icon What is The Player-Coach Model? Definition - Tips & More Skip to content
HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
HRDQ will be closed on Friday (5/24) and Monday (5/27) for Memorial Day
What Is the Player-Coach Model? Definition, Tips, and More

What Is the Player-Coach Model? Definition, Tips, and More

When someone with a long history in their job starts coaching their friends – instead of just playing – it reflects the idea of being a player-coach.

Whether you're on a local sports team or a busy tech startup, mixing specific hands-on work with smart leadership is pretty cool. But you might wonder if this traditional approach still works in modern workplaces.

I'm here to explain what being a player-coach really means. We'll see how it can make people more productive and turn everyday work into a chance to learn about balance and adaptability.

Let's get started!

Recommended Assessment
Get Fit for Coaching Assessment
  • Find coaching strengths & weaknesses
  • Enhances leadership capabilities
  • Improves communication skills
Learn more

The Player-Coach Definition

The player-coach model combines the skills of leading with the practical doing of tasks.

To give you an example, consider a team that makes software. A standard manager focuses on organizing the team to do things like setting deadlines and ensuring the quality of work is up to par. But a player-coach adds a new dimension that's pretty unique to the team. This person actively codes or fixes errors and has a say during tough times.

The player-coach model takes ideas from sports. The top players usually help in coaching small sports teams. This model is now finding its way into the workplace – a welcome change. A player-coach quickly shares knowledge and makes quick choices – this is particularly useful for startups or companies needing fast changes.

A Player-Coach

Still, the model has its downsides. A person splitting their focus between playing and coaching risks ignoring one area. They might pay too much attention to doing tasks or managing the team, which could be trouble.

A person must understand the difficulties of this part. They should aim for a balance and avoid letting the team's growth suffer. Picking this job will require great skill in managing team feelings, like fixing conflicts and setting clear and fair rules.

The player-coach job is similar to being a good DJ; it's important to know when to join actively and let the team work by themselves. Finding the right mix of involvement and leadership is important.

What Are the Benefits of the Player-Coach Approach?

Let's discuss how to maximize our talent's potential. Imagine a manager working side by side with the team, ready for action. The manager uses their technical expertise directly, and it really makes an effect. This kind of leadership gets things done and motivates everyone to help.

Having a flatter organizational structure can be helpful. I remember a tech startup where the CEO programmed right alongside us. It brought down difficult barriers and made decisions easy – no one likes unnecessary bureaucracy.

The leader also improves their technical skills. In fields where expertise is important – a leader who addresses issues quickly or improves a team member's knowledge is helpful. This approach furthers learning since the leader actively shares their knowledge.

The Player-Coach Approach

A successful team leader balances project needs with employees' needs. The best leaders I've seen understand their team well because they develop their interpersonal skills alongside their technical skills. Surely, empathy and self-awareness are essential to creating a great work atmosphere.

We must remember to unite the team behind a common goal. A leader who works at the ground level brings plans to life alongside the team. It's hard not to appreciate such engagement.

The Risks to Avoid in Player-Coaching

Handling the complexities of acting as both a player and a coach means you must stay aware of the risks. Maintaining a difficult balance is hard. I have tried to complete personal tasks, thinking I am setting a very helpful standard. However, I later noticed that my team needed more input from their coach. I find it helpful to now set aside specific times only for coaching; it improves the team's attitude and overall performance.

In competitive environments like sales, it's essential to be transparent with the team. I always stress that my job matters, but our group's success is really the priority. Ensuring individual achievements contribute to our shared goals helps keep intense competition somewhat at a distance.

Transitioning between the jobs of a supportive coach and an ambitious one is tricky. It's a bit like mental gymnastics – needing a balance of emotional understanding and strategic thinking and then tuning into different needs as they arise.

With the risk of burnout, it can easily overwhelm you to juggle two important jobs. Finding signs of stress early on is essential.

Workplace Player-Coaching

You must self-reflect to grow in this job and to realize your tendencies to play it safe. You also want to challenge yourself. You want to encourage the same behavior in your team by pushing them to extend their skills. Comfort zones play no job here.

This player-coach approach is not a one-stop answer for leadership challenges. It needs careful development from the leadership to avoid job confusion and ensure alignment with the company's goals is all in place.

The process of advancing from a player-coach job is not easy. In my experience, you need to work hard, look for mentors, seek extra training, and more to help on both sides of the job.

Who Should Think about the Player-Coach Model?

I realized the player-coach concept was helpful when I noticed it at a SaaS company I worked with. In this concept, they combine teaching with completing tasks, which I find very helpful.

Startups can use this approach to their benefit, particularly when they're just starting or are fast expanding. Unlike large corporations, startups cannot afford to have only fixed jobs, so someone who can lead the team and contribute directly is pretty cool. The goal is to adapt quickly and always be willing to talk about work with the team.

