Are your athletes coachable (...and why they should care!)

written by Erica Quam


The eye-rolls. The whispers. Groups of your athletes...bitching and complaining about the workout, the meeting, or the feedback you gave them. This kind of stuff can drive a coach crazy and wear you down - mentally and emotionally.

It's not always easy to be a coach...especially a head coach. Everything you do is open to someone else's interpretation and open to other people's judgements and criticism.

How do you coach your athletes so they know you care about them as people and push them hard enough to reach their potential?

It's a fine line for coaches to walk...especially female coaches.

If you're doing it well, you'll teeter right on that edge. Some days you'll push too hard, other times you'll pamper too much.

What I know for sure is you won't ever be able to please everyone all of the time. You can't change course with every judgement and criticism that comes your way. 

What you CAN do is educate your athletes on your role as a coach, teach them how to work with you most effectively, and help them learn how to be coachable. might be best for them to move on.


An easy way to answer this question is to look at what it means to NOT be coachable, first.

  • Taking feedback and criticism personally.
  • Not listening.
  • Thinking you already know something.
  • Not being open to someone else's perspective.
  • Negative attitude.
  • Pessimistic outlook. 
  • Using sarcasm instead of being direct.
  • Making it all about you.
  • Being disrespectful of others opinions, beliefs, and values.
  • Putting other people down.
  • Pointing fingers and blaming rather than owning up to mistakes and taking responsibility for actions.
  • Unwilling to self reflect.
  • Lack of openness to new skills, ideas, and/or change.
  • What else would you add to this list???

As you read over this list, see if you can identify any that you currently struggle with as a coach.

If any of the things on the list are hard for you - with all of your experience and wisdom - then I'm gonna guess they'll be hard for your athletes, too.

The tricky thing is, you can't just show your athletes this list and expect them to be able to change their behavior on the spot. You have to be a little more strategic. 


Look closer at your thoughts, feelings, and desires during in a situation when you're un-coachable. You're probably struggling way more than you should be. Yes or no?

THOUGHTS: For starters, what kind of THOUGHT pattern are you in when you're not coachable? Positive or negative?

FEELINGS: How do you FEEL when you're not coachable? Good or bad?

ACTIONS/BEHAVIORS: How do you BEHAVE when you're not coachable? Are you moving closer to your goals, staying stuck, or moving further away?

WANTS: What are you actually wanting when you're not coachable? Is it all about you?

Help your athletes understand that being un-coachable is a downward spiral. Your thoughts are negative, you feel bad, you're either behaving in a destructive way or not taking any action at all and staying stuck. You're making it all about you. 

When you're being un-coachable, it may be hard for you to even imagine anything else. If you think you've been wronged, hurt, judged, or criticized by's hard to get out of that pattern. You tend to fight back or run away because you think you have to protect yourself. You go into survival mode. It's biology!


1. Awareness

If you recognize you're in a pattern like this the most important step is awareness. You have to become aware of what's going on before you can do anything about it.

Take a breath to observe what's going on within yourself. Get curious.

2. Examine your thoughts, feelings, and wants

THOUGHTS: What are you thinking? What's the story you're telling yourself. Is that story real?

FEELINGS: How are you feeling? Angry, anxious, mad, sad? See if you can name the emotion you're feeling.

DESIRES: What do you want? What do you really want? What do you really, really want?

3. Step into the coach's shoes

It's helpful to look at the behind-the-scenes of the coaching you've received.

  • Look at the other person's role. Is it their role to coach you? Is it their job to give you feedback?
  • Look at their intention. Is their ultimate intention to help you?
  • Look at their perspective. Is it possible they see a bigger picture than you?

If you answered yes to these questions, then it's really worth looking at why you're being so difficult. It's not about them. It's definitely about you.


Being coachable - even if it makes you feel vulnerable - is the secret to achieving most of your dreams.
— Laura Probert

Being coachable is one of life's most important skills and attitudes that goes well beyond the playing field. You'll be much happier and productive in this lifetime if you stay open to learning, growing, and improving. 

It's important to be able to listen to someone else's feedback and constructive criticism without taking it personally. 

When you look at someone who is coachable compared to someone who is not...they're typically healthier, happier, have a better attitude, and a more optimistic outlook. Being coachable inspires other people around you because you're moving forward and getting results or at the very least...learning a whole lot more.


When you're being un-coachable, shift your perspective. Imagine yourself on another team, at a other school, in another coaching position, in another job. Would things really be different? Is it the coach you're struggling with (or your boss, or a supervisor) or is it yourself?

Most athletes I've seen who have transferred to a different school because of a conflict with the coach had just as many problems at the next school. That's because they were un-coachable. It was all about them. Hard to know if any of them ever figured it out or if they just always thought the grass would be greener with the next opportunity.


What if you go through your collegiate career fighting against your coach the whole way? What's going to happen when you get a job? Will you constantly fight your boss on every piece of feedback? Will you go above their head, speak with their boss and complain how you've been wronged? Will you parents call to try and get your boss fired?

This is a cycle many coaches get to experience first hand. It's a little ridiculous to think about this happening in the workforce. Parents would help their sons and daughters so much more if they would teach them to be coachable instead of buying into their stories.

My advice to coaches is to recruit the athletes who are coachable. This skill is way more important than talent. It will make or break your team culture.

Show this list to your recruits. Ask if they are and will be coachable? Observe them at practice and competition. Watch them with their coaches, parents, and teammates. Un-coachable behavior is something you can observe. If you see evidence that they're un-coachable, let them know they can go find another team. 

Now, it’s your turn. Share one thing YOU can do to be more coachable in the comments below (because coaches also need to be coachable) and one insight you can share with your team.