Tag Archives: Coaching career

4 essential items every coach needs to get better

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Folks who are fixer uppers or tinkerers know that the key to handling any situation is having a nice toolbox.  Whether its needle nosed pliers or a power saw or cordless drill…these things will prove to be essential for any job that needs to be completed.  And it’s the same with coaching!  We need to have a toolbox that is stocked so that we’re able to deal with the disgruntled player, the starter whose spot is about to be taken, as well as the athletic director that wants you to fundraise a ridiculous amount of money each year.

Here’s four things that every coach should have in their toolbox:

Mentors When I took my first head coaching job at age 24, my toolbox only had a hammer and a couple of nails clanking around in it…not nearly enough for the repair project I’d taken on!  I was certainly enthusiastic, but that needed to be combined with knowledge…and I was a bit short on that.  Enter our men’s basketball coach who was a legend in his field and had a head full of coaching genius that he was willing to share.  So I’d haul my butt up to his office about once a week and we’d chat.  Sometimes about my team, sometimes about his, but each and every time I learned something from this man.

Peers Here’s one thing I know: coaches love talking about coaching.  Once you find folks with a similar philosophy, make it a point to talk to them and pick their brains.  I truly believe that coaching is coaching so it doesn’t matter if you talk to the football coach or the soccer coach…if you share the same philosophical foundation, you’ve set yourself up for fun and challenging conversations about coaching.

Seminars/Conventions Be a coaching nerd!  Go to your sport’s convention…and attend the sessions (not just the social stuff) and hang out after it’s over and chat with the presenter.  Go to local clinics even if you don’t think you’ll learn something new…you certainly won’t if you don’t go!  Plus other coaches will be there and maybe you’ll be able to chat them up and get a different viewpoint on an old problem.  This will help keep you current in your field.

Books I read a lot of books.  I read books for myself in order to grow in my leadership and influence.  I also read books that I think will be good for my team to read during the season.  Sometimes they’re sports books, sometimes they’re business oriented, and other times they’re faith-based…but what they all share in common is that I think that they’ll make me a better coach.

What do you think?  What would you add to the list?

Coach Dawn’s Guide To Motivating Female Athletes Is Available For Purchase!

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I wrote my book because I saw a need for coaches of female athletes to be excited about working with female athletes.  Up to that point, every post I’d written about coaching female athletes received such a strong (and positive) response.  If you’ve not had a chance to purchase the book, I hope you’ll think about it.  The second edition also comes with a Pyramid of Success powerpoint. It’s only 56 pages long, so it’s a quick read that you’ll be able to apply to your team right away.

As you can tell from the picture, I’m very excited that my ebook is finally available for purchase!  I’m new at all of this selling business, so it’s been a bit of a process to figure everything out.  It was all worth it, though, because I’m confident that there’s good information that you’ll use in Coach Dawn’s Guide To Motivating Female Athletes.

I’ve written before about how important I think professional development is for folks with our jobs.  I mean, how can coaches not want to learn more?  And if you learn one thing from my book (and I think you’ll a lot more!), then it’ll be well worth the $10!  It’s a 56-page guide with tangible tips, action items, anecdotes designed to help your team excel…and because it’s a PDF, you’ll be able to start reading immediately!

I’m super excited about all things ebook, right now!  I’m excited about that snazzy cover, I’m excited about figuring out how to set everything up, but mostly…I’m excited that I can get more info out there about how to get the best from your female athletes!  I don’t want to rewrite what I said before, so you can click here to read what I wrote when it was an upcoming book rather than a published book.

Add to Cart

I hope you’ll buy the book and enjoy it…and tell all of your friends about it (hint, hint)!  $10 and it’s all yours…enjoy!  Once you complete your purchase, you’ll immediately be able to start reading the book.  Just click on the “Add to Cart” button and you’ll be well on your way.

I pre-launched the book with the folks on my subscriber list last week and I’ve been overwhelmed by the response.  Lots of people are looking for this information and enjoying the book…hopefully you will too!

How Should We Define Success In Coaching?

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Sometimes social media gets a bad rap for being a time sucker, which it can be. But most times, I find good stuff there.  Whether it be a good leadership article, a timely motivational quote, or (like this time) a great tweet from team building expert Jeff Janssen.

How can we be successful coaches?  Or maybe a better way to put it is how can we measure, at the end of the season or school year, that we’ve been successful?  Janssen has some ideas.

