Posted by: allstaragility | September 5, 2012

Dog Agility Blog Action Day- What Makes a Good Coach?

It is Dog Agility Blog Action day again!  I love this concept as it makes me sit down and focus long enough to write a blog post…

 So, What Makes a Good Coach/Instructor? 

 To start, there is a vast difference between the concepts of coach and instructor.  When I hear the word “instructor”, I immediately visualize somebody who teaches, whether it be classes, lessons, seminars, etc.   Instructors provide information on particular subject matter; handling, obstacle performance, relationship building, etc.   There is no limit to the number of instructors a person might have… I have a few students who train with several local agility instructors in addition to participating in a variety of online classes!  As long as a student is able to process all of the information from different instructors to enhance their partnership with their dog, then I am all for it!  I, myself, have been lucky to work with numerous instructors through my years in this sport- it just takes a good filter to know what to apply and what is not going to work for me and my dog.  Of course, we all look for instructors who employ similar training and handling methods as us, or who can give us guidance on specific issues. 

 Coaching is something entirely different and where I want to direct my thoughts on this topic.  A coach takes instruction to the next level by being much more involved in every aspect of the journey with your dog.  While one person can be both an instructor and coach (or a shade of gray in between), here are some random musings on what I consider attributes of a good coach:

 A good coach will respect that your personal goals may be different than their own.  Not everybody wants to compete nationally or overseas.  However, your coach should also encourage you to exceed your goals and set new ones.

A good coach knows you well enough to push you to your limits instead of beyond them, and then helps you expand those limits.  You coach should not let you be constrained by your current comfort zone.

 A good coach recognizes that you and your dog are unique individuals and enhances that rather than trying to fit you into a mold. 

 A good coach will admit when they don’t have the answers, but can help you find them and be supportive if you seek outside assistance.

 A good coach knows you well enough to be brutally honest if you aren’t doing something correctly or are on the wrong path and will help redirect without belittling you.   

 A good coach sets a positive example of sportsmanship and the spirit of competition. 

 A good coach doesn’t have to be the most successful competitor, but a well-rounded one.

 A good coach acts as a sports psychologist when you need an attitude adjustment, celebrates your success when you reach milestones (no matter what size), and has a good shoulder to cry on.

 A good coach constantly strives to improve themselves, learn new skills, and try new techniques.   Your coach should experiment a new concept on themselves first and thoroughly understand it before teaching it. 

 A good coach doesn’t simply say, “that was perfect!”  Instead, a good coach will say, “That was awesome!  Here is what can be improved next time.”

 A good coach doesn’t stop thinking about you when your lesson is over.   Your coach will take your issues home and ponder on the possible solutions (often times in their sleep!).

 While a good coach cannot care more about your success and want it more than you, usually they do!   A good coach will watch from ringside and mentally will you to work your start-line, reinforce your contact criteria, cue a front cross sooner, drive your dog harder, be more confident, etc.

 A good coach doesn’t want to see you simply get through a course, but wants to see you own it!  

 And lastly, a good coach will  make sure they are at their best when working with you…

On that note, here it is midnight and I have once again spent too long on the computer with lessons to teach in the morning!  Good night and sweet agility dreams!

Oh, and feel free to comment with additions you would have added to my list!


  1. Well said Lori, and I so agree with you need to be at you’re helping someone

  2. Lori, I love everything you have written. My question is, how many “students” do you think a coach can successfully coach at any one time?

    • I think that is a very hard question to answer, Mary Ellen! It depends on how demanding the needs are of the students… I have a few people I coach who are experienced and require much less of my time than those who are new to the sport and need a lot of guidance.

      • It is difficult to answer Lori. I don’t blog myself but reading several of yesterday’s blogs has got me thinking about my roles as instructor vs. coach. I play both of those roles to different people and I am definitely now reflecting what, why and how there are differences.

  3. A good coach allows you to make mistakes and then helps you turn those into more important positive lessons. A good coach will encourage and challenge you to use the skills you’ve learned from your instructor. A good coach allows you to be frustrated but never to give up. A great coach has passion.
    We are very lucky we have someone that wants to be a coach!

  4. Great post, good points. But . . . . . Cue a front cross????? I’ve never heard that one. Are you telling the dog ahead of time that you will be doing a cross? Please tell me, how do you cue a front cross?

    • Yes, given the situation, you can let the dog know you will be doing a side change via body, motion and verbal cues.

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