12 Leadership Lessons from 4 G.O.A.T. Coaches

Imagine having the super rare opportunity to learn from THE most successful coach in your sport who is widely considered the Greatest Of All-Time (G.O.A.T.) Coach...

  • Would you welcome that chance?
  • Would it help you understand what it takes to win numerous championships at the highest level?
  • Would it accelerate your learning curve as a coach?



I still pinch myself being blessed to learn from and work with not just one of sport’s GOATs – but unbelievably FOUR of them!!!!

ANSON DORRANCE – North Carolina Women’s Soccer (22 National Championships)
PAT SUMMITT – Tennessee Women’s Basketball (8 National Championships)
MIKE CANDREA – Arizona Softball (8 National Championships)
KAREN SHELTON – North Carolina Field Hockey (10 National Championships)

While these coaches are all different people with their own personal and professional strengths and shortcomings, interestingly but not surprisingly, they all share several things in common that form the foundation of their immense success. (And, yes, I readily acknowledge UConn’s Geno Auriemma could be considered women’s college basketball’s G.O.A.T. as well.)

As I reflect on and analyze what makes the GOATs so respected and credible and their programs so successful across the decades with hundreds of different athletes and dozens of staff members, these 12 critical qualities stand out. (I will refer to each of the coaches the same way as their athletes do - Anson, Pat, Coach, and Coach Shelton)



1. Are Compelled to Win and HATE to Lose

First, the GOATs are highly competitive, even ultra-competitive people, especially early on in their coaching careers. This uber-competitiveness remains strong throughout their career though they often expand and deepen their definition of success later in their careers.

GOATs have a deep desire to win championships and it drives them to be the very best. They willingly invest the long and grueling years it takes to go from pretender, to contender, to champion. GOATs work extremely hard to win that first championship but achieving it doesn’t fully satisfy them. They want to prove the first one was not a fluke, so they desire to win multiple championships to firmly establish their programs as dominant – which leads to dynasties.

Even more so than the burning desire to win, GOATs absolutely HATE to lose. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Losing eats away at them and is something they look to avoid at almost all costs. Why? Because GOATs take losing personally. Losses stay with them – in some cases to the grave. Of course they do everything they can to prevent and avoid losses on the front end. However, when they do occur, they analyze their losses, take full responsibility for what went wrong, and vow to prepare themselves and their teams at an even higher level so the reason for the loss doesn’t come back to bite them and their teams later in the season.

How badly do you want to win?
How much do you HATE to lose?

2. Consciously Create Championship Cultures

GOATs intentionally cultivate championship cultures – they never leave their culture to chance.

GOATs realize that HOW their team does things; HOW they train, HOW they compete, HOW they lift, HOW they condition, HOW they carry themselves, etc., forms the basis of their program. They establish, endorse, and enforce championship attitudes and actions and consciously create a set of core values and winning mindsets on and off the field/court that set up their programs for enduring success.

Anson says, "We insist on a certain kind of behavior among the players and the team and we consciously try to make sure that they understand what acceptable behavior is, and what we tolerate as acceptable behavior."

Are you consciously creating and sustaining a Championship Culture in your program?

3. Set and Sustain Championship Standards

GOATs set and sustain championship standards for themselves and their teams. They understand and embrace the high level they need to get their teams to perform at to beat their toughest competitors and win the championships.

GOATs establish these championship standards in their program, embody these standards themselves, encourage their athletes to consistently meet and exceed them, and effectively enforce the standards when they don’t.

GOATs realize that every team trains, lifts, and conditions, but it’s the high standards of elite teams that truly set them apart and become their unique competitive advantage. They sell their athletes on the difference-making ability of these high standards so their athletes buy in to them and hold their teammates accountable to them. 

GOATs demand a lot from their athletes. I can remember Pat Summitt being so mad at her team in the locker room at halftime even though they were beating Alabama by 36 POINTS!!! She was upset because they gave up too many offensive rebounds (11) to Alabama - that she knew would have been 21 offensive rebounds against UConn.

Have you set Championship Standards for your program and gotten your leaders to buy in to them and hold their teammates accountable to them?

4. Have a Master Plan and See the Big Picture

GOATs coach with the big picture of the entire season in mind and keep things in the proper perspective. They know when to push and when to pull, when to go hard and when to ease up, and when to challenge and when to comfort. They also know when to give someone a second chance and when it’s time to let someone go.

As they develop their teams, GOATs consciously see the bigger picture and know where their teams need to be and when. Coach (Candrea) used to work backwards from their first scheduled game to make sure he implemented and practiced all the things his team would need to know before that opening weekend.

GOATs intentionally schedule games against the best competition so they can gauge where they are and develop their team accordingly. They know that sometimes an early loss can be transformed into a championship win in the postseason. Anson says, "Early in every season we try to gain some humility by getting our ass kicked. We throw our kids into the fire by traveling to the farthest team away from Chapel Hill that can beat us, maybe take a loss, and then reconstruct ourselves the rest of the year, chomping at the bit to play them again and beat them."

Do you have a Master Plan for your team and season? Can you keep everything in perspective?

5. Recruit Great Athletes, Staff, and People

GOATs know the right people make all the difference. They invest a ton a time in recruiting the most talented people who are also a great fit for not only their offensive and defensive schemes but also their culture.