A Startup Company

Concerning team structure, I've noticed that player-coaches are a natural fit for teams responsible for a product from conception to completion. A leader in these teams should be both a coach and a reliable contributor. In my experience, filling both roles can help with team ownership and motivation, which is hard to achieve with rigid job assignments.

Finally, if you want to create an environment where continuous learning and serious development are prioritized, this player-coach approach could be the perfect way to support that goal.

Plans for Success as a Player-Coach

If you want to do well as a player-coach, emotional intelligence is essential. Understanding the team's attitude and managing emotions skillfully is seriously helpful. It's like a unique ingredient that makes dealing with all my responsibilities easier.

When it comes to giving time to the team's development, it's tempting to rush through tasks without stopping for teachable moments. I've been guilty of this in the past. However, I now realize that helping the team improve is as crucial as finishing my own tasks. So, I set aside some time for coaching each week. Staying organized with calendars and project tools helps me keep this promise.

Successful Player-Coaching

Now, let's talk about delegation. I tried to do everything to avoid overloading my team. But I want to be clear – assigning tasks is not overloading others; it's giving them an opportunity to be great and grow. Assigning tasks based on individuals' strengths only gets things moving more.

As for communication, I'm a huge fan of regular one-on-ones and team meetings to keep alignment. Tools like Slack are essential for keeping in touch, too.

With team building, I like to hire people who understand the role of a player-coach and are excited to lead and support others. It's essential to be clear during interviews about expectations and to look for candidates who are enthusiastic about our culture. Role-playing situations and clear job descriptions help me find candidates who will fit well.

When we talk about pay, I support rewards that celebrate individual achievements and the overall team's success. Although it can be difficult, setting up the right incentives can motivate everyone to work towards shared goals.

The plans mentioned here don't cover everything, but they're fundamental to how I approach the player-coach job.

How Can Organizations Support Player-Coaches?

I completely understand the feeling of having to play multiple roles at work – it can be like attempting to juggle too many balls while hoping none will drop. Can you relate? So, I'm really into the approach of being both a team member and a coach in the office. It's great for creating a positive team atmosphere and achieving big wins.

Companies should now set up systems to support those who handle multiple responsibilities. Providing training that improves emotional intelligence is a step I strongly support. Combine that with some helpful time management techniques, and those wearing multiple hats are more likely to balance their tasks with leading others.

Then, introducing policies that align with the needs of these multitaskers can make an important change. Creating performance measures that recognize their dual roles can affirm their efforts and encourage them to maintain their motivation.

Also, I advocate for creating a company culture where these people can grow. A culture that emphasizes openness and support is valuable. And, introducing the importance of regular team meetings. These are like productive coffee breaks that help check how the team and the multitaskers are doing.

Organization Player-Coaching

Another important issue that senior management should watch is preventing these high achievers from experiencing burnout. Burnout is a hidden danger that can seriously hurt the organization, usually going unnoticed until it's too late. Caring for these people means looking out for the warning signs of burnout.

For those particularly interested in leadership, providing a path for them to advance into full-time leadership is important. I've benefited from all sorts of step-by-step opportunities in my career, and it's programs like leadership training that have really sped up my growth. It is just as beneficial for those who are trying to climb higher.

Also, it's essential to periodically reassess whether the individual still fits well with the team. Not every star performer is suited to coach as well. Ongoing evaluation is needed to ensure they are great in both roles – for their own good and for the team's success.

Help with Your Coaching Skills

Let's talk about the job of being a player-coach. It comes with both pros and cons and managing it is challenging. You have to juggle multiple responsibilities, combine your emotional intelligence with professional duties, and avoid overwhelming yourself. This approach seems to fit well with startups and tech companies.

Now, you might ask yourself how to add the player-coach style into your leadership. Imagine leading a close-knit, innovative, and very skilled team. The important thing is to work alongside your team while still leading and guiding them. This approach isn't one-size-fits-all. It will require you to understand your team's attitude and adapt accordingly. For those who learn about it, there are many opportunities to be great in leadership.

Successful Workplace Player-Coaching

We should look for coaching plans that are as special as the player-coach job. We're interested in systems that give you long-term solutions and evolve with us. Think about having all the needed resources just for you – much like a custom suit for your player-coach process.

Enter the Get Fit for Coaching Assessment. It's designed for ambitious people excited to help with their coaching abilities. HRDQ has the resources you need to succeed in your leadership job. Think about giving it a try and improving your leadership skills with tools that cater to your goals.

After reading today's article, did you have any questions about the player-coach model, our assessments here at HRDQ, or anything else that we discussed? If so, please feel free to let us know in the comments section below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to each and every one of our reader's comments and questions, and we'd be more than happy to answer any potential questions you may have. Alternatively, you're also more than free to reach out to us directly! You can find all of our contact information on this page

Previous article Team Unity Activities: Why Are They Important for a Team?
Next article What is Bureaucratic Management Theory, and How Do You Use It?

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields

About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.