3 Ways Coaches Can Multiply Their Greatest Asset

Coaches love the go-getters, the players who work their tails off to make themselves and their teammates better. What if you could convert more of your roster into these type of athletes? What if you could multiply your greatest asset?

10/80/10 Rule, Top 10%, Team Leaders, Top Performers, Team Nucleus, Nucleus of Your Team, Team Building, Model, Lead by Example, Sport Psychology, Coach Education, Coach Development, Mental Toughness, Resilience, Team Culture, Culture Development, Personal Development, Mental Conditioning, Mental Training, Mental Game, Mindset

Running with the Big Dogs

As a young cross country runner battling to make the varsity team, I struggled. I didn’t love running (still don’t) and was just trying to survive the workouts.

My coach challenged me to run with the top dogs – the best runners on our team. I was reluctant. I didn’t think I could keep up.

Then those guys started asking me to run with them. It was a game-changer. Did they see potential in me that I didn’t see? All I know is that they invited me in, encouraged me, and mentored me.

Soon I earned a permanent spot on the varsity team. As I moved up, I invited others to run with us. The cycle continued.

The 10/80/10 Rule

Every athlete is not created equal. Athletes differ in discipline, motivation, work ethic, and goals. This is often frustrating to coaches and leaders I work with. Perhaps you can relate.

If you’re like most coaches I know, you want every player to strive to reach his or her potential. Unfortunately, this isn’t reality.

One military leader broke it down to me this way. He told me that every organization has high performers. They are a minority. Then you have your insurgents, those who are actively sabotaging your efforts toward success. These are also a minority. The majority of your Soldiers, initially, are fence-sitters who are easily swayed to one side or the other. The tough job is keeping your fence-sitters from getting swallowed up by the dark side.

Does this sound familiar to your experience?

In Above the Line, Urban Meyer, Ohio State football head coach, shares his take on this. He calls it the 10/80/10 rule.

Here’s the break down:

  • Top 10% – “the nucleus – disciplined, driven, self-motivated, want to be great, and work relentlessly.”
  • Middle 80% – “the majority – those who do a good job and are relatively reliable.”
  • Bottom 10% – “disinterested and defiant.”

Meyer tells us that, “The key to success is moving as many of the 80 percenters into the top 10 percent as you can.”

How to Multiply Your Top 10%

Coaches can’t simply demand your 80 percenters to step up and run with the top 10%. If only it were that easy…

Here are 3 ways coaches can use to move their 80 percenters into the top 10%.

1. Leverage the Power of Positive Influence

Your top 10 percenters are your team’s nucleus. They are the models of hard work and commitment. Often, these team leaders are magnetic. Others want to associate with them.

This was the case on my cross country team. When I was invited in by our top 10 percenters, it was like a new gear or two was unlocked to fuel my performance.

Ohio State takes this to another level. The strength coach, Coach Mick, “won’t let top 10 percenters in the weight room [for extra workouts] if they don’t bring along an 80 percenter.” Top 10 percenters have to recruit someone else to go with them if they want to put in the extra work in the gym.

Your best athletes are your ambassadors.

2. Put Your Top 10 Percenters on Display

As a young runner, I was naive to the hard work it took to compete at the varsity level. It wasn’t until I started to run with our team’s best that I realized what I had to do to get better. Seeing was believing.

In practice pair your 80 percenters with top 10 percenters as much as possible. Allow the nucleus of your team to model what it takes to be successful, to lead by example. Show off their hard work, determination, and competitive drive for the rest to see. Then, praise them like crazy!

As Stephen Covey taught us, we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Put your 80 percenters in close proximity with your top dogs.

3. Empower Your 80 Percenters 

Often I find that 80 percenters just need a little motivation. Coaches can empower their 80 percenters by tapping into deeper levels of motivation than carrots and sticks.

Giving your 80 percenters more ownership of their development taps into the long-burning fuel of self-motivation. This comes by fostering autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose in your team.

Gasoline on the Fire

Left to their own devices, most athletes will gravitate to those who share their level of motivation and commitment. This means your 80 percenters will hang around other 80 percenters, thereby reinforcing a mediocre mentality.

Leverage the nucleus of your team, your leadership council, and your top 10 percenters to influence and motivate the others. Allow their passion, drive to get better, and commitment to excellence to be the fuel that drives your team forward.


Question: How else can you move your 80 percenters into your top 10%?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.


Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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