Business Success and Coaching Leadership: What’s the Connection?

Undoubtedly, one of the most critical factors influencing clients or athletes is leadership, specifically coach leadership.”

In recent years, there has been heavy research on coach leadership and its role in client morale and success. However, as coaches, we have known the importance of leadership since the dawn of time.

While the significance of leadership development is well-established, many coaches and administrators have failed to implement systematic approaches to encourage continued learning and improve leadership skills within their businesses and organizations.

This article offers practical strategies for improving your leadership qualities, becoming a better coach, and ultimately improving client outcomes.

What Is Leadership Development

In short, developing the leadership capacity of coaches and staff can dramatically increase the chances of meeting the team’s leadership needs. Moreover, improved coaching leadership skills help:

  • Boost staff morale
  • Improve cohesion – Boost client satisfaction and – Confidence.

In recent years, the study of coach leadership development has emerged as a stand-alone discipline separate from traditional leadership development methods. Regardless, acquiring knowledge in behavioral skills, teamwork, and motivation is only possible with a quality “coach leadership” program in place.

To date, training initiatives have largely failed to produce effective leaders. This failure results from coaches and managers developing leadership literacy by teaching “complex methodologies” rather than providing practical opportunities like “on-the-job” training.

Why is Coach Leadership So Important

Effective leadership requires personal qualities like passion, commitment, and visionary thinking. However, great leaders also produce results under pressure, which means they must be able to work well in high-stress environments.

To lead effectively, it is essential for owners and administrators to have a thorough understanding of their organization’s internal operations. This also applies to coaches, who must be aware of external pressures that could negatively impact their client’s performance.

By staying up-to-date with internal and external factors affecting your business, you can ensure that your coaching team is functioning optimally. As any coach will tell you, implementing change can be tricky.

Successful coaches understand how their influence and status can make or break the team’s morale. Below are five fundamentals that all successful coaches and administrators use to lead effectively:

  1. Reward
  2. Coercion (in the good sense)
  3. Legitimacy
  4. Expertise and
  5. Referencing

Coaches should be cautious when implementing changes, as there is a risk that some clients or staff may not understand the reasoning behind it. Therefore, coaches should be mindful of the potential consequences of any changes and ensure they communicate the reasoning behind them.

Keep in mind that personal traits and characteristics can help build positive relationships with clients and staff. Honesty, morality, and leading by example are all attributes that can help ensure that everyone is receptive to any new changes made.

How to Develop Leadership Skills as a Coach

When it comes to further developing coaches as leaders, it might be helpful to reconsider some of the traits previously discussed, such as leading by example, thriving under pressure, and communicating effectively.

In recent years, leadership in sports and fitness has been heavily studied not just by academics but coaches with “real-world experience and results.”

The vast majority of research has suggested that formal and informal learning strategies help develop leadership qualities in coaches. However, experiential education, i.e., “on-the-job training,” has been shown to have the most significant influence in developing highly successful coaching leaders.

In 2007, Smith and Smoll developed a leadership training program designed to further promote and improve leadership skills and qualities for coaches. The program was called “Coach Effectiveness Training” or CET and comprised five fundamental coaching principles that enhanced leadership among coaches.

  1. Building a coaching philosophy that promotes and prioritizes continued learning and focuses on effort and joy.
  2. Provide positive feedback, encouragement, and reinforcement for clients and staff.
  3. Ingraining the mindset that it’s the duty of all coaching staff to continually support and guide athletes/clients.
  4. Communicating and consulting with the leadership group, helping ensure that staff and clients “buy-in” to any proposed changes.
  5. Engaging in honest self-evaluation of their actions, how they impact performance, and their relationships with staff and clientele.

In 2019, Farrar et al. examined the value of the coach-player relationship development module presented by the United States Olympic Committee’s National Team Coach Leadership Education Program (NTCLEP).

This module focused on coaching self-appraisal and awareness, emotional acumen, self-management, and effective communication. After interviewing multiple coaches enrolled in the program, researchers concluded that:

  • The ability of coaches to communicate effectively, both interpersonally and intrapersonally, was critical to pursuing leadership.
  • Coaches had the most influence over team morale and culture, client and staff performance, and goals.

As any coach will tell you, coaching requires you to wear multiple hats. The key takeaway is that coaches must create an environment where clients and staff can thrive individually and as part of the team.

That’s A Wrap

Over the past two decades, coaching has evolved significantly, with coaches now needing to consider several factors that impact their leadership style.

Remember, to improve your leadership abilities, it’s essential to continue developing yourself by adopting various methods, such as keeping up-to-date with the latest research, enrolling in online courses, and attending hands-on training sessions.


Brenton is an Australian with 20 years of experience working with professional athletes who have won more than 15 international events combined. He holds a degree in Sports Coaching and was the former Head Coach of the Japanese Government Sports Institute. Brenton also served as the former Manager & Head Coach to Australia’s Governing Sporting Body and has been a Dunlop International Advisory Board member since 2010. Additionally, he has successfully been self-employed for 17 years and understands the challenges of building a business. Brenton’s expertise lies in goal setting, leadership, internal and external motivation, biomechanics, and program design and delivery. Brenton continues to consult with professional athletes and sporting organizations.

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