9 requirements of success:

  1. Purpose: Why do you coach? As I mentioned in my another post, loving the sport isn’t your purpose (it’s your passion)…why do you coach? Why do you have player meetings?  And stress about your practice plans? Why do you watch so much film? What is my why?  I believe that athletics creates better humans (I’m biased, I know) and I believe us coaches equip our athletes with the tools they’ll need to make the world a better place and I’m honored to have a part in it.
  2. Passion: Do you love your sport? Is there a fire in your bones for it?  Then that will translate over to your players and they’ll be infected by your zeal.
  3. Perspiration: I feel like this is obvious, but you should be working hard, Coach. Like, really hard.  You’ve got to work hard to create relationships with your players.  You’ve got to work hard to know the different personalities on your team and how to motivate them.  You’ve got to work hard to keep your team chemistry balanced.
  4. Plan: How will you handle the inevitable quarrels between teammates? How will you handle having to bench a starter?  How will you prepare your team to be clutch at the end of a competition?  How will you make sure they’re ready for post-season?
  5. Patience: Can you wait for your “potential player” to bloom? Can you try different ways of teaching your leaders how to lead? Can you trust the process?
  6. Persistence: I think it’s a great idea to write down your coaching goals. That way, when you hit the inevitable speed bump, you won’t be moved.
  7. People: Coaches don’t succeed alone. We need mentors and assistants.  We need recruits to buy into what we’re saying.  We need families who support the coaching staff in the background.  We need an administration who’ll advocate for us.
  8. Principles: Do you want to be a win-at-all-costs coach? Do you want to sacrifice your values in order to win more games?  I think a coach’s goal should be to win with honor.
  9. Perspective: My guess is our definition of success will change as we grow as coaches, as we gain a bit more life experience, and as we’re humbled by our profession.

It’s hard to feel successful.  It requires a lot of work.  Let’s get ready to put the effort in so that we can be whatever our version of success looks like!

How To Last In Coaching

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Since I work at a small, Division III school, I wear lots of hats.  One of them is Social Media Director for my team.  Our latest series I’m doing with the team is one where they give me their favorite motivational quote.  Everything they’ve given me has been varying levels of good.  The most recent quotation I received made me think of our wonderful coaching profession:

“It never gets easier, you just get better.”

If that doesn’t perfectly sum up what we do, I don’t know what does!  So many start off in this career and think, “I love my sport, I was good at it when I was a player, I want to coach.”  I generally challenge new coaches with this mindset, because quite honestly, that’s not a good enough reason.  Those are the coaches who fizzle out, get overwhelmed, and burned out.

There are a lot of things we do that don’t really have to do with why we enjoy our sport…but they are a part of coaching.  So think about it.  Why do you coach?  Check out this post that talks about why knowing your “why” is so important.  This knowledge is part of what makes things get easier as we move along in our coaching journey.

Take heart.  If you’re new and feeling like you’re the worst coach ever, that’s probably not true.  Keep learning, keep asking questions, keep getting better.  For those of us who are oldies but goodies, the advice is the same.  Getting better doesn’t just happen, we’ve got to be intentional about it.

The 5 Stages Of A Coach’s Career

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Let me tell you what I think about coaches: we’re crazy in our preparation and dedication, we work long hours and love it, we give up our nights and weekends, we mentor our student-athletes, we demand big things from them and even more from ourselves, we’re passionate in our belief in our team and our love for our sport, we believe in the power of sport to have a positive and long-lasting impact in our athlete’s lives.  So when I saw “The 5 Stages of Your Career” over at Bob Starkey’s blog, I wanted to expand on it over here.  It’s interesting to figure out what stage you’re in and those that you’ve already gone through…or have you circled back around to some you thought you were finished with?  Check them out and see what you think.

The 5 Stages of Your Career

1.       Survival: Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
Coaches, you remember what this stage felt like don’t you?   Or maybe you’re in the middle of this stage now and feel like you’re flailing.  I remember being beyond clueless…that’s back when I thought I just needed to know volleyball to be a volleyball coach!  Turns out also I needed to formulate a recruiting plan, balance a budget, create practice plans, order equipment, manage assistant coaches, and make in-game adjustments.  Color me unprepared, but thank goodness for a veteran coach who took me under his wing.

2.       Striving for Success: You Want Folks to Recognize You Can Coach
Your motivation?  Winning, plain and simple.  You’re obsessed with conquering the competition and put in hours and hours of your time to make it happen.  Being the best is what drives you and to be the best, you need the tangible accolades that go along with that:  lots of W’s in the win column, all-league awards for your team, and maybe a coach of the year for you.

3.       Satisfaction: You Relax, Set Another Goal, & Want To Get Better
Now that you’ve achieved a few of your goals, you can relax and know that you’re a good coach and you have the respect of your peers.  You attend conferences to network and visit with old friends as much as you do to learn some new things…you’re getting established.  Each year you set new goals to accomplish that will push you and your team forward…you’re focused.

