The Four Levels of Coaching: Searching for the Heart of Excellence


The disturbing, and increasingly common, examples of player (and spectator) behaviour in the various football codes (and others sports), over the past few years come as a timely reminder that coaching should be more than simply designing training programs, selecting players and developing the specific skills fo your sport. Coaching is more than simply passing on the sophisticated knowledge of a particular set of sports skills, training approaches, tactics and experience. It’s even more than understanding how to manage and motivate people as individuals or teams, building mental toughness, or encouraging the competitive fire to compete 100%.

It is truly an ART – the art of bringing out the best in people. Making better people – not just talented athletes.

Elite sportspeople ARE major role models in our society – particularly for young men, so there is a great obligation laid upon coaches to develop the whole person through their coaching. Yet, until recently, most coaches have had little education, experience or even desire to address these important areas of ‘whole person’ athlete development.

With Olympic sports increasingly setting their sights on London next year, perhaps it is useful for coaches to ask themselves a key question.


I believe it important for all coaches to ask themselves, “What am I coaching for?” What is YOUR reason for coaching? What do you hope to achieve for the people you coach, as a result of your coaching?

Please consider this question for a few minutes, and discover your personal motivations for coaching.

I suggest that there are in fact FOUR levels of coaching, and these levels reflect the coach’s and athlete’s purpose for coaching and being coached, and influence and inform both the coaching practices employed and the behaviours fostered and discouraged.

I see these four levels as four, increasingly larger, circles – each larger circle of coaching containing within it the smaller circle/s. Interestingly, I believe the skills and attributes of each lower level coach can be contained within the higher levels, yet the skills and aspirations of the higher level coaches are not necessarily encompassed, nor understood, by the lower levels.

The levels I suggest are as follows :


The first level of coaching is what I term the manager, or results coach – someone who coaches primarily for the outcome: to win the competition, get the gold medal, obtain the endorsement contract, etc. This is the coach who is primarily concerned with the external ‘successes’ of their players – winning tournaments, making state or national sellection squads, improving their world ranking, and so on. They talk tactics and strategy with a clear outcome in mind – winning.


The second level of coaching is what I term the instructor level coach – someone who coaches for continual personal improvement in performance: reducing errors, improving fitness and strength, refining shooting techniques, and so on. This is the coach who is interested in refining the technical aspects of a players game – improving stance, accuracy and consistency, using video and biomechanical analysis of an individual’s shot making to look for areas of improvement, and so on.


The third coaching level I term the mentor – someone who sees coaching in a much broader and holistic way. The mentor seeks to not simply win medals, or just improve an athlete’s sports statistics, but who’s primary aim is to make the athlete a better person: eg. considering the wider aspects of an athlete’s life – relationships, employment, diet, education, etc. This means addressing not just the physical and technical aspects of a player, but also recognising their mental and emotional makeup and working to improve these areas as well. For example, deliberately structuring training to simulate pressure to test the player’s emotional resolve, concentration and resilience. The player for this level coach is also a person, and the coach is interested in the other aspects of the player’s life and understanding of relationship/education/etc pressures and issues faced by the player.


The final level of coaching, which I term pioneer, is not about the individual athlete at all. Rather these innovative coaches are concerned with the wider positive social and community influences which their coaching can have. They see coaching as a mechanism for community development as well as player development: eg. changing the level of violence in sport, raising the profile of women or disabled in sport, using sport as a means of assisting youth at risk, bringing a new innovation to the way their sport is played or seen. This is the coach who is open to new ideas and approaches, who promotes the game to the wider community, who reaches out to schools and who interacts with officials to raise the standard of all aspects of the game – because they LOVE their sport.

It can be argued of course that most sports coaches operate at all of these levels, for some portion of their coaching. So perhaps it is more useful to think of them not as levels, but rather as different ‘caps’ that the coach wears throughout the day and throughout his/her career.

Of course there is a role for each level, or cap, of coaching – a role that you take on as a coach – however, I believe it is important to identify where you stand with your coaching at present, and perhaps raise to question some of your motivations as a coach. What cap have you been wearing mostly of late?

This is not to devalue the importance of results and performance coaching – they of course have their place. However, I believe too much emphasis on the first two levels can lead both players and coaches to get caught up in outcomes – winning and losing, and then we forget it is really just a game, isn’t it? We can forget that there are more important things than winning, or even playing well. We forget the joy of the competition itself, the joy of SHOOTING just for the sake of it!

If you are just coaching for results or performance, is this truly the best that you can be?

At the end of your coaching career, looking back would you rather say that you were responsible for such and such player / team winning so many tournaments or championships, or would you rather be remembered because of your ability to positively influence the entire lives of your athletes, and not just their sports results?

Would you also perhaps like to even be thought of as an innovator – someone who developed new techniques and approaches, and who’s coaching influenced the way your sport is played and enjoyed, and positively impacted upon the wider community?

I know how I want to be remembered. Maybe it is time to put on the other caps in your coaching, even if just for a short time.

About Jeffrey Hodges B.Sc.(AES) M.Sc.(Hons)
Jeffrey Hodges is a performance consultant to elite athletes, sporting teams and corporate clients. He is the author of the widely acclaimed “Sportsmind – An Athlete’s Guide to Superperformance Through Mental & Emotional Training” and “Champion Thoughts, Champion Feelings”; creator of the Sportsmind performance enhancement workshops and audio tapes; and Director of the Sportsmind Institute for Human Performance Research.

He is a NLP Master Practitioner and Associate Trainer, and his Sportsmind programs have been endorsed by the NSW Dept Sport & Recreation, and recommended by top sportsclubs and successful athletes. Jeffrey has competed in many sports, notably Volleyball, Squash, Soccer and Golf, and currently trains in Aikido, holding a black belt.

Some of his clients to date include :
Australian Rugby Union
St. Joseph’s College
Woodlands Golf Club
Financial Institutions Remuneration Group (FIRG)
Societe Generale
Qld. Swimming
Network for Fitness Professionals
North Sydney and Penrith Rugby League Clubs
Qld. Athletics Assn
NSW Netball Assn
Northern Inland Academy of Sport
Victorian Soaring Assn
Orange Agricultural College Equestrian School
Qld and NSW Departments of Sport and Recreation
Qld Academy of Sport
and the RAAF.

For more information, contact :
FLAXTON Qld. Australia. 4560.
PHONE 61 7 5445 7994
email :
website :



Related Posts

The Power of ‘Will’

To successfully attain a lofty goal in elite sport – or in any endeavour for that matter – you want to understand and fully appreciate