A New Head Coach is No Longer the Solution in High Performance Sport.

A New Head Coach is No Longer the Solution in High Performance Sport.


There was a time when a new head was the solution to all problems in a high performance sports team.

Team not winning – get a new head coach.

Team’s culture not rightget a new head coach.

Team’s attitude and commitment flagging – get a new head coach.

Times have changed.

A new head coach is no longer the solution in high performance sport.

The Old Days: The Coach was the Club.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the Head Coach was the Club.

The head coach selected all the players, the head coach selected all the staff, the head coach set the strategic and tactical direction for the team, the head coach created and developed the team’s culture: hiring a head was once the panacea to all sporting ills. But no more.

Time and time again we see sporting organisations, professional clubs and even national teams in all sports (but particularly the football codes), fail to perform,  undertake a review, come up with a genius solution like “sack the head coach and hire a new one and then wait back and watch the Trophy Cabinet fill with medals, cups and awards – they wish.

And then, two, three or four years later, after another series of failures, they do another review, sack another coach and hire one more.

Some teams will go through this performance clock cycle again and again and again and always look to changing the head coach as the one size fits all solution to all their performance and organisational problems.

And they continue to fail.

So what’s the reason?

Pretty simple when you think about it.

As high performance sport has become more complex so too has the ownership of the culture of sporting organisations.

In the past, the culture of a team was very much that which was created by and grown by the head coach – the head coach was the team.

Now players own the culture of the team. The board owns it. The management owns it. The staff and the administration own it. The fans own it. The media owns it. Everyone has a piece of the ownership of the culture of the sporting organisation.

And in that environment, hiring one man or one woman and expecting them to completely and permanently change the culture of the organisation is ridiculous. It’s like expecting everyone in the USA to change language, clothing and culture because someone opened a Chinese restaurant in Iowa: cultures only change when there is widespread support for change.

This is particularly true when sports hire an overseas coach and expect them to completely and permanently change the total culture of the sport and in doing so achieve international competition success. No head coach can do – or should try to do this.

The job of a new head coach is to provide high level technical skills, tactical abilities and strategic knowledge which enhances the culture of the sport: their job is not to try completely change the culture of the sport mainly because they don’t own it and never will.  Culture change comes only when everyone in the sport or club or team wants it, is committed to it and has made a personal decision to embrace it.
A team plays like, acts like, thinks like, performs like the culture that creates it.

A team surrounded by a great culture, positive people, innovative thinkers, people committed to excellence and high performance success, is consistently competitive in all competitions.

A team created and managed by negative, political, egotistical, narrow minded, untalented, selfish people, fails and fails and fails again. And 10000 new head coaches will not make any difference!

Sustainable change grows from inside to out. It can not be forced. You can’t legislate it. You can’t bully people into embracing it. You can’t create change by sending out emails and newsletters or holding “workshops” – real change is only possible when it is embraced by every individual in the organisation.

An example:

Consider one National Sporting organisation I have come across in recent years.

  • Their Board is heavily political and is constantly divided along representation lines (i.e. divided by the fact Board members are voted on to the national board by regional associations so they can’t act independently and in the national interest);
  • There is no one in their office administration who has ever played or coached the sport at the highest level;
  • Their coach education and development structure has not changed or improved since the 1980s;
  • Their senior coaches are an “old boys” club and strongly resist any efforts to change, to learn and to become the most innovative group of coaches in the world;
  • Their executive leadership are more interested in business class travel and sipping champagne in the corporate box than they are about being the world’s leading sporting organisation;
  • Whilst the number of  their office administration staff has grown by 200% in recent years, funding to critical high performance areas has plumetted;
  • Their national team sports science, sports medicine and performance science support is tired, outdated and split along sports science discipline grounds rather than functioning as a integrated high level team;
  • Their overall high performance culture is one of ego, selfishness, close mindedness, arrogance and ignorance – “our way is the best way” and “that’s the way we do it here” are their mantras.

So if they did a review, what’s the first thing they would come up with??? “Let’s hire a new head coach”.

Not “we all need to work together, to be 100% committed to change and individually and collectively be the best in the world at what we do” – but “let’s hire a new head coach”.

What is a great coach?

Great coaches are leaders but only when the organisation is totally committed to support their leadership.

Great coaches are innovative and creative but only when everyone in the organisation is similarly committed to innovation and creativity.

Great coaches are change drivers but only when the athletes, assistant coaches, support team and the organisation as a whole also embrace change.

Great coaches are capable of amazing things but only when the people around them, the people who created and sustain the culture of the organisation are similarly capable of striving to achieve amazing things.

In other words, hiring a new head coach to enhance performance is only going to work when every person in the organisation is as committed to change, to learning, to innovation, to taking risks and to excellence as the incoming head coach is.
No secrets in sport.

Everyone in high performance sport is improving. Thank the Internet for that.

Anyone can find out anything, anytime, anywhere and without spending any money.

So now, everyone knows what you know.

In this high performance sports environment, it is not what you know that is critical – it is your rate of learning: your ability to learn fast, change quickly, innovate sooner and accelerate performance improvement faster than your opposition. At a time when everyone is improving, you must improve faster!

So in this climate, hiring a head coach means one thing above all – you are hiring someone capable of accelerating the rate of change of the organisation and in doing so accelerate the rate of performance enhancement of the athletes, coaches, staff and team.

But one thing is for certain, unless everyone in the organisation is willing and capable of similarly accelerating their own rate of change  – a rate of change which is aligned with the rate of change being initiated by the head coach, things will not improve.

The Head Coach Position description.

It is easy to write a position description for a head coach and a list of interview questions to go along with it.

However, more importantly, long before you write out a list of questions for the potential new head coach to answer, ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Am I personally ready, willing and able to uncompromisingly embrace changeand support the new head coach as he / she works to enhance the performance of the athletes and team?
  2. Will I do all I can to support the head coach’s efforts to create and grow unity of purpose, direction and energy?
  3. Will I work to the best of my ability to enhance my own personal and professional performance  and to be committed to learning, growing and developing at a faster rate than at any time in my career?
  4. Will I accept the changes and innovations driven by the head coach and put aside any negativity, political actions and personality conflicts, i.e. can I put the success of the team selflessly ahead of my own ego and ambitions?
  5. Will my own personal contribution be consistently better than anyone in my role in any organisation in our competition?

If the answer to any of these questions is “NO” – then hiring a new head coach will not provide you with the success you think it will.

If everyone in the organisation, from the Board to the Basement embraces change, innovation, creativity and a commitment to being the best, then hiring a new head coach can be the catalyst of great things.

If you can’t support the head coach and the rate of change he / she has been hired to initiate,  the only person who should be applying for another job is the person who see in the mirror each morning.

Wayne Goldsmith


  • Jeremy Pryce Posted June 29, 2010 9:40 pm

    One of your best posts yet! Spot on!!


    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted July 1, 2010 4:41 pm

      Thanks Jeremy.

      I often get asked to do reviews and help change the culture of organisations….biggest problem is….often it is the person who brought me in and is paying my bills who is the biggest problem.

      No one person can change the culture of anything. Obama can’t do it. Religious leaders can’t do it. The world’s best coaches can’t do it….not on their own. Real change is only possible when people make a personal commitment to change themselves.



Add your comment or reply. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *