The Secret to Coaching Success: How Long is a Piece of String?

The Secret to Coaching Success: How Long is a Piece of String?

Everyone’s looking for coaching secrets.

Have you ever asked someone an open question and had them answer, “how long is a piece of string?”

Guess what?

There is an answer to this question….

How long is a piece of string?

And that answer is “A Piece of String is Twice as Long as it is from one end to the middle”.

And so it goes with coaching.

Experienced coaches are often asked “piece of string” questions by young coaches desperate to learn the coaching secrets of the sport and the mysteries of the “masters”.

Some of the most common “piece of string” questions asked by young coaches are:

  1. How many training sessions should we do each week?
  2. How do you know if an athlete is really talented?
  3. What’s your favorite drill?
  4. What’s your favorite training set?
  5. How much gym work do your athletes do?

Because, as a young coach, you believe the secret to success lies somewhere in the combination of training sets, periodization, programming and workload management.

In other words you believe the secret to success is a “what” – it is a thing you can see or read, copy, replicate and achieve the same level of success as the “whats” originator: that there’s a bunch of coaching secrets you can lookup, find, buy, borrow or steal and you’ll become the coach you dream of becoming.

Short cut – quick fix mentality: Everyone’s looking for Coaching Secrets.

What are the top-selling sporting products on the market????

Sports Equipment and Sports Supplements / Sports Nutrition products!


Because they offer “innovation” without real thought or creativity, performance enhancement without hard work and competition success without discipline. They offer – what most of the world craves – a short cut to success and an easy solution to performance problems.

If you want to become a great coach, a coach who is recognised as an innovator, a coach who is lauded as a leader, a coach who is seen as taking their sport to an unprecedented level of performance, forget the “whats”.

There is no piece of equipment – there are no sports nutrition products – there are no short cuts – which can take you from coaching mediocrity to coaching mastery.

Concentrate on the “who” – as in who you are – who you really are and the “how” – how you can commit to continuous improvement and how you can ensure your athletes are engaged with you and your coaching program.

The “whats” in the sports business and in life generally are transient fads; they are temporary.

This year the sales reps are pushing protein powders, next year it’s isokinetic strength machines, the following year its float tanks….every year we get a procession of the latest and greatest in quick fix, easy answer, fast solutions which without exception, over promise and under deliver.

Look at what has come and gone as the optimal training tool in recent years…heart rate monitors (now just a secondary workload measurement tool), lactate analysers (huge questions over what lactate even is or does), creatine (just as many studies find no benefits as do find something), altitude (almost totally discredited as a training aid of any real significance), Pilates (still no clear link between the Pilates practice room and performance in elite competition) ….yet in their day, each of these false idols of sports performance were marketed as the ultimate in athlete preparation.

And….what’s worse….young coaches (and even the not so young) “fell” for the promises offered by these practices and changed their coaching philosophies in an effort to tap into what was heralded as the next big thing.

What do you stand for as a coach? Coaching Secrets or For Something more?

There is a great old saying…”if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything” – if you are not sure of your coaching philosophy or do not have a BYBY attitude (be yourself – back yourself) then you are susceptible to any fad, gimmick, trend, smart marketing and advertising campaign promising tempting but unrealistic sports performance enhancement.

Often the “whats” are appealing because they offer promises of short cuts and easy answers to a vulnerable market desperate for performance advantages.

So what it is the “secret” – how long is the piece of string?

We all know what the secret to success is – it is so obvious it has no right to be even called a secrethere it is for free.

Work harder, more consistently than anyone in your sport in the world ensuring that you commit everything you have – physically, mentally, technically and tactically to every training, recovery and competition experience.

These are not coaching secrets…they’re common sense.

The best gym in the world will not make an impact on a team with a poor performance culture, who turn up late, who have poor discipline off the field and who are not totally committed to living excellence in training and preparation.

Spending thousands of dollars on sports nutrition products do not make up for a poor attitude, a bad technique, a lack of skill and a sloppy recovery program.

Yet, in the next 24 hours, tens of thousands of sports people around the world will spend millions of dollars on sports equipment and sports nutrition products seeking a performance advantage which in all reality does not exist – or if it does exist, is a short-term solution.

I have lectured, presented and met with sports coaches all over the world for the past 20 years.

When question time comes around, I have never been asked, “Wayne, how can I develop a real confidence in my abilities, a strong coaching philosophy and an attitude where I embrace continuous improvement, innovation and excellence in everything I do” – No-one ever asks this – is it that no one really wants to know the real secret to success?

But if I had a dollar for every time I got a question like “What do you think of creatine” or “What is your view on Pilates” or “What is your experience with xyz training equipment” I would have somewhere close to $19,576,671 dollars.

But there is an answer to all your performance questions – you already know how long the piece of string is – you always have.