4.       Significance: Changing Lives For The Good
At this stage you’re more concerned with how you impact your teams and your legacy than you are with personal glory…after all, you’ve already accomplished a lot.  Now you want to make sure your teams understand the value of sport and hope that you’re teaching them how to be better people, not just better players.  With all of your experience and years in the game, you’re very knowledgeable.  And because of the success you’ve had in your career, this is the stage where people solicit your opinion and ask for your help with their coaching conundrums.

5.       Spent: No Juice Left, Can’t Do It Any More
The busses, the trips, preseason, recruiting, the hustle, the grind…you’re over it.  You’re ready to hang with the family and actually make it home before nine o’clock at night.  And your weekends?  You want them back.  Not even the prospect of that super sweet and talented recruiting class that you just brought in is enough to bring you back into the fold.  As much as you love your sport, you’re just not that fired up about the season this year…it’s time to hang it up.

So what stage are YOU at?

Did you know that you could get Coach Dawn Writes articles emailed directly to your inbox?  Well you can and it’s free and easy.  Just click here and you’re all set!

Coaches Corner: Recap

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I figured it was time to recap some of the articles I wrote after conversations with these successful coaches. I don’t know about you, but I love talking shop and was amazed at how open these big-time coaches were to chatting with me.

Looking back at these posts is so amazing, not only because these coaches had great insights to share, but also because I know there are more coach interviews coming up that I know you’ll enjoy just as much as these.

Kelly Sheffield, Head Volleyball Coach, University of Wisconsin
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?
Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach
Coaches Corner: Four Things To Think About When Considering A New Job

Vanessa Walby, Head Volleyball Coach, Washington University in St. Louis
Coaches Corner: Vanessa Walby
Coaches Corner: On Changing A Culture
Coaches Corner: The Power Of Female Mentorship

Christy Johnson-Lynch, Head Volleyball Coach, Iowa State University
Coaches Corner: Christy Johnson-Lynch
Coaches Corner: 3 Ways To Overcome Challenges
Coaches Corner: Building Trust With Your Athletes

Ron Sweet, Head Volleyball Coach, Wofford University
Coaches Corner: Ron Sweet
Coaches Corner: Turning Around A Losing Program
Coaches Corner: Coaching Female Athletes

Coaches Corner: The Power Of Female Mentorship

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When Vanessa Walby decided that she wanted to be a coach for a living, she went to her former college coach and said, “I want to be just like you.” She wanted to develop young women and she wanted to build something great. That sounds like a typical story until you find out that her college coach didn’t just pat her on the back and say good luck. She sat Walby down and they came up with a detailed plan for how she would accomplish her goals.

Now that’s mentorship!

When Walby started the newest chapter in her coaching story, she called her former coach. Amazingly enough, the coach not only remembered coming up with the plan, but reminded Walby that she was right on track.

This wasn’t by happenstance. Walby reached out to established coaches and asked them for guidance. This is probably a lesson we can all learn from…not to sit back and expect things to come to us. After speaking with her, Walby seems to have one foot planted in the past and the other firmly planted in the future…and it all seems to steer her present decisions.

Past.  Walby has an interesting history. She played for Kris Russell, arguably one of the best Division III volleyball coaches of all time. She’s currently at Washington University, which had another coaching great on its sidelines in Teri Clemens. She’s surrounded by all of this volleyball amazingness…is it a wonder she’s been so successful? She’s got crazy desire and passion along with an amazing support system.

Future. When you talk to Walby about why she loves coaching or her favorite parts of the profession, she’s very passionate about the impact she believes she can have on her players. Like most of us, she loves watching her athletes come in as nervous and unassuming freshman and leaving as confident seniors ready to take on the world.

So what can the rest of us learn from her story?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. I’ve found coaches to be amazingly approachable and open to sharing their knowledge, but you’ve got to ask. They’re not just walking down the street asking people if they want to know more about coaching.
  • Then use your mentor. Walby used her connection with her college coach to meet all sorts of coaching hot shots.
  • Do a good job. I’m not saying we’ve all got to be nationally ranked in order for it to be worth your mentor’s time, but you’ve got to put your best foot forward. The mentor stuck their neck out for you, so you’ve got to return the favor by working hard and being prepared.



If you’d like to advance your career, get out of a rut, or just get better at what you do where you are, maybe a mentor would help you meet your goals. Can’t hurt to try!

The Vanessa Walby series

Coaches Corner: Vanessa Walby
Coaches Corner: On Changing A Culture

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Coaches Corner: Four Things To Think About When Considering A New Job

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Kelly Sheffield believes in where he is right now. He believes that he can win at the University of Wisconsin and he believes he can convince talented volleyball players to join him there. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, who wouldn’t believe in a Big Ten school?” True enough, but his move to Wisconsin and the elite levels of volleyball wasn’t, in my opinion, a no-brainer. He was very successful at his previous institution and that success showed no signs of waning.

