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Marine Corps Leadership Principles for Sports Coaches and Athletes

The U.S. Marine Corps’ Leadership Principles provide a strong foundation for developing effective leaders. Sports coaches and athletes can enhance their performance, cohesion, and resilience by incorporating these principles into their roles. Here’s how these principles can be adapted for the sports context.

  1. Be technically and tactically proficient: This principle applies directly to coaches and athletes alike. Coaches must understand the nuances of their sport, stay updated on latest strategies and techniques, and demonstrate tactical proficiency. Athletes, too, must strive to hone their skills and knowledge to master their roles on the field.
  2. Know yourself and seek self-improvement: Self-awareness is critical in sports. Both coaches and athletes must recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and seek continuous improvement through feedback, learning, and reflection.
  3. Know your players and look out for their well-being: Coaches must understand their athletes on an individual level, considering their unique abilities, motivations, and circumstances. Prioritizing players’ physical and mental well-being creates a supportive environment that promotes peak performance.
  4. Keep your players informed: Communication is key in sports. Coaches should clearly convey strategies, expectations, and feedback, and athletes should share their insights, concerns, and questions.
  5. Set the example: Both coaches and athletes influence the team’s culture through their behavior. By embodying the values and standards they espouse, they can inspire others to do the same. (Personally, I think this could be number 1 or number 11. If you are doing everything else in this list you are setting the example.

    Additionally, one lesson I was taught early as a young Marine, never ask your Marines to do anything you yourself wouldn’t do. This is often seen when fire team leaders or squad leaders begin an assault by leading from the front. Once the troops are moving forward you can place yourself in a position to control the battlefield. For coaches this may mean making a tough call in the face of adversity – going for it on 4th and 3 in your own territory, getting tossed from a game for sticking up for your players, etc. For athletes this may mean the leader of the team, the star player taking risks and showing the others this is what it takes to win.
  6. Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished: This principle reinforces the importance of clear communication, guidance, and follow-up in achieving team objectives. Coaches should ensure players understand their roles, provide support as needed, and track progress toward goals.
  7. Train your team as you would fight: Coaches should prepare their athletes for the rigors of competition through realistic, challenging training that mimics game situations. This principle underscores the importance of high-intensity, sport-specific training.
  8. Make sound and timely decisions: Decisiveness and sound judgment are vital in the dynamic world of sports. Coaches and athletes must make swift, well-informed decisions under pressure.
  9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates: Coaches should empower athletes by entrusting them with responsibilities and encouraging them to take ownership of their roles. This fosters accountability, initiative, and growth.
  10. Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities: Coaches should utilize their athletes in ways that best leverage their skills and abilities. This principle emphasizes the importance of understanding and optimizing individual and team capabilities.
  11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions: This principle encourages proactive leadership and accountability. Coaches and athletes should step up to challenges, seek opportunities to contribute, and own their successes and failures.

(Photo: Associated Press, Nell Redmond).

By integrating these Marine Corps Leadership Principles into their roles, sports coaches and athletes can foster a high-performance culture that emphasizes continual growth, communication, accountability, and mutual respect.


Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 6-10. https://www.usmcu.edu/Portals/218/LLI/MLD/Fidelity/Leading%20Marines%20MCWP%206-10.pdf?ver=2018-09-26-095807-367

DISCLAIMER: Content on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Please see a physician or mental health specialist before making any medical or lifestyle decisions. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products recommended on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

James Conner , USMC (Ret.)
I am a 20 year United States Marine Corps veteran. I spent 10 years as an infantryman participating in many overseas deployments to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I earned a BSc. in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Limerick (Ireland), and am currently living in the Netherlands where I am pursuing a MSc in Biomedicine specializing in Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Metabolism. I am a Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist, Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach, and Cancer Exercise Specialist.
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