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UK Coaching Team
Rapport Building and Communicating Developing Mindsets

Mel Marshall: Four Essential Qualities of a Great Coach

The 2019 UK Coaching High Performance Coach of the Year summarises the four most valuable lessons she learned as an athlete that have helped her thrive as a coach

During her decorated career, Mel Marshall was a role model to everyone who loved swimming, from budding and novice swimmers through to wannabe Olympians, pathway prospects and fully-fledged professionals.

Nothing has changed since she hung up her cap. She has forged a second distinguished career as a coach, earning a glowing reputation as one of the best in the world – a role model now to novice coaches, emerging coaches and elite coaches alike.

As an athlete who completed the journey from the bottom to the very top of the sports development pyramid, she has first-hand experience of what great coaching looks and feels like (and not so great coaching too), and therefore an understanding and appreciation of what qualities and personal attributes it takes to succeed as a coach.

Here, in her own words, Mel lists the four biggest things she learnt as an athlete which have become ingrained into her coaching practice and behaviours, and which she believes every coach should possess.

Her first coaching tip is short and to the point, a simple statement of fact as much as an essential requirement of coaching: the need to be athlete-centred.

  1. “It’s not about you: And if you think it is, you’re in the wrong job. Coaching is a selfless act.”
  2. “The power of pitch: What I mean by that is, the power to apply pressure and the power to relieve pressure; when to invite challenge and when to offer support. People don’t grow unless you put a competitive hurdle in front of them. The art of coaching is deciding and understanding who can get over that hurdle; when; where and how. And if you want to know when the right time to challenge is, you have to information-gather on your audience. Body language is one way to read people but effective questioning is another way to find out more about a situation or a person.”

Which leads neatly into…

  1. “Coaches should listen more than they talk: The big thing I learned from being an athlete is that a coach has got two ears and one mouth, so we should be listening more than we should be talking. As an athlete, I often felt unheard. So, one of the most important things for me as a coach is that my athletes feel heard, they feel valued, they feel supported and they feel challenged in a positive and bespoke way. Often in coaching we are in love with our own voice. But you don’t take people with you unless they understand the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, and if you understand their ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’, then you learn how to drive them and get them over competitive hurdles that are imperative for them to grow, to progress and to achieve.”
  2. “The power of emotional intelligence: Sport requires technical ability but it’s all about people. Everybody that walks through your door has got an individual psychology, an individual physiology, an individual background, an individual character, and it’s about you using emotional intelligence to work out what is the key to you unlocking a higher sense of purpose and a higher sense of potential. That’s your job.”

Dive deeper...

Mel Marshall Webinar

This advice is taken from our free Curious Coaches' Club webinar: 'Creating an Athlete-Centred Environment'

Watch it here

Mel Marshall Interview

More wise words from Mel in our two-part series for subscribers: ‘The Big Interview: A Conversation on #GreatCoaching’

Read it now

Related Resources

  • Emotional Intelligence: Being the Best Version of You

  • Top 10 Qualities You Need to be a Coach

  • What is Great Coaching?


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