With the biggest football extravaganza on the planet coming to a close last weekend, there can’t be a better time to talk about ambition, passion, success - and its dark twin - failure. While the world is obsessed with the players, we find it fitting to talk about the coaches who are leading the young participants, and have inspired and guided them to get to where they can play on the biggest stage fearlessly.

Football is a game of glorious uncertainties, and so is life. If you follow any sports, you must admire certain coaches. Why is that? What do you like the most about them? Is it their discipline, ferocity, and tenacity? Do you like their style, or the way the inspire players to raise their game? Have you tried to cultivate any of their traits or employed any of their methods in your training?

Well, we certainly think trainers like you can hugely benefit from a number of attributes displayed by successful and inspirational coaches, and to that extent we have come up with a not-so-short list. So let’s get the ball rolling!

Work with Passion

Typing on keyboard

There is no faking passion. Passion is where the energy to continue with high intensity, day after day, comes from. Successful trainers speak for long hours. They are constantly jetting in and out of their city, meeting new people, gauging the needs of others, and preparing effective training material. Most importantly, they deliver it with conviction.

If any of the above misses passion, every other activity in the chain of events will be affected, and things will get progressively worse.

Alex Ferguson coached Manchester United for almost 27 years. That’s a very long time, no matter how you look at it. He saw his team lift a total of 38 trophies under his tutelage. That averages more than a trophy per year under his guardianship, which is an excellent record. It was, of course, not all smooth sailing; they also hit the rough many a time. But while you may disagree with his methods or cringe at his lack of PR skills, what you absolutely must learn from the man is his passion for his work. That which made him turn up for his team day after day for 27 long years.

It sounds almost clichéd to talk about passion and sports coaches but it needs to be emphasised here, because passion is a rare commodity. Because all teaching is a transfer of energy, it’s imperative for you as a trainer to be fired up about what you are teaching, and absolutely believe in your training material, for it to have the desired effect on your audience.

Dream Big and Bigger

Laptop and notebook

Sports coaches don’t have an option but to dream big. If they don’t, their management will find someone who does and is able to bring the desired success, fame, and profits to the franchise. Non-celebrities, however, always have the option of not dreaming big. And many of us exercise it, too!

But as a trainer, you must aim big. Refine each and every aspect of your training style and material for better impact.

  • Challenge yourself to prepare the best material you can.
  • Be a voracious reader and an eager consumer of technology. Read on psychology, anthropology, photography, history, arts, science -- whatever takes your fancy. The wider your interests, the richer your training material can be.
  • Practise your presentations and method of delivery in front of the mirror until you have mastered each and every aspect of it. A good trainer is an entertainer at heart. He loves to speak, loves to hold his audience in thrall, and signs off with a flourish. Nothing wrong with a bit of showmanship if it helps you stand out in people’s minds.
  • Put great thought and care into your presentations and teaching material.
  • Have a plan B to get on top of worsening situations, for instance when you realise your training material isn’t creating an impact at all on your students.
  • Be quick to think and be quick to act (when faced with uncomfortable questions from your audience).

Aim high and back your dreams with passion; you will rise to prominence in your niche, no matter how crowded it may seem. Ambition backed by passion and commitment always finds a way to stand out.

Shake off the Criticism

Glasses on laptop

So your team has been thrashed by your arch rivals for the fourth time this year and fans are baying for your blood. You’re coping with a steady stream of abuse on Twitter and the media is calling for your head. Your billionaire owners aren’t too happy with you either. You were, after all, signed up for a tidy sum and have failed to deliver. They could easily replace you, and you know that.

What do you do? Shrug your shoulders, go off the grid, and focus on reformulating your strategy for the remainder of the season, or fight depression, have a life-altering conversation with your wife, and hand in your resignation?

There’s no right or wrong way of approaching this hypothetical scenario, which by the way, plays out in teams around the world all the time. But it does take a lot of resilience and courage, not to mention self-belief, to tune out the criticism and instead focus on reorganising your resources.

For trainers whose programs failed to create the desired effect, whose management isn’t happy with the resultant low return on investment, and all those who are struggling to keep their head above water, resilience is a great quality to cultivate - especially if you own a training business.

While resilience is required in any sphere of life, it’s even more important when you are responsible for guiding entire batches of bright minds.

Inspire, Inspire, Inspire

Raised hands

This is perhaps the biggest lesson you can learn from a coach you like.

They manage to lead a team of big achievers and bigger egos year after year. They ride the troughs and crests of fate and fortune with remarkable fortitude. How does one man inspire so many others to give their best on the field?

Contrary to what many think, it’s not through big words delivered in an evocative fashion. According to one report, the most inspiring coaches of London Olympics, 2012, were considered so because of the following main attributes:

  • Controlling the controllables.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Hard work.
  • Preparation.
  • Managing expectations.
  • Creating opportunities.
  • Building relationships.
  • Perseverance.
  • Helping.
  • Motivating.
  • Communicating.
  • Having a positive attitude.

What do you think you can pick from this list? Which attributes do you think you possess, and which could use some honing?

Make Friends with Change

Meeting at table

As the world evolves, so do its expectations from its leaders. We are all expected to keep up with the changing times.

New research displaces old notions all the time. Your long-cherished theories may one day be debunked. Your organisation may cease to exist. Technology may change the face of training beyond recognition.

Technology is changing sports, as are the newer realities of a more connected and globalised world. Add on to this the dwindling attention spans of audiences directing how certain games are played, and it means the coaches you admire are having to pay attention and change with the times.

Here’s Gary Curnee's, a professional coach and blogger,  perspective for you:

"Today’s coaches must be multi-functional, and be equally competent as a manager, tactician, trainer, psychologist, physiologist, and sometimes even a counsellor. You simply cannot coach the same way as you did ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago for a number of reasons."

Much the same can be said of the role of a trainer. You cannot carry on the way you did a few years ago, and another ten years down the lane, the field of learning and development will have undergone even more changes. To stay relevant, you must keep learning and be cognisant of the changes impacting your field. Take it all in your stride to remain on the top of your game.


On the surface, the stage doesn’t seem to be as grand for a trainer as it is for a sports coach. There is no glorious trophy at the end of all the long hours filled with sweat and tears. But that does not mean that the impact a good trainer has on his students is any less in magnitude.

While numbers certainly are a measure of success, the biggest metric is influence. How many of your students do you think you have inspired? How many have felt attending your courses was a great use of their time? More importantly, what can you do to make your training sessions more inspirational, the kind that stay with your attendees long after they have left the auditorium?

Leave a comment and let us know.