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The 5 Minds of a Great Coach

Coaching requires drawing on multiple forms of knowledge and demonstrating a wide range of applied skills. Effective coaches recognise the need for continual learning and improvement, no matter how experienced.  In contemplating how you can develop and learn as a coach, you should consider how to cultivate the vast range of skills required for effective coaching. The 5 minds of coaching concept provides a great framework to guide your development, recognising that each factor is equally important in your success as a coach.

The 5 Minds of a Great Coach


The 5 Minds Explained


The five minds concept was created by psychologist Howard Gardner. Three of these minds are directly cognitive and two deal with the human sphere. Individual strengths and differences may mean you have one mind further developed than another. This is normal – but your weaknesses should guide your pathway for development.


The Disciplined Mind

It is said that an individual takes approximately 10 years to become a master or expert at their craft. Yet to remain a master, an individual must continually practice in a disciplined way. Coaching as a discipline is always evolving, as are the conditions and demands put on the coach. Therefore, coaches must stay up to date not only with the latest sports specific research but also coaching pedagogical knowledge (quality of teaching instruction). A good base knowledge in exercise science such as anatomy, physiology and biomechanics will increase your understanding of athlete performance. However, science alone is not sufficient to bring results – a coach must know WHAT to do and become skilled at HOW to do it and approach both of these in a systematic and disciplined manner.


The Synthesising Mind

A supremely important trait of coaches is the ability to scour a wide range of sources and decipher what information is important and worth paying attention to. Second to that is the ability to transform this information in a way that makes sense to oneself and others. Information has never been short in supply but those who can make sense of that information become invaluable coaches, communicators and leaders. Consider a new technology on the market that seems important for practice, but you and your coaching team know nothing about it. Your goal is to acquire sufficient information that you or your team can make a calculated decision about whether to invest in this technology. The synthesiser must know enough about the topic to make judgement about whom and what information to trust in order to make the appropriate decision.


The Creative Mind

Those coaches with a creative mind forge new ground and think outside the box. It is likely that much of current practice originated from coaches and athletes experimenting with new training methods and adapting them in response to the results over time. Creativity in a coaching sense still requires structure and a balance between intuition, observation, monitoring and evaluation. The constant effort to improve upon previous practices while learning from past efforts is a constant battle for a coach. Sheer innovation might be easy but effective creation is not. One challenge of a modern-day coach is providing training stimulus over an extending period of time and ensuring that the athlete remains physically and psychologically challenged to avoid plateaus. This would not be possible without creativity in the training environment.



In summary, as described by Gardner himself “the disciplined mind involves depth, the synthesising mind entails breadth and the creative mind features stretch.” It is worth considering how these first three mind we discussed interact and rely on each other. Synthesising is not possible without some kind of mastery of the discipline and perhaps synthesising is a disciplinary skill of its own. Creation and the ability to think outside the box is equally as unlikely to be successful without both disciplinary knowledge and the capacity to synthesise information. Therefore, developing sufficient (but not too much) discipline and synthesis to inspire confidence in creation is key to effective coaching.


Are these the only qualities that are important or could personality and temperament play an equally important role…..after all not every creative endeavour will succeed but do you have the persistence to pick yourself up and try again?


The Respectful Mind

The respectful mind represents the ability to relate and work well with others from all walks of life. It involves considering the person and not just the program. The differences between coaches may not lie in their training techniques but in the execution of their training plan.  The athlete-coach relationship dictates coaches that succeed, connect with their players and intrinsically motivate them versus those who purely set instructions. Many decisions that athletes make will be influenced by emotions, coaches who can recognise and work with the athletes on this level are the ones whose plans get executed to reality.


The Ethical Mind

A person possessed with an ethical mind is able to think abstractly and ask themselves what kind of person do I want to be and what kind of coach do I want to be, what would the industry be like if all professionals fulfilled their roles in the way that I do? An ethical mind involves recognising the moral responsibility for your role. An ethical individual behaves in accordance with the answers they have forged for themselves, even when these conflict with self-interests. Most people want to behave ethically but the reality is not so easy, even determining what is ethical and what is not can be challenging. For those coaching children it is important to consider that during development children and adolescents start to form ideals as to what is normal behaviour. Therefore, acting by example is critically important for someone coaching minors. The ethical mind must not just recognise but also take corrective action should their work compromise those ideals.



Now that you have considered the 5 minds, reflect on the role of each of the minds in your coaching practice. Do you think each of the minds merits equal investment and continuing nurturance? Have you recently experienced a conflict between your 5 minds and how did you resolve this conflict? Perhaps it is the melding of all 5 minds that is our greatest challenge as a coach……


If you enjoyed this blog you may be interested in our Goal Setting Blog….



Gardner H. Five Minds for the Future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2007. pp. 9–31.

Jeffrey I. The five minds of the modern strength and conditioning coach: The challenges for professional development. Strength Cond J, 2014; 36(1):2-8.