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Athletic Coaching Practices Can Apply to Management, Leadership Development

 -  10/31/11

Successful coaches draw amazing performances out of their players and teams via a balance of individual and overall connections. Business leaders can learn to run the same plays.

As the World Series wraps up and the NFL season continues in full swing, sports are top of mind for people across the country. Certainly what defines a successful team on the field is the performances of its athletes, but the leadership of its coaches is also essential. The practices that make a coach successful have applications beyond competition — they can be applied in business and significantly enhance an organization’s management, in particular its leadership development.

A great deal of literature exists on this subject, and Frank Mulhern, associate dean of research at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, did a comprehensive review to synthesize it into a coherent set of conclusions. “Basically, I just gathered everything I could get my hands on,” Mulhern said, adding that he reviewed 60 to 80 publications.

Examples include the papers “Understanding Sports Coaching: The Social, Cultural and Pedagogical Foundations of Coaching Practice” by Tania G. Cassidy, Robyn L. Jones and Paul Potrac, and “Foundations of Sports Coaching” by Paul E. Robinson, as well as the Harvard Business Review article “To Build a Winning Team: An Interview with Head Coach Bill Walsh” by Richard Rapaport, and the Industrial and Commercial Training article “Coaching for Better Results: Key Practices of High Performance Leaders” by Clinton O. Longenecker.

“What I did was come up with some themes that were common across them,” Mulhern said. From these, Mulhern derived six pragmatic dimensions of successful coaching, which are defined as follows:

Knowing the Whole Person

“Really good coaches don’t limit their relationship with their players to the athletic realm,” Mulhern said. “They know the entire life and the family and all kinds of other personal aspects about their players. Obviously there are some issues about probing too much into people’s personal lives, but to some extent I think there are contributions to management from this idea that managers who care basically understand and enrich the person’s entire life [and] don’t just silo one’s relationship to work or coaching to athletics.”

Article Keywords:   executive coaching   leadership development  


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