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A Coach’s Most Important Attribute

A coach asked me the other day,

‘In your opinion, what’s the most important attribute for a team captain, coach or leader?

My answer was simple: ‘To be happy’.

By his reaction, my reply came as a surprise. I imagine he was expecting something more tangible. Something that could be worked on or applied.

But in terms of encouraging a healthy culture within a team or organisation, in bringing people with you, in demonstrating authentic leadership, nothing is more powerful than a leader who has a strong understanding of their own well-being and happiness. Someone who is established in that knowing.

Why is this so?

Because happiness and well-being are what every human being values more than anything else. If you ask anyone what they want, or want for their children, the answer is the same;

‘To be happy.’

We can prove this immutable fact with simple logic. When we are happy, we stop seeking things to make us happy. Therefore, the purpose of life, the mission, is happiness.

Happiness could be defined as ‘the absence of seeking happiness’.

Why do we feel happy when we win? Because for a short period of time, we stop seeking. It isn’t success in itself that feels good. Success simply means that the search for happiness is suspended for a few minutes, hours or days.

We experience our true nature, who we really are. We relax and feel content.

The Ultimate Shared Objective

When someone is established in their own well-being, in happiness, this fact is communicated in ways beyond words.

You can sense it. They might be very different from you in terms of their character, their ideas, their culture or the way they speak, but there is something about them. A lack of ego. An openness.

You may not know why, but you just get the feeling – ‘I like this person. I enjoy being around them’.

When a coach shows up from this place, from this knowing of who they really are, players want to be part of what they are building.

They want to play for them. They might not be able to put into words the reason why. They just have a sense that they want to come along for the ride.

Every coaching manual talks about shared objectives. Happiness is what we all aspire to, so it’s inevitable we will be drawn to people who epitomise it. It is the ultimate shared goal.

From the outside, it might be hard to pinpoint what a coach like this is doing well.

They would probably be described as ‘a good man-manager’. Other coaches might try to copy the way they talk to the players. Or try to turn the way they build relationships into techniques or strategies. Unfortunately, these attempts to replicate an effect without understanding the cause always backfire.

Getting to know a player’s background, circumstances or family from a place of genuine curiosity, love and connection will strengthen a coaching relationship.

Doing so from a perspective of trying to change or control that player’s behaviour, or to improve their performance comes across as contrived, fake, even a bit creepy. It’s the opposite of authentic leadership.

Authentic Leadership – The Key to Consistency

What shines through when we read about or hear the words of a great coach, is that these individuals have a deep and clear understanding of their own well-being. 

They know where their experience is really coming from. Therefore, they understand and deeply value the well-being of the players and staff they work with. 

Regardless of how the game plays out, they are consistent in how they show up, in how they relate to and connect with the people around them.

A coach who believes that their well-being can be affected by the result of a game, the performance of a player, their position or status, or any other outside situation or circumstance, will be living in a perpetual state of insecurity and anxiety.

This insecurity is very hard to hide.

A coach who understands that they are OK regardless of the bounce of the ball, the points on the scoreboard, the performance of the referee or the standings in the league table, will be steadfast and resolute in carrying forward the strategy which they believe will benefit the team in the long term.

This consistency of approach will invariably show up in consistency of the teams results.

Authentic Relationships Based on Values

The coach who understands her own well-being will build her relationship with every player based on values which are common to all human beings. (You can read more about these values here.)

This doesn’t mean she is ‘nice’ all the time, or she doesn’t make difficult decisions, or avoids confrontations. The opposite is true.

A coach who is grounded in their own well-being doesn’t need to be friends with everyone, although they probably will be.

When a coach knows that his or her happiness is not affected by whether someone likes them, respects them or what others think about them, then they know that the same is true for their players.

This leaves them free to make decisions in the best interests of the team, based on their own instincts and intuition. Inevitably sometimes mistakes are made.

Decisions sometimes turn out to be wrong.

But again, the coach who is grounded in happiness has no problem admitting them and learning the lessons. They can apologise if necessary and move on, without worrying about losing respect or making excuses.

The best coaches I have worked with are inevitably the ones with the fewest rules.

When you live the values which are universal to all human beings, your players will tend to do so too.

If you show up from a place of love, of well-being, of enthusiasm and freedom, then again, the players will buy in, even if they don’t intellectually understand why.

Culture Thrives with Authentic Leadership 

Unfortunately, many coaches and leaders go about trying to change the culture in their organisations without investigating and attending to their own happiness and well-being first.

They are left wondering why the players either buy in for a short while, then slip back into old habits, or they simply pay lip service to the new ideas.

A coach who doesn’t understand where their own well-being comes from, will operate from an underlying feeling of insecurity, or fear, of worry. They feel they need rules to direct behaviour, which will make them feel more in control.

Defining or describing a set of behaviours or beliefs which you want your players to exhibit or buy into will not produce a healthy culture. It is putting the cart about 2 miles in front of the horse.

Likewise, trying to bond or connect a group of individuals by emphasising their shared differences with another group or team will often backfire.

It may look like you are enhancing togetherness when you create a siege mentality, but the deeper sense of insecurity and separation can show up in terms of over aggression and ill-discipline. Red heads rather than blue heads in the current parlance.

The players sense that something isn’t right, and this conflict shows up in their behaviour and lack of discipline.


So next time you have the opportunity to reflect on your coaching practice, perhaps ask yourself this question.

Are you doing what you do because you are happy? Or are you doing it in order to try to become happy?

Do you believe that your well-being, your value, your quality of life is dependent on a result, outcome or performance?

If the latter is true, or if you don’t understand the question, or if you don’t agree with the premise of this article please feel free to get in touch.

The problem is not a character flaw. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a bad coach. It is a simple misunderstanding we all fall for to a greater or lesser degree from time to time.

Anyone can see through the misunderstanding at any moment.

Likewise, if you aren’t enjoying your coaching as much as you have done in the past. If you are feeling under pressure, or you feel that your connection with players and staff isn’t as good as it could be, please get in touch to arrange a time for a chat.

Happiness isn’t something that you can lose, or gain from outside attainment or achievement.

Happiness is your source, your true self, your birthright, as well as being the key to authentic leadership.

The challenge isn’t knowing where to find it. It is realising which of the beliefs and concepts you hold dear are getting in the way of you experiencing it more often.

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