Coaching Association of Canada

Tom Norton - Athletics

The Coach Blueprint

It takes a special blend of attributes and a particular perspective to be a successful coach. Tom Norton, winner of Special Olympics BC’s Howard Carter Award (Coach of the Year) and Special Olympics Canada’s 2015 Coach of the Year, shares his thoughts on what makes a great coach.

Character and Skill

It starts with a passion for sport, a vision, and the ability to providing direction and guidance. It must always be directed at the athlete; that “athlete-centered” platform. The technical skills – talent ID, problem-solving, and skill development – are important but what sets a coach apart from his or her peers is the ability to set the stage for athlete success. This takes soft skills like decisiveness, the ability to motivate athletes, and walking the fine line of firm and fair. Top that all off with a seemingly innate ability to create the environment to capitalize on opportunities, and to build self-esteem and confidence in goal-oriented athletes, and the stage is set for success.

Belief in the Power of Sport

Coaches must believe strongly in the transformative power of sport, and in my case the Special Olympics, as a means to change lives and to raise the profile of coaches and volunteers, and most importantly of all athletes. To maximize the impact of sport, coaches need to empower athletes, and all stakeholders, to take ownership; “helping you help yourself" as a dictum fosters an environment of empowerment for all involved. That belief in sport and empowerment sets the wheels in motion to build a foundation of athletic excellence. Ultimately that leads to the development of good citizens, and good ambassadors for sport – the true measure of a coach’s success.

A “Management Brain”

Be it local, provincial, national or international, it never ceases to amaze me the amount of time and dedication required to make a sport experience whole – that being fun, safe, and engaging – not to mention successful in terms of the athletes’ performances. Notwithstanding the myriad of tasks, some bigger than others, that might first appear a big mess, there are a great many moving parts that need alignment, and attention to detail is a strength. Coaches often need to be the “eye-in-the-sky”; constantly monitoring the speed, flow, and direction of programming so as to provide the best support to athletes and volunteers and anticipate future needs. Prioritizing what is important from what is urgent, and anticipating next steps and what needs to be done to keep the “sport machine” in motion enables coaches to keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs.

Finally, much like the athletes we train, our work ethic must be unwavering. In the lead-up to the 2012 Olympic Games, the Canadian women’s basketball team continuously reminded themselves of the following: “It’s not every four years that gets the job done, it’s every day for four years”. I’m proud to be part of Special Olympics Canada’s unwavering daily effort to optimize the benefits of a healthy and active lifestyle through sport; to improve the well-being of individuals with an intellectual disability; and of course, to train better athletes.

Tom Norton
“An athlete is an athlete, is an athlete.”
Special Olympics Abbotsford/Team BC/Team Canada Athletics