Competition Management

Provide steady, flexible leadership and management for competition.

WHY: Recognizing that the competitive environment varies drastically from sport to sport, all coaches still play a role in shaping the way athletes experience competition, be it before, during or after the event. In order to maximize positive outcomes, coaches must keep a longer view of competition, ensuring that overall development, sportsmanship, safety, and health are not compromised for the competitive outcomes. 

HOW: The coach observes, strategizes, advises, leads, and allows athletes to lead during the competition, thus acting as an external cognitive and emotional guide for competing athletes. This may involve managing logistical aspects, calling plays, working with staff and athletes themselves to assess the opponent's strengths and weaknesses, or making strategic/tactical changes during the game. The coach intentionally regulates his/her tone, body language, and the use of language during the competition in response to the athlete and team needs. Those needs may vary between individuals, from competition to competition, and even moment to moment in competition—ranging from exhorting and motivating to calming and soothing depending on what is called for. The coach also regulates his/her language and tone to interact professionally and appropriately with officials, spectators, and assistants. Finally, expert coaches employ different routines for pre, during, and post-competition management and reflection. 

Video Examples

Expert coaches use debriefings to reflect on past competitions by evaluating athlete/team performance (focus on the process and goals rather than results), integrating athlete and staff input into the discussion, and incorporating video and/or statistical analysis. More uncommon, but equally important, is when coaches reflect on their own performance during the competition. This video features a youth basketball coach doing just that during a pre-practice meeting the day after a competition.


This video example illustrates different in-game coaching behaviors during a Division I volleyball game. The head coach decides to make changes to the line up to incorporate some of the players from the bench into the game (logistical management based on the observation and ongoing assessment of the game). Note that not only does he let the athletes know about the changes, but also provides a detailed explanation as to why the substitution is happening (Core Practices of framing communications, relationship-building, and leadership development in action).

The final video, this time from an ultimate competition, is a great example of how the coaching staff, athletic trainer and the teams handle an injury in the midst of competition.  All players display a high degree of sportsmanship when supporting an injured player and staff follows the safety and injury assessment protocol. The Head Coach is not explicitly dictating the course of actions but is rather following the protocol that is already in place to insure the safety of the athletes on the field and facilitating discussion between the players involved in the accident in order to avoid similar situations in the future.


What Drives Winning - this website offers an extensive collection of short videos and other materials featuring some of the most successful coaches at the collegiate and professional levels who share insights and reflect on their coaching philosophies, competition, character development through sport, and other topics related to coaching education. These clips illustrate specific aspects/coaching behaviors within the Core Practice of Competition Management:

  • This video is an excellent example of intentionality and self-management on the part of the head coach during the final moments of a high level college basketball game. It also puts in perspective the importance of learning and focusing on growth over winning and results.

  • This video, from a NCAA Head Women’s Soccer Coach, is another excellent example of how a coach takes a less directive role during the competition and uses different tools to create awareness among the players on the bench during the game. (It was also a great observational and learning tool for the Coach).

I’ve Got Your Back: Coaching Top Performers From Center Court To The Corner Office by Brad Gilbert with James Kaplan

This book offers a perspective on coaching two former #1 tennis players in the world, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi, during their time on the professional tour. Notably, coaching is not allowed in men’s tennis during the competition, however, the coach is present during the match. Competition management in tennis is very relational and relies heavily on the nature of pre and post-competition interactions. The coach, Brad Gilbert, finds ways to manage different aspects related to competitive performance in a sport that has tournaments almost every week throughout the year. If tennis is not your sport, this book is still a great tool for those who want to help people reach their top potential and for coaches in other sports who have less interaction with athletes during competition.