The greatest people in the world are unique, they dare to be different, they take risks, the do it first – they believe in themselves – they back themselves.

The answer to all the questions you have about your coaching is staring back at you from the mirror every morning – not in some coaching magazine – it’s right in front of you.

And it is saying – “you can do it”.

Have you bothered to listen?

Wayne Goldsmith


  • james marshall Posted October 14, 2009 5:44 pm

    Good thinking Wayne, on recovery it is interesting that no one promotes sleep as a great recovery tool- because no one can make any money out of it.

    As to the quick fix answers, it may be a problem of the education system where students are taught how to pass tests, rather than how to understand, think and learn. This will then automatically transfer into the workplace.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted October 15, 2009 11:09 am

      Thanks James.

      Agree with you. In the end aren’t we all after this for our athletes (and ourselves):

      1. Train to the best of your ability every day ensuring that your practice closely simulates your competition environment;
      2. Stay healthy and injury free;
      3. Get plenty of sleep and rest;
      4. Eat a variety of healthy, natural, nutritious foods;
      5. Believe in yourself.

      Just think – a multi billion industry has evolved out of trying to achieve these five simple goals.

      Have we got it wrong?


  • Richard Posted October 14, 2009 7:42 pm


    Spot on as always and very timely. I have a visiting International coach here with me for two weeks and chasing every possible drill / activity / training method (short cuts) under the sun and hoping that i have everything any of us have ever done on DVD so it can be taken back home. I keep trying to explain, pretty much what you said above, but might just print this out and pass it on!! Well done and keep up the great work. How are you progressing with your work on those other ideas you discussed a while back.


    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted October 15, 2009 11:15 am

      Thanks Richard,

      A top swimming coach once copied two years of his training diary and gave it to me. It contained all his sets, drills, tapers, notes, techniques, planning and programming.

      Seeing the shocked look on my face he said, “Enjoy reading these but it will not make any difference to your coaching”.

      I asked “why”.

      He replied, “You don’t have my athletes, you don’t understand my philosophy and more importantly, you’re not me”.

      Training sets, drills, programs are not the answer – it’s engagement. It’s not what you do but how you do it.

      A poorly planned program done briiliantly with the total engagement of the hearts and minds of the athletes is likely to produce great results.

      An expertly devised and periodised plan, done poorly with no engagement of the athletes will fail.

      It’s people not periodization. It’s people not programs. It’s people not planning.

      People people people!


  • Jim Vance Posted October 15, 2009 10:18 am

    Your best article yet…Always enjoy your writings.


    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted October 15, 2009 11:02 am

      Thanks Jim.

      There’s always an answer – it just depends on looking at things differently.
      Sadly many people are “Hammer-heads” – i.e. “to the man with a hammer, every problem is a nail”.


  • Brian Garland Posted November 19, 2009 2:10 pm

    I enjoyed your presentation at Bond University this morning Wayne and even though this article of yours wasn’t the topic, I find myself in complete agreement with you. As a teacher for over 30 years I often (and with increasing frequency) clash with administration “paper-warfare”. For many years I have said ‘You can carve it on my gravestone – peole are more important than paper!’Teaching (and the incresing demands of bahaviour management) is all based on relationships. Coaching is the same. I know it is a false dichotomy but it is the difference between the ‘Coach’ and ‘Trainer’. Truly effective teaching and coaching requires deep ‘contact’ with the student or player. You only have to recall how Peter Sterling spoke about Jack Gibson. He recalled the influence Jack had on him as a man and his development as a person. There wasn’t a word about the technical rugby league skills although there is no doubt Jack knew plenty about them. It’s the old argument about teaching (and coaching) as Art or Science. Of course it has to be some of both, but the magic ingredient clearly has to be yourself. Without that, nothing “rises”.

  • Brian Garland Posted November 19, 2009 6:46 pm

    Whoops! Lots of spelling mistakes in the above comment (typed in a hurry and carelessly checked while foolishly not wearing the specs!) People are most certainly more important than paper, but spelling matters as well!

  • Robin Clarkson Posted February 8, 2011 7:25 am

    Great blog Wayne. Couldn’t have said it better.

    Everyone is busy chasing the illusive pills to succeed where as the seeds to success lies within.

    The majority find it uncomfortable when they look within for they may not like what they see so it’s easier to close themself off from what they find than attempt to change.

    Until you can get the best out of yourself you won’t get the best out of others.


  • Jeremy Pryce Posted February 8, 2011 7:24 pm

    Very good Wayne. My only question to you secret of success is why we have to compare ourselves to others? From my perspective, I don´t have to work harder or prepare better than anyone else to be the best I can be. But I do have to put forward my best effort in all the areas you mentioned above. My best is all I have to offer. It may not take me to the pinnacle in the sporting world, but it will develop my full potential. Developing one´s full potential is my definition of success.

