UW Center for Leadership in Athletics

Ambitious Coaching™ Project

Julie McCleery coaching a youth baseball team

Ambitious Coaching™ is the UW Center for Leadership in Athletic’s term for high-quality sports coaching. Ambitious Coaching is a holistic approach to individual and team instruction that blends social-emotional growth and improved sports performance. Targeted to student-athletes from elementary school through college, in any sport, Ambitious Coaching serves as the cornerstone for the Center’s coach training and professional development.


In 2016, the Center for Leadership in Athletics launched the Ambitious* Coaching Project, a research study designed to identify the knowledge and skills at the heart of effective coaching. The goal of the project was to identify specific coaching practices that support holistic wellness and social-emotional development of athletes while preparing them for age-appropriate performance and competition.

The study utilized a Delphi method to identify an initial set of coaching core practices, followed by a video capture of coaches who met a specific set of “ambitious” criteria. Videos were coded for high frequency, high leverage behaviors that occurred across different sports, ages, and competition levels. From this work, 15 Ambitious Coaching Core Practices emerged that help the CLA tell the story of how coaches can engage athletes in a fundamentally sound, intentional, and integrated approach to sport, designed to elicit both high levels of execution and personal growth and fulfillment.

Additional exploration of the Core Practices has spawned a range of activities guided by our deepening understanding of what makes an effective coach. These activities include curriculum development for coach training and workshops, foundational material for the ACCEL certificate, and the creation of online coaching resources, including the Core Practice Handbook.

If you have questions about the Ambitious Coaching Project, contact Dr. Julie McCleery: juliem4@uw.edu

*The use of the term “Ambitious” is an extension of work previously completed by researchers and teachers from the UW College of Education, who are engaged in a collaborative effort to identify the high leverage practices that are at the core of ambitious teaching. Ambitious teaching is the notion that students of all racial, ethnic, class, and gender categories can engage in intellectually rigorous, deep thinking about subjects and subject matter.