Leadership Insights from the World of Sport

In just a few weeks’ time the Springboks will fly to England in the hope that they will shed their poor winter form  as they step back onto European soil. They’ll be aiming to rekindle the state of mind that set them above the rest when theylast played a World Cup in the Northern Hemisphere. Sports coaches and captains lead in the public eye and a ‘bad day at the office’ is scrutinised by millions – that takes KPI’s into a different league! The most outstanding coaches in the world have a coaching philosophy, a blue print that guides and informs their efforts as a leader. As business leaders we are all too familiar with the need to have a collective vision, mission and strategic objectives, spending countless hours sculpting these route maps. We all aim to find our own personal style of leading within the framework set by the organisation? As much as companies have a brand, leaders have a brand! Are you familiar with your own leadership brand? Let’s study the sports coaches and take a leaf out of their approach to the engaging subject of leadership.

A coaching philosophy is a statement that underlines a coach's values, opinions and beliefs. It is based on their experience and knowledge. Frank Reynolds, a Canadian sports coach says, “A coaching philosophy spells out the coach's approach to delivery and it offers a consistent and  sincere direction for his coaching style.”

The legendary American basketball coach John Wooden captured one of the best - known examples of a coaching philosophy. Wooden, an English and sports teacher at the time, was frustrated with the grading system he was required to use and sought a  way for his students to better understand success as a result of effort invested in a task.

He spent 14 years identifying 25 behaviours that he believed were necessary to achieve his idea of success. His pursuit resulted in a simple but profound diagram Wooden called ‘The Pyramid of Success’ which outlined his coaching philosophy. Completed in 1948, this philosophy became the cornerstone of his coaching and helped him lead his UCLA Bruins to a record 10 NCAA National Basketball Championships in 12 years during the 1960s and 1970s. He was named coach of the 20th century by ESPN.

It is imperative for coaches and leaders to  build their own leadership philosophy rather than to copy and paste someone else’s. Inspiration will come from mentors and leaders in your field but we each need to document a philosophy that is uniquely ours. “It’s not just something that you can copy from someone else. It’s something that has got to resonate with you as a coach. Something that you have built by yourself.” - Reynolds

Constructing of an effective Coaching orLeadership Philosophy must include a range of the elements in Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. They include elements such as knowing yourself.

The most effective coaches have an excellent understanding of their personality traits and habits. They are able to use their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

It’s vital to peel back the layers and get to the essence of who you are as a person, and how you should be coaching or leading.

 Know yourself at the deepest level and identify what motivates you, and  what unique traits  you have inherited or personalised and that you can pass onto others.

  • Understand why you choose to coach or lead and develop a personal mission statement for your leadership. Know you strengths. You might try asking people who know you really well to help you with this process of strength identification. Think about the people in your life who have been a positive influence and what about them had an impact on you.
  • Understand you weaknesses and be clear on your values. Explore your power relationship with the team – are they your team or are you their coach? Understand what motivates and excites you and what habits you cultivated that led to you own success. What do you believe is the best way to motivate others and how do you translate this into a leadership philophy?


Explore you level of flexibility or rigidity. Think about what qualities you need in an assistant coach that will complement your own skills. What additional support staff do you need?

Do you believe in bringing fun into the coaching environment. Is this part of your way of being? Who do you believe is responsible for instilling discipline and what is your role in this process? Do you see yourself as assertive or aggressive? Is this appropriate for the type of relationship you need to have with your team?

How effectively do you communicate? Do you understand what style of communication works best in certain circumstances? How important is winning for you? Can you draw positive learnings for the team from a game lost but played according to the agreed plan? Can you identify and draw value from trends across a number of games or projects? How varied is your toolbox of leadership or coaching techniques and how good are you at identifying the most effective approach for different circumstances.

Being a leader or coach starts with knowing yourself and understanding how to bring your best to any situation so that you can ignite the best in each person you lead.

  • Are you flexible and adaptable or more rigid in your implementation of a game plan?
  • What qualities and skills do you need in an assistant coach/manager?
  • What are the roles of your support staff?
  • Do you have a more serious or fun personality? Do you believe there is room for fun in a coaching environment?
  • Who is responsible for player discipline? Where does your responsibility lie and what role does your club, school or professional body play?
  • Would you describe yourself as appropriately assertive or aggressive?
  • What is your communication style? What avenues of communication are you going to use?
  • Is winning absolutely everything to you or do you believe that a match that you lost, but is well debriefed can result in personal growth and development? Is life bigger than a single game?
  • Are you able to track and measure progress over the span of a few games or a season with a long -­‐ term plan in mind?
  • Are your coaching routines monotonous or do you constantly vary the drills you ask the players to rehearse?

Leave a comment

Name .
Message .

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published