Transactional vs Transformational Coaching

The coaching profession, regardless of your level, comes with presuppositions that will inevitably influence every aspect of your philosophy, teachings, and operations. I began coaching, at a competitive level, a few months after my playing career ended in 2014; though I have been coaching various sports at various community levels since I was in junior high. My first year of coaching was a blur. I learned a vast amount about the underside of running a high school program from fundraising to practice planning to relationship building. I remember thinking to myself: there is no way I will ever be able to assimilate enough knowledge about the game of baseball and its intricacies to be effective. I didn’t realize that initial thought could be so beneficial to my future calling. What I thought was a vast amount of inadequacies turned out to be a great starting point for a young coach find his way in America’s past-time.

“There is no way I will ever be able to assimilate enough knowledge about the game of baseball and its intricacies to be effective.” I remember this thought vividly because it was my first real hurdle in the field of coaching. Playing the game had always come so easy, but playing and transpiring knowledge don’t always come hand-in-hand. As I struggled through the next few weeks of establishing a coaching foundation I did what I always do when I don’t immediately grasp a concept: seek answers and ask questions. I reached out to my former high school coach, read a few baseball books, and sifted through my ‘baseball binder’ (an accumulation of teachings, articles, posts, book exerts, quotes, words of wisdom, etc from my high school and college career) in attempt to gain some quick knowledge. Let me tell you, so thankful I didn’t let immediate doubts persuade me away from coaching. I stumbled through some notes and encountered a reoccurring resource: the American Baseball Coaches Association. After looking further into this organization I was immediately given access to other coaches, ones that were coaching at the highest and most successful levels, and I was astounded by how many of these ‘stars’ had a common theme: they didn’t have it all figured out either. At a previous time, these coaches committed to lifelong learning; even some that thought they ‘knew it all’ when they were just getting started. Well, there I was. Just getting started, and I decided to be okay with not having it all figured out. I made a commitment to becoming a lifelong learner searching, studying, investing, and growing, with as humble a heart as possible, from that day forward in my coaching career. Now, ego fights me often, but I do my best to feed the humility animal more than my ego animal because whichever you feed more is ultimately going to survive and present itself.

Fast-forward to year 5 of my coaching career. I’m now 25 and in my 4th season at Park Place Christian (3rd as a Head Coach). I know more about baseball and its intricacies than I ever have, but I still don’t know it all. And I’m still okay with that. Though my thirst for knowledge isn’t closed to being quenched. I have a print out of that saying on my desk at work: “..I still don’t know it all.” It’s a constant reminder to remain humble and willing to learn. This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to meet great coaches and even work alongside them on the University of Mississippi’s camp circuit. Now, these guys are the real-deal. I’m walking, talking, shaking hands, crackin’ jokes, learning, taking notes, and enjoying baseball with guys that have been coaching longer than I have been on this earth. Guys that have ‘made it’. Guys that I revere most in this profession. Guys that started out just like I did: an empty cup waiting to be poured into. Now their cups are running over, and I’m doing my best to soak up any droplets I can get my hands on! As we discussed our favorite stories and lessons from this great game, I overheard someone mention ‘transaction vs transformation coaching’. My ears perked because that vernacular was new to me. As we dove into the conversation I felt the conviction of this topic’s foundation. Am I a transactional coach or a transformational coach? What is my TRUE motivation? I had to take a second to truly reflect and check my body of work. To understand which you are, you may need to know a little bit more about each.

Transactional coaching. In my opinion, this type of coaching is selfishly motivated. It’s a lot of ‘winning at all costs’, ‘you do this for me, and I’ll do this for you’, and “what can I get from this’ mentality. Coach- “How can I get this player to serve my agenda best.” In this type of coaching the coach’s interests and well-being transcend that of the player. I suppose the outcome for a transactional coach is much greater a prize than that of investing in an athletes future by providing them the tools necessary to be successful, in life and in sport.

Tranformational coaching. In my opinion, this type of coaching takes the attention, even the spotlight, off of them and onto the players entrusted upon them. For me, transformation coaching is transferring knowledge, ethics, sportsmanship, and  responsibility onto the players. Their best interest, growth, and development far surpasses a coach’s ego and desire to chase wins. Wins can still be important, and should be important, but it’s not what is MOST important. In this style of coaching, players leave your program transformed, better, and, maybe most importantly, prepared for life. You let the team take credit for wins, and you wear the losses. I imagine when you seek this style of coaching and apply to every player that comes through your door, you leave a legacy far greater than your wins and losses.

Personally, I believe transformational coaching can impact you as much as it impacts your players, your staff, and your community. Billy Graham said ‘coaches will influence more students in a year than most will in a lifetime.’ I agree, but I would even go as far as to add ‘trasnformational coaches’ to this well-known statement; if your goal is to have a legacy of a coach that cared more about his players as individuals than he/she did for his own record. Can transactional coaches be successful? Maybe so. That style of coaching probably leads to higher-than-normal blood pressure, a group of players that likely won’t invite you to their wedding, and an overall stigma as the guy that ‘won games but lost players’ along the way. I believe whichever avenue you choose should be motivated by a simple question: What can I do to give each student-athlete the best chance to be successful? That takes a daily-dose of checking you ego at the door and a long look in the mirror, because you might take some lumps as you build this foundation of transformation, but one day, I believe, you’ll retire from coaching and be able to reflect on a good body of work that produced positive members of society that are equipped with life-skills and love, respect, and good-thoughts for their coach. Now remember, I’m just a 25-year-old coach in his 5th year of coaching with some fire in his belly, but I’m doing all I can, for the players’ sake that I’m entrusted with, to commit to lifelong learning, be transformational in a career path that’s easy to be transactional, and do whatever I can to give each student-athlete, top to bottom, the best chance to be successful in sport and in life. Coach these players from the inside-out and on a deeper level than simply what they can do for you. Some athletes will need you and your sport more than you’ll ever need them.

Remember, sport is what they do. It’s not who they are. Be impacting. Be loving. Be transforming. #CommittedCoaching

2 thoughts on “Transactional vs Transformational Coaching

  1. Really loved this post! As a young coach, I can totally relate! I am vey thankful to be at a school and under a head coach who really gets this and preaches this to me all the time. And make no mistake: transactional coaches will make an impact — just not a good one!

    Keep writing and sharing; most importantly, keep learning!

    I might have to steal that quote and put in on my quote board.

    See you at the next ABCA maybe!


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