GOATs want people who can perform at the highest levels but also embody and embrace their program’s values and standards. They’ll also not be afraid to turn away highly talented people who are not a fit with their culture because they are too selfish or lazy.

Are you laser-focused on recruiting, selecting, and keeping the absolute best athletes, staff, and people who are a great fit for your program?

6. Develop and Partner with their Team Leaders

GOATs invest time and resources in developing their leaders because they know how important effective leaders are to their program’s success and culture on and off the court/field. They develop strong relationships with their leaders and communicate with them often, value their input, and encourage them to co-lead the team.

Coach Shelton meets regularly with her team leaders, usually on a weekly basis during the season. Anson has a series of books he uses to train his leaders including our Sports Leadership Development Series. Not only does Anson train each of his classes on leadership, he also invests time to train his MANAGERS as leaders because of the impact they have on the program. (I always tell people this is just one example of how important effective leadership is for Anson.)

How invested are you in identifying, training, and partnering with your leaders?

7. Build Confidence

GOATs have the special ability to instill confidence in their athletes. This confidence comes from their detailed preparation for a variety of situations and making sure their athletes master the fundamentals. GOATs know that confidence is only earned by investing the quality preparation on a daily basis.

GOATs consistently monitor and manage their athletes’ and team’s confidence levels. They let their athletes know they have confidence in them to take on and conquer any challenges.

Coach (Candrea) has said that talking with an athlete about their confidence for five minutes after a practice can sometimes be more productive than an entire two hour practice.

How well are you able to inspire confidence in your athletes and rebuild it when they struggle?

8. Connect with their Athletes

GOATs connect with their athletes as people. They invest the time to get to know each of their athlete’s and staff’s unique motivations, goals, challenges, frustrations and fears. They know what makes them tick so they can bring out the best in them and help them when they struggle.

Coach (Candrea) says, "I work very hard at getting to know my players well enough that if something is bothering them, that is the most important thing for me at that moment. Because if I don't deal with that, practice and the game and everything else is irrelevant."

How connected are you to your athletes?
Do you understand what motivates each of them?

9. Care about their Athletes as People

GOATs care about their athletes as people. Their athletes know their coaches want to win but they also know their coaches want what is ultimately best for them as people. They want them to be successful in the game of life.

As an example, Coach Shelton has each of her athletes update their resume each year and share it with her so she can see how well they're getting involved in professional and personal opportunities away from field hockey.

Pat said, "When my players come into my office I try not to always go right to basketball. I first ask them, 'How's school going? What's going on?' I talk with them about their settings off of the court."

Do your athletes feel like you care about them as people and students?

10. Continuously Learn, Adapt, and Improve

GOATS are insatiable learners. They never rest on their laurels and always search for new and improved ways of coaching, teaching, motivating, and team building. They can adapt to changes in rules, changes in recruiting, and changes in athletes. They stay current and even cutting edge with the game. (I appreciate that the GOATs are always at my workshops and share their insights, lessons, and expertise with the other coaches in the department.)

Coach (Candrea) says, "The minute you quit trying to become the very best teacher of the game is the day you should quit. You should know your game backwards and forwards."

Since January 1, what are the last 3 books you've read, clinics you've attended, or videos you've watched that can make you a better coach or leader?

11. Coach People for Life

GOATs stay invested in their athletes for life. Rather than using their athletic talents for four years and never talking with them again, GOATs stay connected with their athletes and take pride in their alums' personal and professional successes throughout their lifetimes. They counsel them through the challenges of life and celebrate the successes of a new marriage, baby, and job. Alumni reunions and games are special for GOATs because the love to see their athletes (and their growing families) come back and take pride in being an extension of the program.

As an example, Coach (Candrea) has every past and present player's and staff member's birthday in his phone. He sends each one of us a text on our birthday as a way to stay in touch and show he cares - even though we may have played or worked for him many years ago.

Are you willing to be a coach for life for your athletes?

12. Grow the Game

Finally, GOATs invest the time to grow the game on a national and even international level. They consciously and consistently grow the sport to benefit everyone - athletes, coaches, administrators, fans, etc. They willingly share their secrets of success with other coaches – even ones that they know will compete against them and occasionally beat them.

They grow the game by traveling across the country to play other great teams, they grow the game by teaching at clinics, they grow the game with TV exposure. The success you see today in many women’s sports like softball, women’s basketball, and soccer is due to the sacrifices and investments many of the GOATs and their colleagues have made over the past decades in growing the game.

How can you grow your game in your school, community, or state?

We ALL owe a ton to the GOATs of the game. They've shown us what it takes to be the best of the best - and they've left a legacy of leaders who continue to share their philosophies and principles. Thank you Anson, Pat, Coach, and Coach Shelton!

Become a GOAT Coach for Your School

While you may not be able to be a GOAT coach right now in your sport, you can still do all of these things and become a GOAT coach for your school, community, and/or conference.

Help Your Team Learn What It Takes to Win Championships

Based on what I've learned from the four GOATs and other championship coaches, I've put together a program for athletes called What It Takes to Win Championships. You can implement this 15-part program over 3, 5, or 15 weeks this summer. Click on the cover to learn more...



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