AD's, Coaches & Athletes: Kick Off Next Season with a New Way of Thinking

Jun 14, 2019 8:45:52 AM / by Marianne Engle, Ph.D.


One of the signs of a great athlete is consistency. Most athletes will have a great game every now and then, but truly great athletes are always performing to their potential. As an Athletic Director, you’re looking to build a stable, successful program in the long term, not just a successful team for the season. Which means you need a steady stream of athletes with perseverance and enthusiasm — but how do you ensure your teams are full of athletes with a great attitude and strong work ethic?

These players with perseverance have a specific mindset, which we call a success mindset, which empowers them and fuels their progress. By leading with that same success mindset, your coaches can develop more of these valuable players, better position their teams for a successful season and build a youth sports culture that is positive and focused throughout all seasons.

Coaching with a success mindset means you’ll create consistency from team to team, program to program, year to year. Position your coaches to have the best opportunity to build a successful team with these four techniques for building predictable players.
Highlight Reel: By leading with a success mindset, your coaches can develop players with great attitudes and strong work ethics, better position their teams for a successful season and build a youth sports culture that is positive and focused throughout all seasons. Build a team with consistency by being consistent yourself: use a consistent philosophy, enforce consistent expectations, deliver consistent communication and have a consistent temperament.



ADs and coaches reporting high satisfaction in their programs from athletes, coaches and parents, develop and implement a philosophy built on a foundation of a solid work ethic, commitment, and trust. This philosophy is consistent, stable, but flexible enough to adapt to changing situations or personnel. This means each player, whether an early maturing kid with natural talent, or one without, is given the same guidance to achieve, and that every member of the team understands their short-term targets and long-term goals for themselves and for the team as a whole.

After all, instilling a positive team-first attitude and ensuring that everyone is training hard are more important than size or talent alone.

Coaches’ Note:

This is how you can motivate the team so that everyone looks forward to practices and games: pay attention to all of your players and all of these athletes will trust you to bring out their best.


Coaches should maintain a consistent approach to the rules and standards of the team: Set expectations at the beginning of the season — and enforce them. Write and distribute separate team rules — including logistics and behavior expectations — for both players and parents. This doesn’t mean coaches need a long list of rules, just consistency in how they apply them.

Coaches’ Note:

Make exceptions to these expectations at your own risk—once you’ve made an exception, it will be requested again and again and again.

Another way to ensure consistent expectations is to make sure that your coaches know what is reasonable to expect for their athletes’ age and stage. What works for an 11-year-old athlete will not be the same as a 14-year-old, which will in turn be different for a 17-year-old.

And, of course, make sure that you have consistent expectations for your coaches.


Actions may speak louder than words, but words matter a lot on and off the field. Model consistent communications from the top down — from ADs to coaches to athletes.

Coaches need to use effective communication strategies in practices and games to keep their players motivated and to build commitment. They can achieve this by giving players positive verbal incentives to work on team and individual goals. During practices, coaches should call out positive gains of any size as a way to maximize skill development and game strategy.

Coaches’ Note:

Make sure to avoid general praise like “You are amazing!” This kind of extravagant praise creates kids who work for approval -- not improvement. And research shows that kids who work for approval become afraid of disappointing you or their parents and often drop out of sports altogether. Instead, point to specific success, dedication, good play, and great teamwork.


Whether it’s their teams’ best season (or their worst), by modeling a winning temperament, coaches can help their players to develop predictable behavior no matter what is happening on the field. Bringing a consistent mood, and not letting emotions get the best of them in the heat of battle, will help your coaches build a program that runs smoothly, even on the days when everything seems to be going wrong.

In the same spirit, by being even-keeled and fair to everyone, the coach communicates that even though not every player is equal in talent and not everyone will get the same amount of playing time, players and parents can trust that the rules and treatment are the same for each player.

Coaches’ Note:

Showing up for every practice and game with the same disposition means players and parents know what to expect from their coaches, providing a foundational touchpoint whether it’s a bad day or a great one. This allows your players to have predictable expectations of you and allows them to approach game day with confidence and focus.


By modeling a consistent and winning temperament yourself, you can help your coaches and players develop these characteristics, too. Win everyone's respect on the path to winning games with consistency, consistency, and consistency — and making it part of every athlete’s mentality.

Utilize the free inCourage resources, including the Playbook for Coaches and ADs, to help create your own success mindset and share this with your coaches and athletes to give them the right direction.

Together we can improve the culture of youth sports.

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Topics: coaches, athletic directors, athletes

Marianne Engle, Ph.D.

Written by Marianne Engle, Ph.D.

Marianne Engle, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and a sports psychologist. Her clients have included professional athletes and teams from the NBA, PGA, and the America’s Cup sailing race in addition to elite athletes in ice skating, baseball, tennis, soccer, water polo, squash, dressage, volleyball, etc. Marianne has written a sports psychology program for youth athletes and coaches to enhance commitment, physical and mental skill building, and group dynamics. She is currently on the faculty of the NYU Langone Medical School. She has held faculty appointments at Harvard, MIT, and UCSD in addition to being a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Sport and Society. She is a board member of the NYU Sports and Society program.