Coachability: The Most Valuable Yet Underrated Trait

There are many traits of an athlete/person that most coaches find desirable. “Can they see the floor well, can they read a defense, is their footwork impeccable, or are they a team player?” Arguably, these are all great traits to have as an athlete they don’t withstand the test of time by themselves. In order for innate tangible skills to be refined to elevate an athletes capabilities to certain heights it requires the ability to be coached. Coachability is a trait that, in my opinion, is unrivaled among all else. If an athlete has this ability it will take them much further than any God-given talent.



What is Coachability?
The skill of coachability is a deeply complex philosophy. It involves not merely being told what to do and doing it, rather the ability to gain perspective from someone else’s advice, the ability to take criticism without ego, learning from mistakes, and “stepping outside of one’s self” to accept flaws and master them. It is such a complex philosophy many people even make the mistake in thinking that they are coachable, when in reality they really are not. In the following paragraphs I will describe what it means to be coachable.


“Listeners” vs. “Appliers”




The first step of being “coached” involves listening. Listening is an art that is difficult to master for many athletes/people in general. This is because they listen on “autopilot”. The coach begins talking and because of the “autopilot” mindset it just becomes a break between drills or “he/she talks everyday so they don’t have anything to say I haven’t heard before”. This stems from 5 barriers:

The “I am” or “I did” Mentality:
You won’t believe how often I have corrected an athlete on a simple drill because I saw one little detail out of whack and I am hit with immediately “I AM” or “I DID”. I always have to retort, “would I correct it if it was right?”, to which they reply, “no”. This is a barrier that can crush an athlete/persons development simply because they do not think they are doing anything “wrong”. This is tough for some to accept primarily because the athlete/person cannot see themselves performing an activity. In the moment they feel they are doing a drill or an activity faster and harder than anyone and here comes coach belittling their efforts. From a different perspective, the coach sees them going all out giving great effort but its going to waste when done incorrectly. If they tweaked /changed a specific detail, it will allow the athlete to gain something from their efforts rather than expend valuable time and energy going toward forming bad habits.


Changing from the “I am” or I did” mentality to an “I will” mentality is invaluable. This new approach takes the coaching advice and applies it to the previously used method. This gives the athlete/person the capability to see what they are doing from a different perspective. New perspective leads to new development and growth.

Argumentative or Aggreance Listening
This is the type of listening that everyone has been party to. When someone is talking, many times, the individual unknowingly will find things in what is being said that they either agree with or disagree with. This will lead to the person either focusing entirely on what they agree on or what they disagree on, instead of listening completely to what is being said, thus losing a certain level of context. This barrier won’t allow someone to be accepting what is being taught to them as they are too busy filtering out information, which is hugely detrimental to being coached.

To combat this type of listening, take the time to listen for the “gems” within what is being said. These missed pieces of advice can often bridge the gap in a finer detail to a skill that may be missed.


The “I Already Know” Mentality
As an athlete/person, its easy to adopt this thought process. You’ve practiced everyday, day in and day out and you’ve been there before. So when a coach shouts your name and begins to tell you, you did something wrong in a drill you’ve done thousands of times before it’s easy to shrug it off and continue doing what you are doing. The coachable person will take the time to realize that the daily repetitive minutiae in practice can make the difference come game time so perfecting these minor details are critical to their success.
There is also another side of this mentality that is often missed. After a mistake has been made the coach attempts to educate what was wrong during the drill. The athlete/person spends so much time with the “I already know” that I made a mistake mindset that they forgot to listen to why they made it and what their options are to correct it. The mistake winds up being seen as more of a “duh” moment, just don’t do that again. The coachable person knows that they made a mistake but finds the appropriate way to correct it instead of not doing it again.


“Absent” Listening
The moment a conversation begins and the moment it ends is typically what many athletes/people tend to pick up on. Somewhere after the start of the conversation thinking about how much time is left in practice, plans for the weekend, “man i’m hungry”, my favorite tv show is on tonight, or anything distracting will prevent someone from being engaged in being coached. To diminish or eliminate this problem the athlete should focus on being in the moment. By actively listening to what is being said it will:

  • Keep you actively engaged in practice
  • Allow a better focus on the task at hand
  • Set a better tempo for the practice
  • Create an atmosphere of “learning the game”

This is a tool the coachable athlete/person has that allows them to find the small daily successes that are often missed by those who choose not to be coachable.

“You Are Always Picking on Me” Mentality
It is the coaches’ job to, well, coach. Some athletes/people struggle with a coaches’ criticisms due to it making them feel as if they are being picked on. Feeling picked on creates a relationship of distrust and promotes negativity in how coaching advice is perceived. Not being able to accept these criticisms ultimately prevents any growth as an athlete/person. By adopting the mindset that a coaches’ job is to educate for the better can help eliminate the negative connotation of criticisms that are offered during practices. These constructive criticisms are only designed to teach and develop skills that may otherwise be lacking.


