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8/23/22 blog post

choosing the right coach for your athlete


in this article:

By: Tiffany Porter

A key aspect of every athlete's development is having the right coach to help them along their journey. 

A coach can make or break an athlete, so it is crucial to choose wisely. 

Here are some tips to ensure you are setting yourself up for success by having great people in your corner. 

Be clear what the expectations will be on both sides

In any relationship, unmet expectations can be incredibly frustrating, and the coach/athlete dynamic is no different. That's why it is key to lay out exactly what you're looking for from your coach and then gather that same information from them. 

  • If you're a basketball player looking to get quicker on the court, then employing a track/speed coach for supplemental sessions may be the missing link versus a more traditional approach. 
  • If you're a gymnast looking to increase your upper body strength, then consulting a strength & conditioning coach to target your deficiencies may be more of a priority. 
  • If you're a ballerina who struggles with knowing which foods provide the best fuel, then hiring a dietician (aka nutrition coach) can be pivotal in keeping your diet optimal. 
  • If you're a track athlete who suffers from debilitating pre-race anxiety, using a sports psychologist to walk you through effective mental performance strategies can be a game changer for you. 

Conversely, having a coach be clear what their expectations are from you as athlete are equally important. 

  • If your coach is unrealistically expecting you to devote 4 hours a day to your private sessions, and you're only able to commit to 2 hours a week, that partnership may not work.
  • If your coach has a "be blunt and yell" instruction style and you know you respond better to a "quiet & mild mannered" approach, that partnership may not work. 
  • If your coach doesn't have the same level of belief in you as you do in yourself, then very honest conversations need to be had, and the relationship should be reevaluated. The opposite is true, and a coach can't want success for you more than you want it for yourself, otherwise there will be a huge disconnect when it's time to show up for practice and/or competitions. 

Understand that different coaches have their strengths and no one is perfect

Extending grace and meeting someone where they are is a useful skill, that can also translate to the athlete/coach relationship. Once expectations are clearly laid out, building a rapport with your coach can take time and effort to achieve. 

Throughout the course of your career, you will have various coaches with different skill sets so it's important to avoid directly comparing what each person brings to the table. Where one coach may lack, another may be exceptional. It may be difficult to truly uncover that if you're constantly measuring a coach against another one. 

Although it's nearly impossible for a coach to be 100% perfect for you, having a clear understanding of what you're looking for can help in determining if a certain coach will work for you. There is a balance between appreciating a coach's growth journey and being selective and/or particular in making a coaching decision. 

Evaluate the coach's track record 

The same way athletes are held to a high standard and are judged based on their performance, there are also quantifiable metrics that rate a coach's success. 

A few questions you can ask are: 

  • How many athletes has he or she gotten to the state championships?
  • How many athletes has he or she helped to get a college scholarship? 
  • How many athletes has he or she coached to the professional ranks? 
  • Does the coach have previous athletes who can vouch for his or her level of expertise, and share their experiences?

I'm not saying that every coach has to be a seasoned veteran, and in fact sometimes younger and newer coaches can even bring an innovation and excitement to their approach. I do think it is important, however, to have an open and honest conversation about the coach's experience so that everyone is on the same page. 

It's also important to note that the necessary level of your coach's experience can vary based on where you are in your athletic career. For example, if you're a freshman in high school, you may not need a coach as world renowned what an Olympic level athlete requires.

Regardless of where you are in your athletic career, your coach will have a profound impact on your journey so I encourage athletes to choose wisely. Now obviously there are many factors like nutrition, sleep, and injury prevention that play a huge role in sports, but having a great coach in your corner should be an asset, and not a hindrance. 

I know firsthand the importance of the athlete/coach relationship, and I hope that as you continue to grow and evolve as an athlete, that every coach you encounter contributes positively to your success.

about the author

Dr. Tiffany Ofili Porter is a Michigan native and currently works as a pharmacist, digital content creator, and sports broadcaster. She is a former world class Olympic hurdler and ran track professionally for 12 years. During that time, Tiffany competed in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Olympic Games, earned four world championship medals, currently holds the British National record in the 60 meter hurdles, and formerly in the 100 meter hurdles. She was also European Champion, Commonwealth Games silver medalist, Continental Cup silver medalist, World Junior Championship silver medalist, and earned several European medals during her tenure.

Tiffany graduated from the University of Michigan in 2012 where she earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy. During her time at U of M she was a five-time NCAA champion, team captain, school record holder, Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient, Academic All-American, Vice President of SNPhA, and a member of the pharmacy school Leadership Scholars Program. In 2014 Tiffany was inducted into the University of Michigan Track and Field Hall of Fame. To learn more about Tiffany & follow her journey, please visit: