Finding the Right Head Coach: Leader, Visionary, Coach.

Finding the Right Head Coach: Leader, Visionary, Coach.

With all the movements and changes in the head coaching ranks these days, it is worth having a closer look at how to go about finding the right head coach.

The most important step for any club, is to first clearly understand what they want from a head coach!

  • Do they want a leader an inspirational head coach?
  • Do they want someone who is an expert in change management – someone who can make hard decisions and radical changes to the Club’s culture and performance environment?
  • Do they want a technical expert – someone with great skills in one element of the game, e.g. attack?
  • Do they want a coach skilled with dealing with the media?
  • Do they want a hard nosed, disciplinarian with a strong work ethic and uncompromising nature?
  • Do they want someone who can build effective teams and get people working together towards a common goal?
  • Do they want someone with knowledge and skills in sports science and performance enhancement?
  • Do they want someone who has played the game at the highest level and has an understanding and empathy for the playing group?
  • Do they want someone who can create leaders in the player group and create a player driven culture?
  • Do they want aninnovator? Someone who can accelerate change and implement new ideas?

The answer most clubs will give is – “all of the above”.

Most clubs will seek a single person who can meet all of these expectations and more – and they are very, very, very hard to find.

However, most clubs do not need a head coach with all these attributes.

The head coach needs of a club will vary over time depending on a range of factors.

A young club may want an experienced coach who can establish a winning culture, systems and structures to help the club get started.

An older club with a more established culture may want the injection of new ideas and energy to revitalise the club, players and program and recruit someone with a new, fresh approach to winning.

Regardless of the needs of the Club, there are some common principles to put in place to increase the likelihood of recruiting the right person.

Five essentials for recruiting the right head coach:

1. Clearly determine what your club needs right now:

Don’t go on the coach’s reputation alone or what the coach has done for another team. Think about the unique needs of your club right now. A coach who has been successful at one club may not be able to replicate that success in the new environment because of differences in the player group, Club culture, resources, management structure, location etc. The key question you are trying to answer is “Can this coach deliver the outcomes we want at this club now and in the future”.

2. Think about the Total Coaching Skill Set you want.

Instead of looking for one man to deliver the “entire world”, look to employ a coaching team who can deliver high quality, consistent coaching to the club. For example:

A strong, inspirational, leadership focused head coach plus “attention to detail” type, methodical, systematic assistant coaches.


A younger head coach with a strong background as a player plus a quality, experienced, older assistant coach with a long coaching background to play a role of guide or mentor.


A head coach with an outstanding knowledge of defensive plays, systems and structures plus assistant coaches with outstanding attacking knowledge and skills.

Think about the total balance of skills, knowledge, character, personality and experience of the coaching and performance enhancement team rather than trying to find one person to do it all.

If you had a very skillful player, but then asked them to be captain, organise the tactical plays, lead on the field, do all the media commitments, be the player responsible for scoring all the team’s points and meet all sponsor commitments, it is highly likely their playing performance will suffer.

Head coaches are the same. Expecting them to be all things to all people at all times will eventually result in a compromised coaching performance.

3. Establish the appropriate Interview and Recruitment process.

If you are looking for a coach with a strong technical background, have the candidates present detailed technical plans and programs at interview and have someone on the interview panel who can ask challenging technical questions.

If you are looking for someone with a new direction for the Club, ask them to present a detailed “VISION” for the future which covers critical areas such as recruitment, player development, playing styles, etc etc.

Match the interview and recruitment process to the outcome you want!

If you were recruiting a goal kicker – you would ask them to kick a few goals before signing them! Same principle!

4. The six C’S – Clarity / Composure / Confidence / Credibility / Character / Communication.

The six principles of recruiting a quality head coach are:

  1. CLARITY – Are they clear in their thinking, decision making, vision and direction?
  2. COMPOSUREDo they deal with pressure? Can they provide leadership in tough times?
  3. CONFIDENCE – Do they believe in themselves and what they say?
  4. CREDIBILITY – Can they get players, coaches, staff, management, sponsors and fans to buy in to what they are trying to do?
  5. CHARACTER– Does who they are as a person enrich the club? Are their values (honesty, integrity, sincerity, humility, work ethic etc) consistent with you want for the head coaching role?
  6. COMMUNICATION Does the coach communicate well? Can they communicate effectively with players, coaches, staff, management, media, fans, sponsors? Do they communicate well in groups and one on one?

As it is with most organisations, poor communication is at the heart of the majority of problems experienced by sporting clubs.

5. Establish clear expectations, time frames and deliverables.

It is vital that the head coach, the Board, the Management, the staff and of course the players have a clear understanding of what the vision for the club is, the time frame that has been established to achieve the vision and the specific goals and objectives for everyone involved in the program.

From the outset establish clear policies, principles and rules so that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, the standards they are expected to maintain and the time frame to achieve them.


The Head Coach role is an important one for any club. They are often the public face of the organisation and the person held responsible for winning, losing and dealing with the implications of both.

It takes a special person to do it well – and an intelligent, thoughtful organisation to find that special person.

Wayne Goldsmith

1 Comment

  • MIke FInch Posted April 22, 2009 7:54 pm


    An excellent article – but not sure how it applies in a situation where a swim club board with well meaning (or not), inexperienced people are trying to hire a new Head Coach:

    1. Many clubs may be looking for a new coach because they mismanaged the relationship with their current HC

    2. Board actions are often driven based on the perceived best interests of the children of the parents on the board – often without regard to the best interests of the team.

    3. Many Clubs or Boards don’t have the skills or understanding to conduct a “visioning process” before the hiring process begins – they understand that they want a coach who will produce faster swimmers without any clear understanding of what that means…

    4. Board members seldom have the skills to determine what they require, how to write a coherent “help wanted”, how to conduct an interview, how to follow up on references, etc.

    The process in amateur sport is often broken – resulting in an accidental great hire or the wrong hire.

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