As long as the profession exists this question is asked by the general public and coaches alike.
The question is simple, the answer is not.
One has to suppress the logical answer that a good coach is the coach whose athletes or teams win the most medals and competitions or break the most records.
The truth is that even “bad” coaches are able to make their athletes win. Sometimes a coach only has one superior athlete in his career and somehow this athlete is doing very well and thus, according to this definition, this is a good coach. As one of my colleagues once remarked: “even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut”.
Some coaches and athletes are willing to pay any price in order to win medal or break a record, I am not. I am willing to pay a high price, but not cause any mental, physical damage to my athletes or myself.
Often I ask my athletes where that precious medal is. Many of them have to think hard and the common answers are: gave it to my children, is hanging on a wall or even somewhere in a shoe box. And the records? Those records have been broken by others – in the end that is what records are for.
So the medal or the record is important at the time, maybe even the most important thing when you win them or break them. But I hope that after 10 years or 20 years they are not that important anymore, and that they have been replaced by other valuable things in life.
In my experience with my athletes the most important thing is are the memories. The shared memories of making the impossible possible, of the euphoric moments after victory and deep sadness and frustration. In other words, the shared emotional highs and lows, that created a bond that lasts longer than the record or the gold on the medal. The thing that makes me as coach really proud is the relation with my athletes which now already lasts 20 or even 30 years, seeing them getting married, having children, see the children grow up and still being of some value for them after so many years.
Good coaches are sometimes not even responsible for performances, especially when coaching very young athletes when medals don’t count as much as learning, fun and having a good time in sports., Then it is the happy faces in anticipation of the training and the smile on their faces when they leave the field, track, pitch, court or pool.
“Making athletes improve” is another often heard phrase. Well, my best result and my pride is probably with one athlete who ran the 100 meter 14 seconds flat and I made her run 13 seconds, a feat that I am sure no other coach in the world could have accomplished. But nobody knew him,13 seconds is not a medal winner in the 100 meter. Yes, my best athletes ran the 100 meter under 10 (the men) and under 11 seconds (the women), but still I am not sure that a) nobody else could have done that job and b) that these athletes could not have run faster with another coach.
“Getting the best out of an athlete” is another one. But how do you really know that this is the best they could have done and that not another coach or another approach would have made them perform even better? We don’t. But in the end if coach and athlete are both happy with what they accomplished and both agree they gave it their best shot, that is valuable.
For me a good coach is a coach who helps athletes to reach their full potential, and their hopes and dreams, with multiple athletes, over a longer period of time, without any damage or price to pay, during or after the athlete’s career. A coach who athletes are still proud of having worked with, and look back in a positive way having done so. A good coach helps to create winners not only on the track but also off the track, where athletes will spend the rest of their live and where a good coach can make a difference too.