The Role of a Coach

Written by on June 28, 2012 in Coaching - No comments

Southlake Carroll head football coach talks to his players, including quarterback Chase Daniel (standing) after a summer practice. The team would finish the season undefeated Texas 5A Division II champions and generally regarded as high school national champions. (Photo by Robert James Hughes. Used under Common License)

Before identifying the role of the coach, it is necessary to define what a coach is. Merriam Webster online dictionary defines a coach as a person that instructs or trains (“Coach,” n.d.). This definition implies that anyone who teaches others to play sports is a coach. However, it is my opinion that in order to have the title “Coach,” the person must be an educated professional. According to the USA cycling Level Coaching Manual, a coach, as any other professional, is “expected to perform certain tasks with a degree of consistency, integrity, and skill. (Stepan, 2008)” The manual further suggests that a complete coach should take on the following roles: the teacher, the motivator, the advisor, the organizer, the risk manager, the representative, and the role model.

The primary role of the coach is as the teacher. Coaches not only teach the athlete how to train, but also teaches skill development. Just as with a teacher in school, a good coach needs to direct the content of the material being taught to the appropriate audience. Young athletes are not treated the same as seasoned veterans.

Beyond teaching skills and training techniques, a good coach must teach character. It is often believed that sport builds character, however Eitzen (2009) suggests that there is no concrete evidence that sport in itself builds character. However, he is only partially correct. Sport will not build character unless there is a coach that assists in teaching the athlete the importance of character. This is the point that Hedstrom (2004) makes. He claims that character can be enhanced when fair play, sportsmanship, and moral development information is systematically taught to children in a sport or physical education setting.

The coach must be a motivator. A coach needs to keep his/her athletes interested. In addition to keeping the athlete interested, the coach must help inspire the athlete to perform at their maximum ability, despite any adversity or discomfort (Stephan, 2008). At the same time, the coach should allow each athlete to display their own expression in their riding or running.

How does a coach motivate their athletes? Despite the claims Eitzen (2009), it is not necessary to motivate athletes by yelling and degrading them, or worse spanking them (Duke, 2010). Research shows that coaches using “positive coaching” techniques are better liked by their athletes and have a considerably far better attrition rate for their athletes (Hedstrom, 2004). It is important to note that these benefits were achieved regardless of the win loss record.

When motivating an athlete, it is important to be true to your own personality (Stepan, 2008). An outgoing person should use this enthusiasm to inspire their athletes. A quiet person should use their confidence to encourage the athlete. However, the best motivation for athletes in cycling or track and field is by far confidence. This certainty that hard work will payoff is the strongest foundation a coach can give their athletes.

If there is importance in winning, it’s in winning the trust of your athletes. Trust motivates riders; you earn it by being truthful and consistent. A trusted coach can be confident that athletes will believe his or her information and advice. Then, other motivational elements like inspiration will work. (Stepan, 2008)

By inspiring athletes, a coach is able to bring out what is already inside the athlete. This may mean drawing on the athlete’s emotional power in a positive way. Give the athletes a calm display of the facts that demonstrate their potential to succeed. The key is to be consistent, positive rather than critical, and truthful in what you say.

Pensgaard and Roberts (2002) Suggests that the support coaches give their athletes within the competitive experience should be focused on “mastery criteria of providing success.” Coaches should provide feedback to facilitate the performance, and avoid being a potential source of distress for their athletes. This is true regardless of the skill level of the athlete.

The third role that a coach must take on is that of the advisor. This one is the hardest for coaches to accept. Once it is decided to use an athlete-centered approach to coaching, the coach must realize that most important person in any athletic program is the athlete. They have the final say on everything from how hard they work to when they leave the house for an event. As coaches, we give advise on the following elements:

  • Training – workout types, intensity, volume, and other elements;
  • Equipment – the right equipment for training and competition;
  • Competition – race strategy, tactics, and course evaluation;
  • Lifestyle – good, healthy habits;
  • Career – making the athletic activity a life long experience.

