How to Improve Your Coaching Practice With SHAPE America’s National Standards for Sport Coaches

SHAPE America’s National Standards for Sport Coaches inform what coaches need to know and do to create quality experiences for athletes. These standards, which were revised in 2019, can also improve quality coaching practice. In the new book, National Standards for Sport Coaches: Quality Coaches, Quality Sports (Third Edition), you’ll find many resources to help improve your coaching practice.

Resources for Developing Coaches

The national coaching standards outline the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and values that coaches should strive to develop in their coaching practice.

For those individuals who may be asking, “How can I learn more?” the book also provides the following for each standard:

  • Helpful Resources
  • Highlighted Topics
  • Supporting Research

For example, Standard 1 (Develop and enact an athlete-centered coaching philosophy) can help: 

  • Coaches who want to further develop their athlete-centered coaching philosophy by providing resources like the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s 2020 Quality Coaching Framework.
  • Sport administrators who want to direct coaches toward resources that will help them incorporate an athlete-centered coaching philosophy into daily practice. 
  • Coach educators and coach developers who want to share the resources, get ideas about key topics to discuss or implement with developing coaches (e.g., help coaches reinforce effort and improvement while keeping winning in perspective; have coaches reflect on their current coaching philosophy related to aspects of an athlete-centered philosophy), and view research that provides evidence for use in coaching practice.
National Standards for Sport Coaches

Ideas for Structuring Professional Development

Coach educators, coach developers, and sport administrators may also be looking for ways to integrate the national coaching standards into the professional development and educational activities they develop for coaches.

Recognizing that coach educators and sport administrators engage in several coach developer functions (e.g., designing educational programs, facilitating learning experiences, assessing coaches), the book provides ideas for how the national coaching standards might inform these functions. It includes examples across a variety of coaching contexts including youth sport programs, national governing bodies, and coaching associations.

Here is an example for interscholastic athletic administrators with the national coaching standards core responsibilities noted in parentheses:

Providing Resources

  • Distribute educational materials to the coaching staff on how coaches can manage stress and maintain work-life harmony. (Strive for Continuous Improvement)
  • Provide web links to coaches through a weekly electronic message on how to develop an athlete-centered coaching philosophy and developmentally appropriate principles associated with long-term athlete development. (Set Vision & Goals)

Facilitating Learning Experiences

  • Implement a pre-season workshop for all members of the coaching staff (1) to share any applicable rule changes, (2) to inform and teach fiscal and facility program management, (3) to share injury response protocol, (4) to update “return to play” procedures, (5) to discuss the legal responsibilities of the coach, (6) to cover how to minimize risk, and (7) to share ways to reduce the potential for abuse, sexual harassment, and bullying, and/or hazing behavior. (Develop a Safe Sport Environment / Create a Positive & Inclusive Environment)
  • Implement a preseason workshop for all coaches on the (1) physical, psychological, and sociocultural conditions which predisposed athletes to injury, (2) how to reduce injuries through safe and proper training procedures, (3) sound nutritional practices, (4) drug and supplement use among athletes, (5) how to provide accommodations for athletes with disabilities, and (6) ADA guidelines and Title IX to promote inclusive practices. (Develop a Safe Sport Environment / Create a Positive & Inclusive Environment)
  • Invite a local university coach educator to conduct a pre-service workshop to teach appropriate ethical behavior, to develop the coach’s ability to make ethical decisions, and help coaches learn how to work with a diverse group of individuals and include inclusive practices. (Engage in Ethical Practice)
  • Organize internal coaching clinics and invite members of the coaching staff to share teaching strategies, best practices for planning practices, incorporating mental skills training, and motivational techniques to enhance athlete performance. (Conduct Practices & Prepare for Competition)
  • Provide funding for coaches to participate in a coaching license program (if applicable) on best practices relative to the teaching of technical and tactical skills of the sport. (Conduct Practices & Prepare for Competition)
  • Provide resources for coaches to complete CPR/First Aid/CPR certification and/or attend national and regional coaching clinics to provide networking opportunities for coaches and help them build interpersonal skills. (Strive for Continuous Improvement)

Assessing Coaches

  • Design self-assessment activities for member coaches to help them self-reflect on their ability to design seasonal/annual plans that include appropriate skill progression and the application of appropriate training and conditioning principles. (Conduct Practices & Prepare for Competition)
  • Schedule two or more in-season meetings with coach to provide feedback on the coach’s ability to adapt current methods to ever-changing athlete needs related to skill development, plan appropriate skill progression, evaluate athlete performance, and teach leadership and life skills. (Conduct Practices & Prepare for Competition)

Mentoring Coaches

  • Foster coach-to-coach interactions within the athletic department to nurture mentor–-mentee relationships and help coaches cultivate leadership and learning skills. (Strive for Continuous Improvement)
  • Facilitate informal conversation with members of the coaching staff through “brown bag lunch” sessions to discuss topics such as, building a positive culture and developing positive relationships. (Conduct Practices & Prepare for Competition)

Evaluating Programs

  • Offer head coaches assistance in assessing their sport program through self-reflection activities to improve their coaching performance and the performance of the staff and team. (Strive for Continuous Improvement)
  • Design end-of-season, one-on-one evaluation sessions with the coach to evaluate the coach’s fiscal and facility management ability as it relates to the program and to communicate the athletic department’s athlete-centered coaching philosophy. (Conduct Practices & Prepare for Competition)
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Identifying Areas of Improvement

As the national coaching standards represent the core functions of a coach, they can also be used to help coaches improve their coaching practice. Another set of resources offered by the book are sample evaluation forms that coaches, coach educators, sport administrators, and coach developers might use to assess coaches and identify areas for further growth and development.

These tools include the following:

  • An evaluation on the readiness to coach, which sport administrators can use to evaluate candidates for coaching positions and/or evaluate how much training a new hire needs to be prepared to coach relative to the national coaching standards.
  • An observational tool for sport administrators to use to help identify a coach’s strengths and weaknesses in conducting a practice.
  • A professional development evaluation where coaches can identify areas they feel they need to improve based on the national coaching standards.
  • A self-reflective tool to evaluate how well a coach creates a respectful, harassment-free, physically safe, and inclusive environment.
  • A program management evaluation tool which helps to identify how well the coach establishes standards and model behavior, builds relationships, creates a positive, inclusive, and safe environment, and manages practices and competitions.

The National Standards for Sport Coaches: Quality Coaches, Quality Sports serves the primary function of outlining the core coaching responsibilities that will provide a quality experience for athletes. However, the book also provide guidance for coach development through the creation of learning resources, professional development and learning opportunities, and evaluation tools for improving practice.

In this way, the book further solidifies sport coaching as a profession by not only identifying the specialized knowledge in the field based on the latest research and best practices, but also supporting the professional education of sport coaches.

Additional Resources

Lori Gano-Overway

Lori Gano-Overway, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and director of the coaching education minor program at James Madison University. She has been involved in coaching education for more than 20 years and chaired SHAPE America’s National Standards for Sport Coaches Revision Task Force, which revised the National Standards for Sport Coaches.