In 2018, I (Kyle) began a masters at Stanford University, and my master’s thesis focused on coaching, specifically on what athlete’s experience with great coaching. I (Kyle) interviewed 98 athletes that competed and practiced under legendary coaches in various sports, including basketball, football, and professional and college programs. With these 98 athletes, I (Kyle) found four common themes that emerged.

Simply put, a good coach can make a significant difference, but a great coach can teach their players lessons that will last a lifetime and have a life-changing impact on an athlete. The title of my (Kyle) master’s thesis was “It’s Not What They Do, but How They Do It: Athletes’ Experiences with Great Coaching.”

Notably, the athletes I (Kyle) interviewed played under championship-winning coaches, the best of the best. The most common answers from the athletes were related to four specific factors.

Firstly, great coaches created a unique learning environment on and off the court, during bus or plane trips, and in locker rooms. The coach would share their wisdom and knowledge, making everything a life or game lesson, and always making it relatable. For example, one football player I interviewed recalled a coach who had them practice in a field during a blizzard when their bus broke down. This experience helped them in the game, which was also snowing.

Secondly, great coaches put the athlete first, protecting them and always having their best interests at heart. It wasn’t about the coach’s ego or interests, but about fostering a team environment.

Thirdly, great coaches hold the team and themselves to a higher standard. They create positive habits and ensure everyone is on the same page, and they do this without punishing players.

Finally, every practice a great coach leads is purposeful, intense, and meticulous.

In summary, all coaches teach, communicate, prepare, and have expectations. But great coaches teach details and lessons on and off the court, communicate honestly, prepare meticulously, and expect to see their expectations met. So, in conclusion, it’s not about what a coach does, but how they do it that sets great coaches apart.

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