There are Two Types of Coaches. Which are You?


Z-2When you look out at the vast ecosystem of teaching and coaching, you see two main species: people who are focused on building skill, and people who are focused on building people.

Most coaches and teachers are in the skill-building business. They spend their time thinking about how to get better. They understand technique and strategy and information. They specialize in the “how” — that is, giving people tools to improve.

People builders, on the other hand, are  focused not just on on skills, but on connecting with the learner and guiding the growth process. They use a toolkit of emotional skills to build relationships. They operate on a deeper level, specializing in tapping into the “why,” accessing the deepest wells of grit and motivation that drive progress over time.

Here’s a quick and wildly unscientific quiz to see where you fit:

  • A) I treat everybody as mostly the same
  • B) I treat people as individuals, with unique motivations, strengths, and weaknesses


  • A) I focus on drills and repetition
  • B) I focus on awareness and feedback, and helping the learner take ownership of the process


  • A) I focus on delivering the knowledge to drive improvement
  • B) I focus on building partnerships to create the knowledge together


  • A) I’m fascinated by designing drills
  • B) I’m fascinated by building plans, tools, and systems


  • A) I’m obsessed with progress
  • B) I’m obsessed with process


If you answered A) to most, you incline toward being a skill builder; if you answered B), you incline toward being a people builder. I think most of us would agree that being a people builder is probably a more powerful role to play. But what we might not appreciate is how simple it is to become one.

Here’s an example: the teachers at Geared to Golf Performance Center in Ontario started off a recent session by having the students answer a simple question: What is your motivational fuel as an athlete? They then shared the answers on this whiteboard.


It’s not exactly brain science; it probably took all of ten minutes to accomplish. But consider the effect: in one short exercise, the individual motivations of each learner are made apparent, both to themselves and to all the teachers. This isn’t just skill-building — this is partnering with the learner.

Another of my favorite people-building tools I’ve come across is KIPP’s framework for excellent teaching, which they use to guide their efforts to develop the talents of their teachers. It looks like this:


Check out the way it combines the various elements of teaching and centers all the them on student growth. This kind of model — as simple as it is — can be a powerful influence in a culture, because it places the skill sets in a social context. It connects people so they can grow together.

Do you happen to have any people-building tools or ideas you’d like to share? Feel free to share them below!

Rate This

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (7 votes, average: 3.86 out of 5)

Share This

Bookmark and Share

9 Responses to “There are Two Types of Coaches. Which are You?”

  1. Jeremy Jones says:

    Great concept!

    It also jives with another tool I am looking to implement in the ‘Micro Gyms’ that I help mentor. I recently found out about a personality tool to help coaches better communicate with their athletes. Here is a brief clip:

    Thanks again Daniel!


  2. Greg coleman says:

    As a big fan of both The Talent Code and the Cliff Note version, The Little Book of Talent ( for my shorter attention span g kids) it occurs to me that John Wooden was a skills builder (short crisp instructional gems , downplaying
    Both praise and criticism as I recall) . The greatest coach of all time , as we knew but had reinforced by your detailed and fabulous republished study by two educators whose name escapes me, didn’t seem to me to care at all
    With people building . Nonetheless he produced the best skills building college basketball factory ever.
    Or is my recollection faulty.

  3. djcoyle says:

    Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for that — what a cool concept to get the players connected to each other and the task. It reminds me a bit of Dabo Swinney (the Clemson football coach) and a “safe seat” that he has for his players to share whatever they want. They’re all simple things — the tricky part is in launching and implementing them in a way that is authentic.

  4. djcoyle says:

    Thanks Greg — it’s definitely true that Wooden was an incredible skill builder (maybe one of the best ever, and certainly head and shoulders above his peers at the time). But I’d say that he was also a people builder — especially later in his life. Have you ever heard Bill Walton go on about Coach Wooden, especially about how Wooden taught him to be a better person? And here’s a good story about his relationship with Kareem Abdul Jabbar.–wooden-relationship-illustrate-the-power-of-sports.html I really appreciate your note because it brings up something that I should have included in the post: the ideal is not to be one or the other — the ideal is to be both. Thanks.

  5. Stuart says:

    Hi Dan,

    Awesome post as always…

    I like how you have recognised that the object might be to be great at both Skill building and people building but I do think that a lot of coaches tend to more focussed on the skills route and place less emphasis on the people building approach.

    The problem here is that most coaches are trained in developing skills, very little coach education is focussed on building people, it mostly tends on teaching or coaching technique. Also building people is messy, complex and difficult – developing technique is linear, simpler and more rewarding.

    But building people is way more powerful. You can layer a skills building approach on top of a people building approach and it will turbo charge learning. Taking a skills building approach first tends to lead to more fragility and athlete’s that are highly reliant on coach input to succeed. Great when things are going will but a house of cards when things are hard!

    Interestingly I have just written a coaching strategy for England which is calling for a reimagining of coach development to be more focussed on meeting the the needs of the person than developing technique. We believe that we can hook for people into sport and physical activity in this way and create a more active, healthy nation.

    Coincidentally I am flying over to Ontario this Sunday, I will be in Niagara speaking at a conference for golf coaches. I might see the guys featured in this post there I guess!

    All the best


  6. djcoyle says:

    Hi Stuart, Thanks for that — I could not agree more, and you put it perfectly: people building is messy, nonlinear, and hugely powerful. Thanks too for sharing your post — really fascinating. Seems like this conversation is happening all over. And I love that you’re going to be in Ontario. If you see those guys, please tell them hi from me.

  7. Laurie says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I too am a big fan of The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, and, for that matter, this blog post. I was especially nudged by, “I focus on awareness and feedback…helping the learner take ownership” and by “I focus on bldg partnerships to create the knowledge together.” I work with a set of students who often resist classroom work, and so on my not-so-great days, I hurry the process along by “handing over the knowledge.” The thought of building awareness, in contrast, sounds like a powerful and helpful thing to do. Thanks for the good work you do. It nourishes me in my personal endeavors and in my work.

  8. Steelcitymother says:

    There are also the builder/demolishers.Coaches who build an athlete up, say cheesy things, give them false hope, then knock them down…leaving them to pick up the pieces of their shattered dream.Anyone can become a coach…but not everyone understands human psychology.Having great people skills for only part of an athlete’s journey is not good enough.With leadership comes responsibility.

  9. Steelcitymum says:

    My child has a coach who works hard to give the whole group a sense of belonging with a big emphasiis on fun.It simply is light the touch paper and away they go.Everyone has a sense of self worth and is treated as an individual I in their own right….not moulded into someone who is not the true character they inherently are.Also, a lot of power and ownership re decisions is given to the group.The coach is in control but not in a way that is deemed overtly so.No shouting, swearing or passive aggressive sulking.People building works for the whole of the group and in turn leads to results. One great thing about the coach is that he explains how muscles are working, and names themduring circuit drills and the positive spin off is that my child recently received top marks in a school exam where she had to name parts of the body so the concept of sharing knowledge really empowers the child in a different learning process.

Comment On This