Whether it is the NBA or your five-year-old daughter’s soccer game, having experience playing the sport makes you a better coach. Knowledge is the key to being a good coach, but unless it has been applied to the sport in practice, it can only be so valuable.

Let’s say that you are one of the smartest physicists in the world. This does not translate into you being one of the greatest professors if you have no teaching experience. In a sports sense, knowing the nuances and specifics gained from playing the sport goes a long way in teaching or coaching a team. 

The best coaches in the world played the sport before coaching, even if not at the highest level. Former University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball coach, Pat Summitt, played for the U.S. Women’s Basketball team before going on to have one of the most illustrious careers in college basketball. Pep Guardiola, current Manchester City F.C. manager, is one of the most successful soccer coaches of all time and started his career playing in the youth academy of F.C. Barcelona, a team he later managed. Finally, Bill Belichick, current New England Patriots coach, played football in Wesleyan College’s Division III program, but has gone on to become a legend in football. All of these future Hall of Fame coaches in their respective sports, despite the level of competition, were players before becoming coaches. 

For coaches that have never played, a big part of their approach comes from studying the game and the statistical, analytical side to sports. As data crunching becomes more pertinent in our society, it is clear that data analytics in sports is a growing market. But in sports, numbers can lie. Just because one player has a crazy high average does not always mean they are the best at their position. 

Though having playing experience creates the best coaches, there is value to scholars of the game. If you are too absorbed and experience “tunnel vision,” having that outside perspective can be valuable. Bringing in different arguments and opinions can create a conversation that pushes you to refine your strategies and ideas to achieve the best possible outcome. 

The qualities that make a great coach are often subject to debate. Is it motivation? Is it strategy? Is it recruiting ability? All of these characteristics create a coach; however, the experience gained from playing will give that little extra emphasis to your coaching. Coaches who have been players can understand a player’s experience as well as a coach’s. This duality of perspective allows the coaches to bridge the gap and create the best possible outcome for the team.

The evidence is there. The best coaches in every sport have playing experience. The experience of being a player cannot be undermined by pure knowledge of the game, and this is shown by the success of coaches on every level of competition. 

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