Learning vs. Regurgitating

Listening and learning versus listening and regurgitating are two philosophies that rival one another. One can elevate anyone from being average to good or good to great and the other can keep the best player stagnant in their pursuit of growth. Learning listeners pay attention to what is said and adapt it to both their strengths and weaknesses while regurgitating listeners pay attention to what is said and robotically repeat the process. For some it may seem obvious as to why its important to be a listening learner, in reality it is a natural thing for most to merely regurgitate information. Here are the difference between the two:

Regurgitating Listeners


  • Listens to the advice given
  • Applies it to the specific scenario given
  • Repeats the same process every time
  • Remembers how to do original process
  • Does not adapt to different scenarios
  • Other scenarios occur and fails
  • Remains same player with robotic approach

Learning Listeners


  • Listen to the advice given
  • Review the scenario and how the advice applies specifically to it
  • Understands the new skill set in relation to its context
  • Adapts the advice to specific skill sets
  • Modifies it based upon other scenarios similar to it
  • Practices advice on original scenario
  • Practices/adapts advice to other scenarios
  • Masters original process
  • Masters the original process in other scenarios
  • Develops new skill set(s) with fluid approach

By being a listener who is actively learning, daily growth occurs. Now the craft that is being honed is also understood on a different level than those being competed against. This becomes the coachable athletes advantage over his/her opponents, the ability to adapt to different situations because they didn’t simply prepare they gained knowledge and understanding of the situations they might be placed in.


Great Followers Make Great Leaders



It is often said to be the best leader it is necessary to first be the best follower. This is because being a good follower teaches certain intangible traits that mold someone into being a great leader. Being coachable and a good follower are synonymous in this respect. This is because coachability and being a good follower share many of the same traits:

Role Players
Coachable athletes/people understand that they have a role within their given system. They don’t stray from being within that role as it ultimately upsets the balance of the system. These same individuals also understand that they have a leader they must follow but also embrace this fact. By taking ownership of this idea they can fulfill their role with clear, concise precision.

In order to play a role or take advice the athlete/person must be humble. Humility is the true identity of the “there is no “I” in team”. The coachable know that it is not about them. While being able to take criticism is indeed a major role in humility, it also being able to know your limits and accept help that play a pivotal role. In realizing how small you are in the grand scheme of a programs overarching goals, purpose can be found and understood. This is when an athlete/person can truly accept being coached because they know that they don’t everything about their respective sport let alone their own skill set(s).


As all followers have this trait so must a coachable athlete/person. Being able to not only recognize but accept one’s flaws is it possible to prevent them from being a hinderance to growth. Self-awareness can come in multiple forms; being aware of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, knowing one’s pitfalls/bad habits, and knowing one’s capabilities. The capability to do these things have less importance in how you one is perceived but more importantly how they can positively impact another creating a more positive environment for everyone to grow within a program.


Critical Thinking
It would be an understatement in saying that this is an important trait of coachability. It is THE trait of of being coachable. Critical thinking isn’t just being able to make decisions on the fly, it is the ability to think for one’s self. Being able to freely think is a prime example of the afforementiong robot like actions of a regurgitating listener and the fluid actions of the learning listeners. It also allows the coachable to speak up when they agree with their leader and at the same token speak up when they do not believe in what the leader is saying. Following blindly is not a characteristic of the coachable/follower.


Good followers have this quality in spades. They understand what needs to be done without having to be told. They anticipate, and they act. While others wait to be told what to do, a great follower has already done it. This can often lead to certain ideas or processes being made better because the other parts of the “machine” don’t have to compensate and can rely solely on their respective jobs.

From these traits the follower becomes a great leader.


Coachability is Highly Transferrable

Unlike flexibility, footwork, or court-vision, coachability is the only trait that is transferrable into real-world scenarios. When someone is highly coachable they will find a way to succeed in life. This is because they have learned how follow, thus learned how to lead. These athletes/people will have the work ethic and the tools necessary to start and maintain a healthy career in whatever field they see fit for themselves. If an athlete/person is uncoachable they will struggle in their career or workplace. These athletes/people do not have the ability to see why they struggle in the workplace so they never learn and lose all ability to move upward and onward. Typically someone who is uncoachable:

  • Will not understand how being late affects the person whose shift is before theirs
  • Will not be capable of taking criticisms from their boss
  • Will have difficulty completing tasks given to them on time
  • Will always think other employees or boss is “out to get them”
  • Will be passed up for raises and promotions based on poor performance
  • Will run the potential of bouncing from job to job
  • Will run the risk of having a “job” rather than a career


Although it has been stated enough, coachability is THE best trait one can possibly possess. Coachability transcends athletics and moves into the personal lives of all athletes/people. If it is as seen as superfluous, there can be no growth of character that is required to become the athlete/person needed to be successful. However,when this trait is mastered, there are truly no limits to what that individual puts their efforts towards.

Audric Warren

Coachability: The Most Valuable Yet Underrated Trait

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