3 Coaching Mistakes I've Made by Brannen Dorman

As hard as I try not to, I still make mistakes - ALL the time. It actually amazes me how easily I can screw something up without even trying.

Last week, I scheduled a consult for the wrong day of the week, which I didn’t realize until 10 minutes before the actual call.

Three weeks ago, I deleted an entire program design off my computer - who knew the “delete” key actually deletes the entire program. Thank God for the cloud.

And only a few short days ago I made a joke to my girlfriend, quickly realizing that my sense of humor is less like Will Ferrell’s and more like that of a 7th grade boy who picks on his first crush. Needless to say, that didn’t go in my favor.

Life is full of mistakes. Some, no doubt, greater than others. As I look back on my past I often find things that I wish I would have done differently or reacted to with more thoughtfulness. The examples above aren’t life changing, and are only a somewhat silly sample size of the mistakes that I have made. Regardless of the mistake, the point still remains the same - with every mistake made, there can always be more to gain than that which is lost. Through shortcomings can come an opportunity to better yourself into the person you want to be. Through the errors, missteps, and bad decisions can come a history lesson learned of how to do things better.

Recently, I spent some time reflecting on the past several years of coaching. In a notebook, I wrote down things that I thought I have done well and the many things I haven’t. To be sure, the mistakes heavily outweighed the successes, but through it all, the one thing I have been able to do well is learn from those mistakes and grow as a coach. Looking back through that notebook, I wanted to share three mistakes I’ve made over the past few years. I hope by reading some thoughts on the mistakes I have made, I can help save you from making the same ones.

Dogmatic Foolery

I can often be a stubborn fool - just ask my mom. While there have been times in life where that quality has served me well, there have been many others that I have had to put down my pride and adjust my thinking. As a new coach - young, stubborn, and green - I had created a set of dogmatic principles that I thought were the only way to write a program design. I strictly followed a set of standards that had worked for me in the past and I naturally assumed those same principles would work equally well for all of my clients. Through trial and error, plenty of lackluster program designs and coming to the realization that individual physiologies vary as much as personality types, I had to, somewhat reluctantly, change my way of thinking.

Here’s the problem: being dogmatic in the world of program design (or most things, for that matter) leaves us isolated. It limits our way of thinking and never allows us to explore new ideas, methods or principles. Dogma creates a bubble that closes our mind off from learning new concepts and creates an intellect that lacks creativity. Program design is an art, not a science. So just as an artist constantly explores her horizons, so should we constantly explore ours. Learn from others, ask questions, be curious, try news things and go outside your comfort zone.

As the world continues to globalize and technology advances, knowledge is at our fingertips. There is now a limitless amount of research, seminars, educational series and blog posts that we can gain insight into new ways of thinking and reaffirm age old truths. Take the best from all of them and try new things. Adjust your thinking and become the coach you desire to be.

Defining the Narrative

When I think back on all of the teachers that have made a huge influence on my thinking, they all shared one similar quality - they were amazing storytellers. In the same way, great coaches, in any sport, have learned how to create a narrative that helps propel their athletes toward their end goal. To do so, the coach has to have a clear mind that allows them to have a vision for the future. Often times, athletes can rarely see past the day in front of them, so a good coach should help build the vision - or create the story - that helps their athletes better understand their “why”. By doing so, coaches can get their athletes to buy into what they are trying to accomplish, instead of being trapped in the “right now” mentality of elite sports.

As I started my coaching career, I failed to create a narrative for my athletes. I wouldn’t set the standard from the beginning as to what we were trying to accomplish and I wouldn’t help them understand the intention of each cycle, block or session. By not doing so, I left it completely up to the athlete as to what their intention should be in each session. I never guided their “vision”, which often left my athletes frustrated during a “base-building” phase of the year as they wondered why they were not doing more high intensity work, since that is what they thought they should be working on most. As I have grown as a coach I have learned, albeit still far from perfect, how to educate my athletes on the ins and outs of what we are doing and I have been able to help set the narrative for their goals. By doing so, I have found athletes that are much more focused, passionate and ‘bought-in’ to the program design.

Create a narrative with your athletes that leads to their success. Help educate them so that they can grow in their sport and reach their goals.

Buy the Person

I played football for 15 years of my life. Over the course of that time, I encountered countless coaches - some good, some bad. Some of the most successful teams I played on had some of least knowledgeable coaches when it came to the game of football. While some of the least successful teams that I played on had coaches that could tell you how to defend any offensive scheme or what play to call against any defensive set. How could it be that those coaches with the least football knowledge were able to take a somewhat average team to a conference championship title? It has been my experience that coaches who are person oriented - instead of scheme oriented - can get more out of their players. While there may be no perfect correlation to program design, I have found in my work that the same is true. Spending more time focusing on the individual and their needs, instead of putting all of my time into perfect design, will bring the athlete closer to their goals.

Gaining insight into my athletes midstate, learning what motivates them, and building an open line of communication to where they trust what I am prescribing has been much more important to their overall success than creating the perfect tempo, rep scheme, or energy system protocol. The reason for this is simple - when they begin to trust what I am giving them they naturally train with more passion and purpose, which almost always translates to better training results. When you can combine sound program design principles with a person oriented approach, your ability to create adaption in your clients will be exponentially greater than ever before.


With every shortcoming, we can learn something that can help us become more of the person we want to be instead of a mere distant image of our true self. Through my mistakes I have been able to learn more about myself and refine the character that I have. I hope that by sharing a few of the mistakes I have made you can avoid those shortcomings and become a better version of yourself.

Until next time,


Created By
Brannen Dorman

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