  • Grant Giles Posted February 10, 2011 12:16 pm

    This article really struck a cord with me. I think if you don’t try to find yourself or define who you are through what you do-then you can do a much better job of just getting on with it. I don’t feel there is anything that you can add to yourself to become a more successful coach because it’s something that develops inside you and I think athletes can sense that. Maybe that is the definition of a successful training culture. Thanks for a great read.


    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted February 10, 2011 3:39 pm

      Thanks Grant.

      When I look at my bank balance, I wish I could come up with a quick fix, super-fad, instant solution product that people would buy, they would become great coaches and in the process make me rich. But I don’t believe in anything like that.

      I have seen it all! I had a guy from California try to sell me “energised-water” once. He told me that his company had developed a process which, in his words, “would put the molecules back into water”: molecules which he assured me had been removed during the process of purification from the storage dam to the household tap.

      Seen everything, heard every promise, watched every promotional video…..and in the end, the coaches and athletes who consistently do well are those who know who they are, what they stand for, prepare better than anyone in their sport and keep things very simple.


  • Bill Posted February 17, 2011 12:25 am

    Coaches should sit down and pick the brains of Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter. They found the “secret” to success. I remember reading about Shorter at the Florida track club training 2 – 3 times a day. It was said that all they did was train , eat, sleep. I still remember a quote from Shorter that there is no secret recipe to run 26 miles at 5 minutes per mile.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted February 18, 2011 8:43 am

      Thanks Bill.

      You nailed it!!

      The secret is…there is no secret. A secret by definition is something that few people know. Whereas the “secret” is something everyone knows: take advantage of every opportunity you are given and prepare better than anyone in your sport.

      Shhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone.


  • malmo Posted February 17, 2011 7:05 am

    Right on Wayne. I’m glad that someone get’s it.

    BTY, what the energized water salesman said about missing water molecules is all true. I should know. I’ve been hoarding all of the missing molecules and will soon have enough to cause a Worldwide water crisis. Even Al Gore couldn’t think up a scam this big.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted February 18, 2011 8:39 am

      Thanks George.

      That was a very true story. I was working for Australian Swimming at the time and we were looking for (real, legal and ethical) performance advantages.

      He (the “molecule” salesman) took it one step further and said if we added “molecules” to the water our swimmers trained in, they would all swim faster because they would absorb the “power” from the water.

      You gotta love it!


  • valentin Uzunov Posted February 18, 2011 4:36 am

    I will also jump on the band wagon of compliments on this brilliant article, thanks for sharing it.

    I do realize that this is a short discussion on a MUCH!!!! greater topic. I do however have a few thoughts on the topic as discussed. For one working harder is not always better. The key as i see it is working ‘smarter’. It took me a while to figure this out as a coach. Being a gymnastics coach i am always comparing myself to those who train more, in better facilities, etc.. and yes i am disadvantaged by training less, with less, but like you have said in other articles. ” Quality”, not quantity, that is my goal as a coach.

    I really like that example you gave about swimming coach that copied his note books. That is so true…

    I don’t think that there is any one ‘magic’ products/formula sold that is going to ever result is anything extraordinary, however a good coach is a resourceful coach, and would most certainly make use of tool/idea/etc to help his athletes get the edge and be better.

    Thanks again

    Valentin Uzunov

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted February 18, 2011 8:03 am

      Thanks Valentin.

      I believe that a coach’s greatest gifts are his / her human “gifts”: passion, drive, enthusiasm, empathy, honesty, imagination, integrity and so on.
      I love all the gadgets that are part of this business; the heart rate monitors, the GPS devices, the new generation of gym equipment…it’s all great but ultimately it is the mind, body and soul (i.e. for soul read character, human-ness, personality) of the coaches and athletes that determine success in all sports, in all countries.


  • KP Posted February 27, 2011 6:46 am

    Inspiring reminder for HOW to help young men and women learn to become an athlete. I find they always appreciate telling them why they did that tough workout to earn confidence to race other people not clocks. Their eyes light up when you tell them again after they did it on the track. Simple. Nothing slick whatsoever. Thanks WG.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted February 27, 2011 1:42 pm

      Thanks Kevin.

      I was just working with a group of talented teenage athletes about what it would take to go from “talented teen” to world class athlete. Came down to these four tips:

      1. Love what you do: then do what you love;
      2. Don’t count the repeats: make the repeats count;
      3. Out-prepare your competitors in every aspect: training, recovery, eating, sleeping, injury management….everything;
      4. Winning comes from confidence and confidence comes from knowing…knowing you lived the first three tips every day.

      Athletes are pretty smart. Teach them the “how” and “why” and they turn the “what” (i.e. the repeats, the sets, the gym work, the hard efforts) into solid gold.

      Thanks again,


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