Back in my misspent youth, when I wasn’t watching sitcoms or walking to the library, I spent a big chunk of my time playing teams sports — baseball and basketball especially.  I had coaches, of course, but none of their exhortations, encouragements, or demands made much of a difference or left an impression on my later life.

Maybe that’s because I never had a coach like Garret Kramer.  Kramer, who’s worked with athletes from high school to the pros in a variety of sports, takes an approach that might seem a bit odd to anyone who’s not Phil Jackson.  He thinks goals thwart athletic achievement rather than enable it. He thinks that athletes perform better not when they hate their opponents, but when they love them. And he thinks willpower matters a lot less than what he calls “stillpower,” which draws on internal motivation and aims for a sense of flow.

In honor of his new book, Stillpower: The Inner Source of Athletic Excellence (Buy it at Amazon,, or IndieBound.) I asked him to share with Pink Blog readers the four most overlooked attributes of successful coaches, as well as leaders of any kind.

Here’s Garret:

1. They look to the state of mind of the athlete or individual in question, not his or her behavior.

Poor performances or behaviors are the result of an individual’s low mindset. Nothing more, nothing less. Rather than holding players or employees accountable to their actions (judging behavior), the best leaders hold them—and themselves—accountable to recognizing the thoughts and feelings that accompany high states of mind, and only acting from this mental state. This type of coach distrusts his own thoughts from low moods and encourages his players to do the same.

2. They understand that the spoken word is far less important than the level of psychological functioning from which the word is spoken.

Here’s a simple reminder. Words are merely an echo of a feeling. A coach might say to a player, “I was really proud of your effort tonight.” But if there is no feeling or passion behind the words, they might actually have a negative impact. Successful coaches take notice of their own level of functioning moment to moment. They know that positive words only originate from positive states of mind.

3. They keep goal setting in perspective.

Successful coaches know that the more athletes focus on the ‘prize,” the more they thwart their own awareness, shrink their perceptual field, and limit the imaginative possibilities. These coaches understand that achieving goals does not elevate self-worth or happiness. Instead, they relish the journey—the relationships and experiences—as the path toward creating exactly what they want becomes clear.

4. When in doubt—they turn to love.

Great coaches set guidelines and expectations based on one overriding principle: love for their players. They know, above all else, that love will always provide the answers to helping others—and to success.


15 Responses to “The 4 Most Overlooked Attributes of Successful Coaches”

  1. What if ed reformers applied these principles and mindset to offset their harsh criticism and sterile solutions of education?

  2. Dan,
    Great post! This is so counter-culture to the typical athletic mindset. Thanks!

  3. Jeff Haynes says:

    Dan –

    Thanks for posting this interview. Interestingly, I am lucky enough to be married to a Triathlete, and I must say the point about keeping goal setting in perspective totally resonated with me based on what I have seen of her. She recently completed the Escape from Alcatraz and then the Boise Ironman all within 6 days! So, in those events you have 2000 “competitors”… and for about 1900 of them, their goals have nothing to do with the completion times… it is 100% about the journey to get there, and about the relationships they form with their peers/trainers. I’ll tell you: you will never meet a group of friendlier people. They are not all snotty and competitive – their day is like a celebration of their journey to get there. They tell each other stories, they self-deprecate, they wish each other well… and then at the end they hug and drink beer! While I don’t do triathlons, I make sure I am there at the end for the hugs and beer! So, I guess in the end, “love” does supply the answers.

  4. Jeff Haynes says:

    Speaking of “love” and “hugs” and “celebrating the journey”… I just read that The Wall Street Journal tracked every expression of celebration and appreciation between teammates in the first three games of the NBA Championship. The Mavericks had a total of 250 such physical expressions while the Heat had only 134. Seems very consistent with Kramer’s hypothesis.

  5. scott says:

    Coach John Wooden comes to mind after reading this article. It was obvious that he loved his players.

  6. Bill says:

    Love this post, especially reading it the middle of a four-day AAU junior volleyball tournament in Orlando, FL. The journey really is the destination. Those who only live for the destination/goal usually have trouble enjoying it even if reached. Relief, yes. Joy, not so much.

  7. Martin Goldberg says:

    I am reminded of my own love of hockey and my daughter’s commitment to running. Both were fed by intrinsic rather than extrinsic drivers. This post supports your general belief of the power of intrinsic motivation. Clearly this is not a mainstream view of motivation if we look at the markers in North American society. What are the lead arguments of the majority of people who see and believe in the power of extrinsic motivation?

  8. @Whitney Allen: Yes! I think that would make for very interesting education policy.

    @Jeff Haynes: How interesting that the WSJ would publish an article tracking such a ‘statistic.’ Isn’t it great when the news reports on the “cool” stuff?


    I was pleasantly surprised by (1, 2, and 4). All of these seem like important aspects of being “human” and not just an athlete.

    With Love and Gratitude,


  9. Osnat Hazan says:

    Great points! these are SO important for managers as well, when they fully understand their role as leaders of people, not only of a company.
    thanks a lot for this interview
    Best Regards,

  10. Renita says:

    This is so heartwarming. It’s about time we realize the conventional focus on winning the prize does not produce happy athletes or even better results, necessarily.

    Jim Loehr tells a great story about the top female tennis player who turned around her falling ranking by shifting her focus from being number one in the world to “being sunshine to everyone who watches her play.”

  11. Laura says:

    What a fabulous post! As a former college athlete and now a coach I fully believe in these points made. If coaches coached with these thoughts in mind, seasons may have a different outcome… athletes need to feel loved. As a middle school teacher, individual self-confidence/talk is huge in the success of each student. Point #1 nails it on the head for this level of learners– I can only imagine the outcome it would have on their social/academic lives! I could go on and on about each point- great post and I will be purchasing this book, thanks!

  12. Matt says:

    Very informative post and, as some commenters have already noted, useful way beyond athletics. I think the information could be used to great effect by teachers, tutors, and even test preparation companies.

    Educational motivation is not about getting an “A,” but rather creating a mindset that values the acquisition of knowledge and the investigation of the world.

  13. Kent says:

    Long time didn’t read this kind of book, it is time to buy one. Thanks for the recommendation, Daniel! 🙂

  14. Susan W says:

    Love? Really? Ugh – I think I might throw up. This is taking the group-hug culture a bit too far. As with any self-help or management book, there are a couple of truths mixed in (all of which are intuitive). When did we, as a society, become so insecure that we need constant validation of our common sense ideas and knowledge. And when did we decide that good feelings trump competence. I strongly object to the statement, “Poor performances or behaviors are the result of an individual’s low mindset. Nothing more, nothing less.” Poor performance is quite frequently the result of incompetence – caused by poor work ethic, lack of intelligence, lack of other necessary skills, or hubris. This kind of stuff is why America is losing its competitive edge.

    • Ryan K says:

      “Poor performances or behaviors are the result of an individual’s low mindset. Nothing more, nothing less.”

      This statement could absolutely be true, if the assumption is that an individual has the talent to begin with. To say that poor performance is more commonly the result of incompetence…who could argue with that? What Kramer seems to be saying is that for somebody who has achieved a certain level of ability (through effort and giftedness), then a poor performance can be traced back to his/her mental state.
      America is losing its competitive edge because the edge America enjoyed was unsustainable. It’s a big world out there and gifted people are born and thriving all over the world.