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

Transitioning from Athlete to Coach requires significant coach development. Success as an athlete does not automatically translate to success as a coach.

Recently we saw a great article in The Telegraph, about the transition Jonny Wilkinson is making from athlete to coach. The legendary Rugby Union player has been doing all he can to ensure he manages this transition successfully, something that many former elite athletes struggle with.

Wilkinson will not be making the mistake in believing that his own personal success as a player automatically gives him the right and credibility required to coach others how to play.

“If there is anything I can add, then we can have a little chat, but more importantly I need to learn my trade. I was a player, but just because I knew how to play doesn’t mean I’ve earned the right to tell other people how to do it.”

Learning to coach actually goes well beyond a “trade”. Today’s coach needs skills more aligned to those required by our best school teachers and then even adds to these skills by expanding into psychology, physiology, tactical knowledge and then finding a way to communicate this knowledge so the players understand it. Learning to coach is something that should be approached with humility and intelligence and Wilkinson appears to be doing this. His methodical and meticulous approach means he will not be relying on his media profile to move into a prominent coaching position.

“I don’t know how to do that now, how to manage a team, deal with people, contracts, recruitment, it’s a tough world and the biggest mistake you can make is thinking just because you played the game, you already know it.”


In learning more about coaching, Wilkinson is observing the English Rugby squad in the lead up to the autumn internationals, and is also spending a week every month coaching his former team-mates at Toulon.

“I’m also coaching one week every month in Toulon, learning my way around it. I’m coaching individual skills, mentoring some of the young guys, how to cope with the emotional and mental side of things. I’m really enjoying it, but when you start managing groups, forwards and backs, or the whole team, that’s completely different.”


Research consistently demonstrates the need for coaches to get the ‘people side’ of coaching right.

When Coaches get it WRONG:

  • ‘Poor communication’ was the leading cause of burnout in high-level teenage athletes (Sociology of Sport Journal).
  • 42% of student athletes would not consider a future in college athletics because of the poor relationship with the coach (NCAA Study).
  • 232 principals reported 104 coaches were dismissed, primarily for poor relationships with athletes (Journal of PE).

And When Coaches get it RIGHT:

  • The 2008 Olympic Study showed the two leading factors to top performances were a strong coach-athlete relationships and a high level of athlete self-awareness.
  • Bloom & Salmela’s research identified the characteristics of expert team coaches included persistent quest for growth and learning; effective communication; developing a personal coaching style; and good teaching ability’

For this to happen, coach development needs to go beyond tactics and strategies. Coach Development needs to complement a technical program by supporting coaches in the people side of sport. Developing the vital people skills in coaches will differentiate them in the competitive employment market that is elite sport.

How well the ‘people side’ of sport is handled directly impacts whether the team wins or loses, whether people are loyal to the program or leave, and overall how much people enjoy their sport. Technical or physical ability is rarely the defining factor in top performance, always it is managing the ‘people side’ of sport.

Learn more about Best Practice Coach Development, or read the full article on Wilkinson in the Telegraph here.

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

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