5 Traits You Can Learn from Coaches

A team realizes traits and lessons to learn from coaches in athletics.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Dabo Swinney, head football coach of Clemson, on my Framework Leadership podcast. Dabo talked about his journey and how culture and vision drive everything in an organization. 

There were so many powerful concepts he brought to our conversation. That same day, he spoke at our leadership event, the Forum at SEU. He said something that really stood out to me: “You have to win inside before you ever win on the outside.”

This same winning mentality used by successful coaches is also valuable in leadership. If we want our teams to thrive, we have to encourage internal success by believing in them. 

Here are five leadership traits and lessons to learn from coaches. 

1. Expect a strong work ethic. I’ve often heard coaches say, “Leave everything on the field.” Yes, coaches want to win games, but they also want their players to give 100% of their effort. Be sure to set realistic expectations for your teams. Expect them to give everything they can and commend them when they do.

2. Let your team make mistakes. We’ve all heard the stories of athletes who failed before they succeeded. They learn from those failures. In the same way, we need to allow room for our teams to make mistakes. When they do, encourage them to learn and move on. Don’t ever hold failure against them. 

3. Encourage them along the way. When a coach prepares a starting lineup for a game, they believe those are the best players to help them win. From practices to games, they encourage their players because they want to see them succeed. Recognize the potential you have on your team and encourage them to be the best they can be in their roles. You have those individuals on your “starting lineup” for a reason.

4. Give direction, but allow them to make decisions. In football and many other team sports, the coaches are the ones calling the shots. The players might make the decisions on the field or court, but they do so based on strategies the coaches implemented in practices. In the same way, guide your teams into taking the right steps while giving them the opportunity to take charge of their roles

5. Don’t give up. Many teams will experience moments where they lose their winning streaks. As they face loss after loss, they might feel like it’s time to give up. Some might blame it on certain individuals. There are many lessons to learn from coaches in your life. Successful leaders take each moment as a learning opportunity. If your team is discouraged, be the first one to cheer them up. Remind them that every great success comes with time. It can be a frustrating process, but in the end, it will be rewarding. 

Like coaches, we should strive to lead winning teams. To do so, we have to motivate our teams, encourage them along the way and push them outside of their comfort zones. What steps will you take to foster a winning team? 


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