Soft Skills for CoachesCategoriesHigh Performance Podcast Strength & Conditioning Coaches Tips

#248 – How to Unlock Athletic Excellence to Maximize On Field Performance

“Soft Skills for Coaches” takes center stage in this episode of “Prepare like a Pro” as we have the privilege of hosting John Kiely, an outstanding performance and innovation expert in PE and Sports Sciences. Join us as we delve into the secrets of unlocking athletic excellence through the power of soft skills for coaches to maximize on-field performance. John shares his deep insights and expertise gained through years of research, teaching, and practical application. Whether you’re an athlete, coach, or sports enthusiast, this episode will provide you with valuable strategies and principles to elevate your performance and achieve your full potential.

Highlights from the episode:

  • The role of psychological factors that influence athletic performance
  • Are soft skills trainable?
  • How to design effective coaching sessions
  • Athlete recovery for in season
  • Building awareness and doing mental warmup before starting a training session

People mentioned:

  • Rooney Smith
  • Aston Moore
  • Mark Rowland
  • Brett Bartholomew
  • Allan Mcdonald

The Impact of Soft Skills in Coaching: Shaping Champions Beyond Technical Proficiency



In the world of sports coaching, technical proficiency and tactical acumen have long been the focal points of success. Coaches were primarily judged by their ability to fine-tune athletes’ skills and devise winning strategies. However, the paradigm is shifting, and a growing realization is emerging that softer skills play a critical role in creating truly exceptional athletes and successful teams. John Kiely, a renowned Senior Lecturer in Performance and Innovation in PE and Sports Science, has been a pioneer in championing the significance of these soft skills in coaching. In this blog post, we explore the importance of softer skills, the coach’s ability to shape a shared direction, and the strategies coaches can employ to enhance their effectiveness beyond technical expertise.

1. The Importance of Softer Skills in Coaching

As the applause roars through the stadium, coaches often bask in the limelight for their athletes’ victories. However, the true success of a coach is often rooted in their ability to connect with athletes on a deeper level and inspire them to achieve greatness. Soft skills encompass a range of qualities, including communication, empathy, emotional intelligence, and leadership. John Kiely emphasizes that technical prowess alone cannot foster a winning team; the foundation must be built on trust, respect, and genuine relationships between coaches and athletes.

The role of a coach extends beyond training sessions and game strategies. Coaches serve as mentors, confidants, and motivators. The ability to understand the unique needs and personalities of athletes can lead to profound transformations in their performance. When athletes feel supported and valued, they are more likely to push their boundaries and strive for excellence. Therefore, developing softer skills is essential for coaches who seek to unlock the full potential of their athletes.

2. Shaping a Shared Direction and Raising Athletes’ Expectations

John Kiely believes that great coaches share a common ability to shape a shared direction with their athletes. It goes beyond merely imposing their vision; instead, it involves fostering a collaborative environment where athletes have a say in their journey. When athletes feel actively involved in setting goals and defining their path, they become more invested in the process.

A shared direction aligns the coach’s objectives with the athletes’ aspirations, creating a strong sense of purpose and motivation. Moreover, successful coaches are skilled at raising athletes’ expectations of themselves. By instilling belief and confidence, coaches can inspire athletes to exceed their perceived limitations. This transformational approach can lead to remarkable achievements and a lasting impact on athletes’ lives beyond the playing field.

3. The Neglected Psychological and Emotional Aspects

Despite the undeniable significance of softer skills in coaching, traditional coaching training often neglects psychological and emotional aspects. Many coaching certification programs focus primarily on technical aspects of the game, leaving coaches ill-equipped to handle the complexities of human emotions and mental states. This void can lead to missed opportunities for coaches to connect with athletes on a deeper level and address their mental well-being.

Recognizing and addressing psychological and emotional needs can make a crucial difference in an athlete’s development. Anxiety, self-doubt, and burnout are just some of the challenges athletes face throughout their careers. Coaches who can provide support, guidance, and resources to navigate these challenges can profoundly impact an athlete’s resilience and performance.

4. Strategies for Coaches to Improve Soft Skills

The path to becoming an exceptional coach lies in a commitment to continuous self-improvement. Furthermore, here are some strategies coaches can employ to enhance their soft skills and overall effectiveness:

a. Self-Awareness: Self-reflection is the first step in cultivating softer skills. Coaches must critically examine their coaching methods, communication styles, and emotional reactions to various situations. Recognizing strengths and areas for growth enables coaches to adapt and evolve.

b. Active Listening and Communication: Effective communication is the cornerstone of building strong relationships with athletes. Coaches should practice active listening and empathy, allowing athletes to express their thoughts and concerns openly.

c. Emotional Intelligence: Understanding and managing one’s emotions and recognizing emotions in others is a key aspect of emotional intelligence. Coaches with high emotional intelligence can provide better support and encouragement to athletes.

d. Relationship Building: Building trust and rapport with athletes requires time and effort. Coaches should invest in getting to know their athletes on a personal level and create a positive and supportive environment.

e. Goal Setting: Collaboratively setting realistic and challenging goals with athletes can boost motivation and foster a shared sense of direction.

f. Mindfulness and Mental Skills Training: Introducing mindfulness and mental skills training into coaching programs can enhance athletes’ mental resilience and emotional well-being.


In conclusion, the role of soft skills in coaching cannot be underestimated. John Kiely’s insights have shed light on the significance of building strong relationships as well as shaping shared directions, and fostering a supportive environment for athletes. Moreover, by recognizing the value of psychological and emotional aspects, coaches can create a profound impact on their athletes’ performance and overall well-being.

To be an exceptional coach, technical proficiency must be complemented by emotional intelligence, effective communication, and a genuine commitment to the growth and development of athletes. As the coaching landscape evolves, coaches who embrace and enhance their softer skills will stand out as true champions in the eyes of their athletes and the sports community. Let us embrace the power of softer skills and shape a future where coaches inspire greatness in athletes beyond the game.

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