Coaches have a lot of advice to give in these areas. If we build trust, as discussed earlier, there should be no problem in the athlete following our advice.

The next role for a coach is that of the organizer. The coach’s responsibility can be broken down into two distinct areas: training and competition. Organizing training is much more than getting all the athletes in one place at one time. Working with cycling and track and field athletes requires coordinating the team focus with the individual needs and goals. This is easier if the overall program is athlete-centered. In competition, the organizing skills require the coach to make sure that all the athletes make it to the event on time, warm up correctly, are briefed on how the competition will unfold, keeping track of race progression, and interceding if necessary. This is extremely critical if dealing with a group of athletes.

Probably one of the most important roles of a coach is that of a risk manager. This is more than just making sure that all the conditions for training and competing are safe. It also means taking the athletes over all safety consideration. According to Eitzen (2009) it common practice for coaches to force or allow injured players to compound the injuries by playing them for the sake of a win. This is not a safe practice. The risk of future health of the athlete is not worth a win. As coaches, we need to make sure that our athletes are able to continue a good career of playing sports. This means not playing them when injured and continued efforts could make the situation worse, nor should we allow the athlete to continue to workout continuously without rest. Over training syndrome should be avoided at all costs.

The coach is also a representative. They represent the athlete and the athlete’s interests at competitions. This could be as simple as calling event organizers for information, but it also could mean responding in behalf of the athlete when they are fouled or disqualified. A coach needs to be focused on getting the best possible decision for the athlete; furthermore, a coach needs to think and communicate clearly to defuse negative emotions of the athlete and others involved. This works with the final role of a coach.

The final role that a coach must take on is that of the role model. On the surface this seams simple, but it probably the most profound role the coach takes on. Stepan (2008) states that athletes will learn and emulate their coach’s actions and methods. Speaking generally about cyclists, he further states “ Negative, ballistic coaches create that type of rider. Positive, fun-loving coaches tend to produce cyclist who enjoy riding.”

It is clear that this role works well with the role of the teacher. It is the responsibility of the coach to teach the athlete the character that is usually associated with sport such as caring, being honest, being respectful, taking responsibility, and general fair play. According to the American Sport Education Programs handbook (2008), in order to teach child athletes good character coaches must first model the behavior. This means that we as coaches need to demonstrate the behavior and character we want our athletes to have.

American Sport Education Program. (2008). Coaching youth track and field. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Bailey, R. (2012, May 28). So what is developmentally appropriate sport? [Web log post]. Retrieved May 28, 2012, from
Duke, A. (2010, November 11). Mississippi basketball coach accused of whipping players [CNN Online posting]. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from
Eitzen, D. S. (2009). Fair and foul: beyond the myths and paradoxes of sport. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Friel, J. (2009). The cyclist’s training bible. Boulder, CO: VeloPress.
Gambetta, V. (2011, May 20). Great workout? [Web log post]. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from
Hedstrom, R., & Gould, D. (2004). Research in youth sports: Critical issues sttus (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Michigan State University. Retrieved November 11, 2010, from
Pensgaard, A. M., & Roberts, G. C. (2002). Elite athletes’ experiences of the motivational climate: The coach matters. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 12(1), 54-59. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0838.2002.120110.x
Stepan, G. (2008). Role of the coach. In Level 3 coaching manual: USA Cycling (pp. 9-53). Colorado Springs, CO: USA Cycling.

Wayne Pedranti

About Wayne Pedranti

Wayne Pedranti is a traditional Naturopath and a Master Herbalist. He is a Master Level Certified Sports Nutrition Adviser educated at the Cory Holly Institute. He has been cycling for well over 20 years, and is a licensed coach with USA Cycling and USA Track and Field. He has a Masters Degree in Coaching Education at Ohio University. He uses his training on natural health and coaching to build a comprehensive training plans that builds health, fitness, and performance.

Leave a Comment

− one = 1