Up Your Game This Season: 7 Leadership Skills To Master As A Coach [Part 1 - Self Awareness]

written by Erica Quam

There's no arrival as a coach.  

No matter what job, position, title, or role you're striving for...you'll never be "there". 

Ask any coach who has been hired at their dream job...or won a national championship...or coached an Olympic Team.  You never get to a place where you can kick back, sip on umbrella drinks, and relax…so you can put your team on cruise control.

Coaches are on a continual path towards mastery. 

Mastery is not about being perfect, good or bad, right or wrong.  Mastery is experiential and fluid. Research and development.

I’d like to invite you on a journey, of sorts, to explore seven specific leadership skills and how you relate to them as a coach.

I hope you'll join me to see what tangible steps you can take towards your own expansion - as the leader of your team.


The leadership skill that impacts all other leadership skills is self awareness.

If you aren't aware of your strengths, weaknesses, or your impact on others...you're going to struggle to lead.

Self awareness is also about your ability to identify your own thoughts, feelings, wants, and sensations at the same time you're interacting with someone else...who has their own thoughts, feelings, wants, and sensations going on.

Self awareness isn't a skill you'll ever totally master, check off the list, and say that you've got. 

It's complicated!

Have you ever had an athlete who really tested you? Someone who seemed to know just the right buttons to push to upset, distract, or really irritate you?

What about a difficult supervisor or administrator? Have you ever had a boss you just didn't click with? 

No matter how hard you tried to communicate effectively, they never got what you were trying to say or attempt to understand your challenge.

The key thing to remember in any relationship is you can't change the other person. You can only change yourself.

You have to be able to manage your own thoughts, wants, and feelings - no matter what's going on with the other person.

If you don't tune in to what's going on with yourself...things can get tricky - fast! 


Here's a tool I use with coaches that may help you develop self awareness.  I call it, the 'Self Awareness Box'.  I'll talk you through an example of how you can apply it.


thoughts (3).png


  • What story are you telling?
  • Is it true?
  • Can you know for sure it's true?


  • Are you mad, sad, glad, or afraid?


  • sweaty palms
  • higher HR
  • faster breathing
  • jittery
  • flushed


  • What's true (What do you want?)
  • What's truer (What do you really want?)
  • What's truest (What do you really, really want?)

Let's look at example:

Carol found out her assistant coach was having meetings with a few of her student-athletes behind her back.  She called me more angry than I'd ever heard her before.  I let her vent for a while.  She thought he was trying to undermine her and get her fired so that he could take over her job.  She was ready to fire him for being disloyal...but she wasn't sure if she could even go to her administration.  What if he had already gone in and complained about her?  

I asked her if she'd had a chance to talk to him yet? 

She hadn't. 

This was a good opportunity for her to explore her awareness box - by looking at her thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations before she talks to her assistant. 


I asked Carol to tell me what happened. 

Humans make inferences.  I do it, you do it, we all do it. 

You filter data through your own unique lens of life.  Your experiences are unique to you.  If your brain doesn't have all the data laid it needs it will make up the rest.  Your brain likes certainty.

When Carol was an athlete, her head coach was fired.  Their assistant coach had 'secret meetings' with a couple disgruntled athletes who were burned out, took complaints to the administration, and in her mind the rest was history.  The coach she liked and had been recruited by got fired and she had to play for this other guy - who she didn't really like or trust - for the rest of her career. 

It made sense that Carol would jump to the conclusion that her assistant coach was being disloyal when she heard about him having meetings with athletes.

Whether it was true or not...it was good for her to learn more about what she was thinking and where her thoughts originated.

When you tune into all the chatter that inside your brain...ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Is there a story I'm telling?
  2. Is it true?
  3. Can I absolutely know it's true?

After sharing her thoughts, Carol decided she couldn't know her thoughts were true until she gathered more data.


I asked Carol what she was feeling.

"I'm so pissed.  I can't even believe he would do this to me.  I've worked so hard to get to this position and he's totally taking away this opportunity from me."

The more she talked and breathed her emotions diffused.  

Carol wasn't angry anymore.  

She was sad.  She was sad and afraid.  

She was sad that someone she trusted would undermine her and she was scared she would get fired...like her former coach.

Things get tricky when you convince yourself that you feel one emotion vs. another.

What seemed like anger at first glance was actually sadness and fear. 

That's a totally different conversation!


Your body is a great tool for self awareness.  If you allow yourself to tune into what's going on.  

Whether you get tingles of excitement, your face feels hot, you feel your chest pounding, or you have an uneasy feeling in your stomach...your body can give you some valuable clues as to what's going on inside you. 

Take the time to tune in.  All it takes is one deep breath.  Close your eyes if it helps. 

What's your body telling you?


Every situation or challenge contains multiple layers of your true intentions, your wants and desires.

Carol first told me that all she really wanted was to know what was going on.  She wanted to know exactly what was being said in these meetings and exactly what her assistant was talking to her athletes about.

Then, she softened a bit.  She really just wanted to know that her assistant coach believed her and what she was doing as a leader.

After several minutes she got even more clear. 

This wasn't about her assistant at all. 

What she most wanted was to have a connection with every athlete on her team.  She didn't know why some athletes seemed to be more comfortable going to him.  The athletes who were having these meetings were coincidentally the best athletes on the team.

No matter what happens in the conversation with her assistant coach, it was important for Carol to reflect on this situation.  

Carol's whole demeanor changed.  Her voice was more quiet. The pace of our conversation slowed down.  She went from being defensive and closed to more open and relaxed.  She was much more grounded and clear.

As a leader it's important to get clear on what you really, really want.  

This takes time.  It's why I refer to self awareness as a leadership skill.

Like any other skill - like the skills you teach your athletes on the field - you can work on and further develop your own self awareness.

Now, in the moment...it's hard to stop and walk through each step of the box. And, like any other skill if you start to utilize it more frequently, you'll find that you will get much better at tuning into this in the moment.

Maybe there is something going on with Carol's assistant coach.  He has his own box going on that Carol now needs to investigate.

As always, leave a comment or ask me a question about what you just read below.