Posted by: Jamie Hahn | August 20, 2010

3 awesome things I’ve learned from bad coaches

We’ve all had bad coaches — the ones that leave you crying in the locker room, the ones that scream their throats raw just to hear their own voices, the ones that can never be convinced that you’re more than a worthless slacker in need of reform, and the ones that just don’t know you or the game.

Being an athlete, I’ve had a ton of coaches over the years. Being a shy kid who liked to follow the rules, I also won a lot of “Coach’s Awards.” The trophy that says, “I’m very coach-able, and I don’t talk back.” This also meant that I was impressionable and easily affected by my coaches — good and bad.

I can easily name my three best and worst coaches. I learned directly from my best coaches. They taught me the games, showed us how to function as a team, and supported us through it all. I learned indirectly from my worst coaches. Through their terrible behavior, they taught me things like how to be resilient in the face of insanity, how to survive consistently unhealthy interactions, and how to succeed despite a deeply unsupportive environment. We all have this story, but I wondered if there was another side to it.

When I started thinking about what I’d learned from any coach over the years, I made an interesting realization. The three pieces of information I’ve most incorporated into my life came directly from my three worst coaches. It may be a coincidence, but regardless, it was quite a stunning realization.

In honor of these crappy coaches, and their enduring impact on my life, I’ve decided to share the three pearls of wisdom that I learned from them.

1)   Bad Coach #1: ” It’s the little things.” This line was spouted from the mouth of my least favorite coach so many times that it’s etched on my brain. From the position of my top cleat when leading off first base to the split second timing of a double play, she insisted that a focus on the little things was going to get us to the NCAA championship. We never made it there, (partly due to lack of talent, mostly due to this coach’s penchant for tirades and emotional abuse), but I can’t deny the power and truth of this concept. If we pay attention to the little things and move them forward patiently and thoughtfully each day, great things will happen.

2) Bad Coach #2: “Make your partner look good.” Despite the fact that this man possessed no social skills and harbored an unnatural obsession with Diego Maradona, I must say that making your partner (and all the people around you) look good is the best way to live. At its core, this statement is about relationship building and teamwork. Support people. Cheer for them. Give them an amazing pass that they can tap into the goal. Everyone will succeed and people will like you. It’s an awesome way to see and experience life. There’s a stark and consistent difference between the people who get this and the people who don’t.

3) Coach #3: Run hard at the end.” This came from my first real coach. He always smelled like spaghetti and hid behind his coke-bottle glasses and handle-bar mustache. His knowledge of soccer was dubious, but his work ethic was strong. This quote is my all-time favorite. I have conjured this beauty in my darkest and most difficult hours – for tests, projects, challenging clients, relationships, and anything that required some effort to get through. It’s so simple, yet so powerful. How successful would we all be if we could apply this principle to all of our endeavors?

So, that’s my tribute to bad coaches everywhere. In addition to the things I’ve learned from these folks, I’ve also realized that we truly can learn something meaningful from anyone that comes into our lives — even if they happen to smell like spaghetti.

How about you? What have you learned from the coaches in your life (bad or good)?


Note: image courtesy of



  1. I love this post. I smiled at the: “make your partner look good.” What beauty to find positives from people who had such ability to influence negatively. At least it shows they were trying – probably to the best of their ability. And you were learning – a few gems, at least – while you were having to protect yourself from tirades and negative energy.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Thanks! I suppose they were trying — wish their “best” had been better, but that’s a different story. 🙂 I’m glad to have learned something from them.

  2. that’s funny that you mentioned soccer, and without having read this, i went right to coach #2. i so agree with your assessment, and have applied the wisdom of bad coach number 2 in my life over and over. we could write a book! or better yet, a digital story! “make me look good.” i’m feelin’ it.

    do i love this because i was such a magic johnson fan? this was such a part of his style. making cooper, byron scott, rambis look good. feel confident.

    • It’s amazing that we both thought of this separately. I love it.

      A digital story is a brilliant idea. Love the title! Let’s do it!

      Magic Johnson definitely embodies this. He was the King of Assists — always making everyone look good. No one like him.

  3. love this!

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