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Why Coaches Should Act Like CEOs Who Treat Parents Like Customers, Not Shareholders

By Paul Langhorst on 1/26/2016

Bob Cook, who is a youth sports contributor at Forbes, just penned the article, Why a Coach is a CEO Who Should Treat Parents as Shareholders. In the article Cook suggests that youth sports coaches should act more like CEO’s focusing on shareholder return versus acting like unaccountable tyrants.

On the unaccountable tyrant point I agree. Where I disagree is on the shareholder point. 

traits of great youth sports coaches

True, parents foot the bill and in select or travel sports, those bills can be big. But if I were a parent or player, I would want to be treated like a highly valued customer. One that wants to keep coming back and whose business is appreciated and input valued. Companies that have great CEO’s and a culture that focuses on the customer usually have amazing results and very loyal followings. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Zappos and Nordstrom’s are a few that come to mind.

In the stock market of youth sports, who looks more like you? I believe it is the parent putting down their hard earned cash for a product. Not the anonymous shareholder. The customer looks like you! Personally, as a parent that has paid thousands toward select youth softball, I wanted to be treated like a valued customer whose business, feelings and input is earned and respected.

I’d like to take Cook’s article a little further. A good CEO has many qualities. A great CEO has special qualities. Here are a few qualities that I believe separate a great CEO from a good CEOs and likewise great coaches from good coaches.


Great CEO’s have a clear vision for the future and share that vision repeatedly with their shareholders, employees and customers. They get people to buy into their visions and they live their vision. If your vision does not align with that of the coach, you will always have conflict. If you buy into the vision there will be less conflict and you will be more likely hang in there during good times and bad. With a shared vision, you are a partner in the success of the team not just a jittery shareholder.

Personable and Approachable

A great CEO is personable and approachable. They have a natural attraction, like gravity, that pulls others into their sphere. I believe this is almost an innate quality, but it can be learned if the student is willing to put others first. Great coaches are like this. People naturally want to be with them and follow them. I’ve met CEO’s and leaders who are tyrants. Shareholders like them because they focus on the bottom line and results, but they don’t capture the hearts and mind of their workers which means their results could even be greater. Think Bobby Knight vs Coach K.


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Great CEO’s don’t go it alone. They build a team of specialists who are given autonomy to grow their areas of operations. I’ve seen coaches who try to run a practice all by themselves. The kids get bored waiting for their turn. Take a look at the pro teams. They have hitting coaches, fielding coaches, catching coaches, etc. A great coach will enlist the aid of others to create drill stations through which players will rotate to help keep practices lively and to provide instruction at many positions.


Bob Cook got this one right. Great CEOs are great communicators. They articulate their vision and plans well, both in person, in writing and in their body language. Great coaches will communicate through many channels and there are many forms of online sports management tools that help them do this today.


Lastly, great CEOs are honest people. They are true to their word, delivering on what they promise and not over promising on what they can’t deliver. Here are some classic examples: “your kid will learn how to hit under me followed by no hitting instruction, your kid will be a starter buts rides the bench, practice will run 1.5 hours when it usually runs 2.5, or your kid will go D1 under me! If you hear a constant stream of promises which fail to materialize, start looking for a better program.

If you are looking to be treated like a shareholder, stick to the stock market. If you are looking to be treated like a customer and have a fabulous youth sports experience for yourself and your child, try to find a coach that matches up with the characteristics above. Do your homework by speaking with current and past parents, umpires and association officials. If you don’t like the way you’re being treated, then take your business someplace else!

Paul Langhorst

Co-Founder and Chief Technologist for Engage Sports, providing sports league websites, online registration and league management. Over the years, Rich has coached football, basketball, baseball and fastpitch softball. He has also severed as a board member for football and lacrosse organizations in the St. Louis area.


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