Why Great Players Don’t Necessarily Make Great Coaches

Why great players don't necessarily make great coaches

Oftentimes people assume that a great player will automatically become a great coach and it’s easy to see how this assumption forms. 

The former players are still operating in their area of expertise. They aren’t coaching vastly different sports. It’s not like Larry Bird is trying his hand at coaching Manchester United. 

So you would think the excellence would be transferable. 

The reality is quite different. 

Players who did not replicate their success as a coach

Here are a few examples of great players with a not so great coaching record:

  • Roy Keane - Won 19 competitions as a player but just 1 as a coach.
  • Larry Bird - Won 3 NBA championships as a player but not one as a coach.
  • Diego Maradona - Won 12 competitions as a player, but not one as a coach.
  • Sir Bobby Charlton - Won 21 competitions as a player, but not one as a coach.
  • Wayne Gretzky - Won 4 Stanley Cups as a player but not one as a coach

Why does this happen?

Whilst the former players are still working in the industry they’ve worked in for decades there is a vast difference between playing a sport and teaching a sport.

When immersed in a game, players often enter a ‘flow’ state where they are reacting instinctively and not giving any conscious thought to what they are doing. 

Coaching or teaching on the other hand means identifying the correct behaviour and communicating it in such a way that a student understands and is able to follow instructions. 

They are two completely different skill sets. 

Here is a quote from Paul O’Connell, a great Irish rugby player turned coach, on the transition:

“The rugby knowledge isn’t the hard part… The challenge is teaching it. I think that’s why so many really good coaches are teachers because they have a degree in transferring knowledge. They have a degree in how to teach people how to do stuff. And before they’ve gone coaching they’ve accumulated hundreds of hours of standing in front of a room of people and grasping their attention and transferring knowledge to them”

Teachers who became great coaches

To further prove how the transfer of knowledge can benefit coaches here are a few examples of teachers who went on to become great coaches:

  • Declan Kidney - Has won 5 major competitions to date as a coach
  • Eddie Jones - Has won 6 major competitions to date as a coach
  • Joe Schmidt - Has won 9 major competitions to date as a coach
  • John Wooden - Won 10 NCAA championships in his coaching career


So, there you have it. A common myth debunked!

Just because they play the game well does not necessarily mean they can teach others to play the game well too. 

If you’re interested in honing your knowledge transferring skills or developing others you can do so with our teaching and learning courses. 

Find out more about them here.