Taking Your Program to the Next Level

This article was provided by Coaches Network

In order to take your athletic program to the top, it is important to recognize and understand the steps it takes to get there. Not every coach gets to inherit an elite program, and even if they do, it still takes a lot of work to maintain that level of performance. Coaches play an integral role in developing the type of culture and approach needed for success and should be aware of these five stages of program development.

Jeff Janssen, M.S., of Janssen Sports Leadership Center identifies the five stages as Elite, Rising, Plateauing, Declining, and Problematic. An article on ChampionshipCoachesNetwork.com provides a guide to understanding each of these stages and the steps that you can take to either turn your program around or maintain success at the highest level.


One way to identify an elite program is when the teams are competing for and winning conference, state, and national titles almost every year. Yet, this type of success comes not only from outmatching opponents but also from developing a culture that pushes athletes to keep improving, both in sports and in life. This requires a coach with passionate leadership, great communication skills, and an expert understanding of the sport.

“An Elite Program is well-developed on many levels, has a strong pipeline of talent, and a well-defined culture of success that attracts athletes, coaches, and support staff with like-minded goals,” writes Janssen. “The Elite Program knows exactly what it stands for and…rewards people accordingly.”


Before your program can become elite, it must rise through the ranks. That means improving every year. Recognizing opportunities to improve is a major part of any coach’s job and addressing any shortcomings is what will take your program to the next level. Coaches should work closely with their captains and their leadership core in order to build a solid foundation of success and establish a positive culture. By setting short-term and long-term goals, your program will be in a better position to thrive.

“There is a strong sense of optimism, energy, and enthusiasm in and around the program, which creates a positive momentum,” Janssen write. “People are attracted to a Rising Program, expectations are high, and the outlook is favorable as the program continues to improve.”


If your program seems stuck in place, with each season ending with similar results, than it is likely plateauing. While consistency can be a virtue, athletes will never reach their full potential if they are not motivated to win at the highest level. The result is secondary, but the motivation to get better is at the heart of all athletics. Coaches who feel their program is plateauing should reassess their approach to leadership. Surrounding yourself with other motivated leaders who bring a different perspective than your own is also essential to moving a program in the right direction.

“Thus, the challenges either must be addressed internally by making some meaningful changes and improvements,” writes Janssen. “Or the situation can be solved externally by upgrading to a more talented and credible leader who has the skills to help the program breakthrough to the next level.”


It’s easy to identify a declining program. The results and the records at the end of the season will clearly show it. But, more importantly, declining programs often suffer from low morale and a lack of confidence among athletes, coaches, and those who support the team.

“Most often the slide is gradual as the program fades slowly out of contention,” Janssen writes. “Other times the fall is precipitous like dropping off a cliff. Whatever the case, there is almost always a certain frustration surrounding the program. This leads many to bemoan the problems and blame those who they think are responsible for them, usually the leaders.”

Instead of blaming others, turn your declining program around by instilling confidence in your athletes. Creating a positive culture that recognizes hard work and applauds athletes for their success, whether in training or in competition, is a major step to getting a struggling program back on the right track. It’s not enough to relay on winning. Coaches need to inspire their athletes regardless of the team’s record.


“A Problematic Program is one that is highly dysfunctional and often in total disarray,” writes Janssen. “This could occur for a variety of reasons including an overbearing or overwhelmed coach, athletes with dubious character, double standards within the team, little communication, mind games, meddling parents… the list goes on and on.”

Regardless of the reason for a program’s problems, coaches need to be the leaders of change and must work with those around them to make it happen. Instead of allowing constant negativity to build up and discourage your athletes and colleagues, try taking small steps to improve morale. A shift in attitude and outlook is essential. Though it might take time, every program has a chance to succeed. Set an example with your work ethic and your passion so that those around you will stop blaming others and start looking at themselves to improve.

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