Last week’s post was called, “Professionalism in Coaching 1 – Dress for Success.” The main focus of the post was to consider what you wear when you are coaching, so you look professional.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered, “What does it mean to look professional?” and “What actually makes someone a professional?”

So let’s explore that today.

The word “professional” can often fall into that category that so many words seem to fall into: it’s hard to define it, but you know it when you see it.

It’s also one of those words that becomes quite obvious when you don’t see it.

When people hear the word professional, there is a certain expectation, a certain feeling that they have about whatever element of the world they are discussing or hearing about.

While every job in the world falls into the category of a profession, some jobs seem to be considered more professional than others.

I am not saying I agree with this concept, but I am saying this is how the world views professions.

I think the classic jobs or careers people think of when considering the concept of professionals are those such as doctors, lawyers, and corporate business people.

I think most people probably often think of professionals as men dressed in suits and ties and women dressed in business pant-suits or jackets with skirts. And while these are certainly stereotypes, the concept goes back to what I wrote about last week—Dressing for Success.

But every job, every career, every profession has its own unique attributes that make it what it is. There is no one-size-fits-all category that we can just dump every profession into when it comes to defining what professionalism in it looks like.

Webster’s Dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person,” and it defines a profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.”

Those last six words might contribute to some jobs and careers not falling into some people’s idea of what they would consider to be professional.

But I disagree.

I maintain that every profession in the world has its own ideas and concepts of what would be deemed a professional attitude, demeanor, and handling of oneself within it.

Defining Professionalism

Do a Google search of the word professional or professionalism, and you will find many different articles with many different ideas on what constitutes professionalism. I found the following titles and lines in articles:

   “Three Key Elements to a Professional Image”

   “Four Areas of Professionalism”

   “Five Qualities of a Professional”

   “Six Traits of Professionalism”

   “Seven Attributes of Professionalism”

   “Eight Core Characteristics of Professionalism.”


Each one had one more characteristic or quality associated with professionalism than the previous one did. Had I continued searching, there’s no telling how high the number would have climbed!

Of course, what this shows is that there is no one consensus on what professionalism means in all cases.

Yet, there are some general traits that we can consider when we talk about what it means to be a professional, no matter what field we are talking about, and each of these articles highlights some of them.

At its most basic level, Bing says “a true professional is a qualified and an experienced person, conforming to the standard of skill, competence, or character expected in a work environment.”

That is a great start.

But exploring further we see that says, “If you are wanting to improve your professionalism, four areas you can focus on include respecting others, keeping your word, being loyal, and exceeding expectations.”

May Busch, Former COO of Morgan Stanley Europe, says, “7 Qualities of a Professional are:

  • You are excellent at what you do. You set high standards for yourself. …
  • You take the high road. …
  • You can be counted on. …
  • You are calm under pressure. …
  • You are proactive. …
  • You go the extra mile. …
  • You represent yourself and the organization in an excellent way”

And finally, says, “Professionalism is not the job you do; it’s how you do the job. The eight core characteristics of professionalism are: Competence, Knowledge, Conscientiousness, Integrity, Respect, Emotional Intelligence, Appropriateness, and Confidence.

What About in Coaching?

Each of those definitions and ideas on what professionalism is are all great, and they provide a backdrop of what it means to be a professional in any endeavor.

But how do they apply to coaching?

Well, consider some of the key terms that you found in any of those definitions above—qualified, experienced, skill, competence, character, respect, loyal, expectations, excellent, calm, proactive, integrity, appropriateness, confidence—and any of the other words and concepts mentioned.

If you handle yourself and live according to those principles and ideals, you will be viewed as a professional, no matter what realm we are talking about.

As a coach, you must demonstrate each of those characteristics to your players, their parents, your fellow coaches, your administration, and your community for you to be considered a professional coach.

Understand that I am not talking about the level at which one coaches. This has nothing to do with the youth, school, college, or professional level of the sport you coach.

There are many coaches at the youngest, most amateur ranks who handle themselves as ultimate professionals.

At the same time, there are many coaches at the professional level of their sports who consistently show themselves to be anything but professional, based on how they handle themselves.

So much of what I’m talking about here starts with your attitude and your focus on caring.

Generally speaking, true professional leaders have a positive attitude about their profession and their role in it. They also show that they care about the people they lead, and they care about their profession.

They are constantly working to provide the best possible atmosphere and experience to the people involved in that experience. They handle themselves with a class, dignity, and grace that says, “What we are doing here is important, and I am going to do all I can to make sure we take care of it in the best possible way.”

More than How You Dress

Last week I focused on how one dresses to show a degree of professionalism. It starts there because how you look is the first impression people will have of you.

But if your professionalism ends with how you dress, then you are not professional.

You can be the most professionally dressed person in the room, but if you don’t handle yourself in a professional manner, exhibiting the types of qualities mentioned above, it doesn’t matter what you look like. You will not be considered a professional.

While professionalism shows up on our outside, it comes from our inside. Therefore, true professionals always try to handle themselves according to the concepts of professionalism discussed above.

And if they ever slip (which they will do at times because they are human), they recognize it, acknowledge it, apologize for it when necessary, and then correct it. They work to make sure that their lack of professionalism in that manner and that moment never happens again.

You’re In Charge of It, but You Don’t Determine It

Let me close by talking about what I call The Paradox of Professionalism.

You are in charge of whether or not you are considered a professional. Your dress, demeanor, attitude, words, actions, and reactions all contribute to the level of professionalism that you conduct yourself with.

However, you are ultimately not the one who determines whether or not you are considered professional.

You don’t get to tell the world, “Hey, I’m a professional, so recognize me and treat me as such.”

Other people will be the ones who decide if you are a professional. Their perception of you is what determines whether or not you are a professional.

But where does their perception of you come from?

Once again, it comes from your dress, demeanor, attitude, words, actions, and reactions.

So it is critical that you do everything you can to show the world your professionalism. When you do, people will find you to be a true professional.

How do you do that?

You can start by making sure that you are displaying many of the qualities discussed earlier in this post that demonstrate professionalism. Do all you can to make those automatics for you, characteristics that when people think of you, that list is what pops into their heads immediately.

Self-reflect right now and figure out which elements you need to work on most to begin being viewed as a professional coach.

Be honest with yourself. Don’t sugar-coat things. If you’re falling short in some areas, admit them, figure out what you need to do to change them, and then start making them a part of your everyday existence.

The people in your life will be glad you did, and you will be on the road to being a true professional!

Next week, I will continue this discussion on Professionalism in Coaching by talking about one area where I see too many coaches failing in their responsibility to be professional – teaching, instilling, enforcing, and modeling Good Sportsmanship.