So I asked him about it. What advice would he give to coaches who think they’re ready to take that next step? How did he know the time was right to leave the comfort of his successful situation for the unknown of Wisconsin?

Before Sheffield answered, he was sure to give me a parenthetical note: If you’re a new coach and just trying to break into the coaching ranks…take any job. Just start coaching, you haven’t earned the right to be picky.

Are you ready to take another job?

  • Be honest with yourself. Coaches have to be honest about what will make them happy and not just do what they’re supposed to do. The move has to be good for you, your family, and your career.
  • Do you believe in your potential new location?   Will your boss advocate for you? Will the institution fund success or mediocrity? Can you see success in your mind’s eye or do you view the job as a stepping stone?
  • What goals does the administration have for the program? If you sit down in your interview and lay out how you can bring a conference/national championship to the institution and then the folks interviewing you say they just want a team above .500, you have different goals. With a major difference in objectives, you will be destined to figuratively bang your head against a wall.
  • How will your working relationship with your direct boss play out? They are the folks who will advocate for you and your program. There’s a finite amount of money within athletic departments and your boss has to be on your side when it comes to program needs.



Good luck to those of you thinking of making a location, or maybe even career, change. Hopefully, these words of wisdom can help clarify your decision.

Check out the Sheffield series:
Coaches Corner: Kelly Sheffield
Coaches Corner: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Coaches Corner: What Does Enthusiasm Look Like?
Coaches Corner: The Roles Of Player And Coach


Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!

Creating A Connected Culture

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When members of a group of any size, from a basketball team to a business organization, share a vision that makes them feel proud, feel valued, and feel that they have a voice to express their ideas and opinions, it creates a connection, a bond, a feeling of unity or esprit de corps.
Why Coach K Coaches Like a Girl

Okay, I don’t like the title of the article I quoted above.  First of all, girls aren’t typically coaches, women are.  Second of all, it’s repetitious (coach, coaches).  Lastly, comparing a grown person to a child of another gender is rarely a compliment.  That being said, I get it.  It comes across as a slight or maybe even a slam against Coach K when, in actuality, the author paints “coaching like a girl” is a positive.

He’s being provocative.

The author does a great job of describing why Coach K’s been successful…attributing it to the female presence in his life.  I don’t know how true or accurate that is and I certainly don’t think you have to be a woman to create a connected team.  What I really enjoyed about the article was his formula:

Vision + Value + Voice = Connected Culture

Vision:  I believe this has to be two-fold.  Vision for each individual player: an athlete will put up with not playing, with being pushed mentally and physically, with a whole lot…as long as they see how it fits into the grand plan.  And of course we’ve got to have a vision for the program.  That vision will influence how we recruit, how we plan practices, how we schedule opponents…everything.

Value:  Our players invest a lot of themselves into our program.  Their time, their heart, their passion, their egos.  We ask a lot of them and they give us a lot, the least we can do is make sure they know we appreciate what they’re putting into the program.

Voice:  This doesn’t mean that you always do what your players ask of you, but they should feel comfortable in their belief that their opinions will be heard and considered.

Giving our teams a vision of the future of the program, combined with valuing their effort and giving them a voice is a great way for us to create a team culture that will withstand the normal ups and downs of a season.

5 Qualities That Make Every Team Great

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“There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable.”—Mike Krzyzewski

Coach K has been tremendously successful on many levels: spanning decades, working with collegiate athletes, working with professional athletes during the Olympics…you name it, he’s done it.  So when someone with that sort of resume tells us what the fundamental qualities of effective teams are, we should listen!

5 traits of great teams

Communication.  We all know it’s great to encourage communication within our teams…I’m sure that is something you already know.  That’s not where it stops though.  Of course we need to have effective communication between coaches on staff and also between coach and player.

Trust.  Our athletes need to trust that we have their best interest at heart, that we’ll be fair—not equal—but fair.  We, as coaches, need to be able to trust that our athletes are working to the best of their ability.  That’s part of the coach-player agreement, right?  We’ll do our best to turn them into the best version of themselves (in terms of our sport) and they’ll do their best to believe in and follow our plan for them.

Collective responsibility.  This is the old “there’s no I in team” idea.  I believe one of the fundamental truths of team is that the individual has a responsibility to the team.  That responsibility is to put team first.  Putting team first can look like a lot of things: off-season workouts, excelling in the classroom, etc.

Caring.  About one another, about the team, about the program.

Pride.  In their personal effort, in their team, in the collective struggle to maintain excellence over a period of time.

The last sentence of the Coach K quote is interesting.  Is it hyperbole or is he saying it with conviction?  I’d lean toward the latter.  Whenever I’ve had a poorly functioning team, they have fallen short in one of these areas.