your leadership is more important than the win-loss record, especially in the early years of your tenure.”

It’s much easier when you’re working for a stable and forward-thinking committee, board or organization.

If they aren’t so, remember you can help them get there – but try to avoid doing it for them! This relationship is critical. There must be an alignment of philosophies between the committee and yourself. They are supposed to support you in the direction the club and program are going. If you are not working in sync then you are fighting a losing battle.

Remember your role goes beyond winning games.

Your job is to improve the club and team, not just win games. By having a long term plan you can give your athletes the most out of their experience with their team and organization. This means recognizing the skills an athlete needs to be successful goes beyond being able to simply kick or pass a ball. Holistic athlete development is what many great coaches believe in.

Realize what you do not compromise on. 

There are aspects of your program you must be resolute on but remember not to stress about the small things. Always chose a program, organization or club which is aligned to your values and philosophy. Great leaders never compromise on their core values, to do so, creates too much internal conflict and never results in a successful outcome. Jessie said:

“They hire you to do a job and to do it your way. If they decide they don’t like your way and want you to compromise on key things, then your position becomes untenable. It’s not personal, it’s business – but it’s best for both parties if you move on.”

Do not ever develop personal relationships with your athletes.

Ensure you remain professional at all times. Your athletes are not your best friend and they never should be. You are the coach and mentor to these people. It is the ultimate breach of ethics and severely compromises your future coaching career. Respect and trust are the most important aspects of any relationship, so focus on that. Jessie said:

“If you find yourself in a position where you really wish to pursue a personal relationship with an athlete, you have to think whether continuing your tenure is in the best interest of the organization. Maybe it’s time to move on so there’s no conflict of interest.”

When dealing with parents…

Be open and up front at the beginning. Set a clear framework of expectations at the start of each season and reinforce this at regular opportunities. Make sure communication is strong and both parties understand each other’s expectations. Involve parents in a way you chose, not the other way around.

Your communication should be…

Thorough and consistent, always look to continually educate and be a teacher, not a prophet or evangelist…

Don’t teach everything you know straight away!

Jessie said:

“Athletes need to feel you still have new challenges to offer them.”

Exemplify the professionalism and attitude you expect from your players.

Leading by example is the best way to communicate the appropriate behavior to your athletes. Practice what you preach. Jessie said:

“You can’t expect your athletes to have any respect for you if you don’t epitomize the behaviors you want in them.”

Have a life away from coaching.

There is a time and a place to relax and recuperate. Know how to do it, and where it is most appropriate.

Be Approachable.

Sometimes there are occasions when athletes need to call you for any number of reasons. If you haven’t instilled trust and expectations into the relationship, your athletes may not feel comfortable reaching out to you.

Protect your knowledge and your reputation.

You should always be learning by reading and listening. When “shooting your mouth off”, be conscious of who is listening or who can find out. In fact, you are better off not shooting your mouth off at all. Try to be humble in how you conduct yourself as this adds to your aura of presence.

Balance expectations.

Managing the expectations of committees, athletes and parents is one of the most stressful parts of any coach’s job. Balancing these does not mean making everybody happy, but making sure your priorities are in order. At the end of the day, sport exists for the athletes. Make them your priority, and be clear to all concerned that this is the case.

And to finish off, another comment Jessie made was:

“Acknowledge the existence of luck. Luck is what you can’t plan for. The best and most positive people I’ve worked with are the ones who can recognize when good luck is happening and take advantage of it.”

Thank you Jessie McCartney for being our inspiration for this article and sharing your personal experiences and advice with our readers. 

At Athlete Assessments, we’re here to provide you with excellence in service and here to help you be your best. If there is anything we can assist you with, please Contact Us.

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Bo Hanson

Senior Consultant & Director

Bo Hanson’s career within the sport and the business sector spans over 25 years, delivering leadership, management, and coach development. In addition to his own athletic career comprising of four Olympic appearances and including three Olympic medals, Bo has worked for many years with coaches and athletes from over 40 different sports across the globe. Bo was also the winner of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) 2023 Award for L&D Professional of the Year, for his dedication to L&D and transformational work across various industries.

After a successful career in sport including four Olympics and three Olympic Medals, Bo co-founded and developed Athlete Assessments in 2007. Bo now focuses on working with clients to achieve their own success on and off ‘the field’, and has attained an unmatched track-record in doing exactly this.

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Now, watch us interrupt him for a round of quick fire questions.