HomeTell a FriendText SizeSearchMember Area
Gain immediate and full access to all our articles, features, how-to's, discussion group, archives, etc. Click here for details.

Inspire Your Team
Motivate Your Athletes
How to Build Confidence
Creating Competitors
Master The Mental Game
Quotes to Inspire
Legends on Motivation
Legends on Team Building
Legends on Coaching
Secrets from the Legends
Interviews with Legends
Leadership Lessons
TB Games & Activities
Pregame Motivation
Mental Toughness
Build Confidence
Improve Commitment
Sharpen Focus
Energize Practices
Team Building Articles
Developing Team Leaders
Working with Captains
Parents, ADs, Assistants
Postseason Success
Becoming a Better Coach
Advancing Your Career
Recommended Reading
About this Site
Contact Us
Sample Articles
Subscribe Today
Sports Leadership Center
Feature Articles
Captain's Manual
Team Building Book
Article Index
Tell a Friend
Text Size
Your Account
All Products

This site powered by MemberGate
home | Discover the One Idea that Determine . . .

Discover the One Idea that Determines 80% of Your Success
Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
Printer-Friendly Format

Imagine coaching and living by a philosophy that determines an overwhelming part of your success. While you probably have already heard of the 80/20 Principle, or Pareto Principle as it is also called, few coaches consciously engineer their programs, practices, and training regimen to take full advantage of it. As you'll soon see, those who do benefit tremendously.

Simply put, the 80/20 Principle states that 80% of your results often come from 20% of your efforts.

This general guideline has been demonstrated in a variety of contexts including economics in that 80% of the wealth is owned by only 20% of the population, clothing choice in that people generally wear only 20% of their clothing 80% of the time, and friendships - we spend 80% of our time with the closest 20% of our friends.

While the totals may not always exactly equal 80/20, the primary point is that a limited number of key things typically determine a disproportionate amount of our success. The simple yet profound 80/20 Principle encourages you to re-examine many of your common coaching practices to ensure you maximize the value of this key principle.

As an enlightening practical example, imagine having 100 high school students in a gym - freshmen through seniors, athletes and non-athletes alike.

What if we randomly assigned 80 of the students to one of your rival coaches and gave you the remaining 20? Is this fair? Odds are, no matter what the competition, your rival coach would be at a distinct advantage because the sheer numbers are in his/her favor.

However, what if we said your rival coach could still get 80 of the students for his/her team, only after you had the opportunity to tryout and hand pick the 20 you most wanted?

By selecting the top 20% of people available, you would now be at a distinct advantage over your rival coach - even though he/she would have greater numbers. It's the basic advantage of selecting quality over quantity.

Similarly with the 80/20 Principle, if we can analyze and consciously select the top 20% of activities, actions, and people that produce the best results, we are at a huge advantage.

In sports, think about how often roughly 80% of the overall results typically come from a smaller 20% of your athletes.

Checking the recent stats of the Michigan softball team for example, four players (23% of the team) have hit 14 out of their 18 total home runs - or 78%.

With the 2008 national champion North Carolina women's soccer team, 23% of players (7) scored 76% of the teams goals - 68 out of 89 total.

In sport after sport, a smaller segment of your roster typically accounts for the majority of the production in key areas.


As a coach or athletic administrator, let's consciously apply the 80/20 Principle to seven key areas that have a huge impact on your success.

  1. Time Management
  2. Player Development
  3. Recruiting
  4. Leadership Development
  5. Staff Selection
  6. Game Preparation
  7. Fundraising

  1. Time Management

    From a time management standpoint, examine the list of 10 or so tasks you need to do today. Now determine which two would yield the biggest and best results if you accomplished them. Be sure to focus on those two items first before even thinking about the other eight. As Stephen Covey says in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, successful people focus their time on the important rather than getting caught up in the urgent. Too often coaches get caught up in the urgent eight to do's, rather than executing the critical two.

  2. Player Development

    North Carolina women's soccer coach and 20-time national champion Anson Dorrance says much of his success has to do with making sure his superstars are on track and feeling good. He doesn't ignore or neglect the reserves, yet he does want to make his superstars' psyches the priority each week. They are the primary producers - and he must make sure that they are mentally and physically ready to produce.

    Similarly, Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea spends a lot of time having one on one coaching conversations with his top players. Of course you want to develop your reserves, but you can't afford to throw round after round of batting practice to your walk-ons at the expense of your superstars. Deploy your assistants to help you develop your reserves.

    Are you investing enough time in your superstars each week?

    Typically many coaches get bogged down with administrative work. Or end up spending an inordinate amount of time policing the troublemakers. Are you devoting enough quality time to the key 20% of your roster who determine roughly 80% of your success?

  3. Recruiting

    From the earlier example of randomly selected high school students in a gym, you can see how valuable the 80/20 Principle is when it comes to recruiting and player selection.

    First, if you can upgrade your recruiting to get the top 20% of available physical and mental talent, you obviously vastly increase your program's chances of success. This is exactly what Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese did when she took over the moribund program.

    Second, since effective recruiting and player selection determines 80% of your success, be sure you are investing enough time in assessing talent, writing letters, making phone calls, cultivating relationships with coaches, etc.

  4. Leadership Development

    In our Leadership Development Academies, we typically focus on the top 20-25% of the student-athlete population (the emerging and existing leaders) because we realize that they determine at least 80% of an athletic department's success, both on and off field success. By investing heavily in the development of the top 20%, we positively impact them and the other 80%.

    How much time are you investing in the top 20% of the athletes on your team who seem to have 80% of the influence on your team's work ethic, commitment, confidence, chemistry, etc.?

    (Interestingly, most Division I college athletic departments invest most of their development resources into the bottom 10% of their student-athletes, hoping to keep them eligible. They provide them with tutors, learning specialists, and a host of other services trying to keep the bottom 10% afloat. Rather than solely focusing on the bottom 10%, it seems that a better approach would be to invest in the top 20% as well. Are you investing more in the bottom 10% of your athletes than you are in the top 20%?)

  5. Staff Selection

    As the late Kay Yow of NC State women's basketball once told me, there is nothing more important in coaching that putting together a great staff. Out of all the candidates available for a staff position, whether it be an assistant coach, athletic trainer, or team manager, are you investing the time to get the top 20% of available talent? Investing the time to get the top 20% on the front end will save you 80% of the frustration, grief, and wasted time on the back end.

  6. Game Preparation and Scouting

    What are the five key smaller battles that your team needs to win that will help you win the bigger competition? Out of all the stats available, winning the key 20% of them gives you an 80% chance of success.

    For example, many teams in basketball look at five key areas: (1) outrebounding opponents, (2) limiting turnovers, (3) holding opponents to under 40% shooting, (4) shooting over 48% as a team, and (5) making more free throws than the opponents attempt. By focusing your staff and team on these five critical areas, you greatly enhance your team's chances of success.

    Similarly, if you can take away the five key areas of your opponents, you also force them away from the strengths that determine 80% of their success.

  7. Fundraising

    Finally, when it comes to raising money for your program, keep in mind the 80/20 Principle as well. It is likely that 80% of your funding will come from a much smaller 20% of your prospects. Identify your best prospects, treat them well, keep them in the loop, and appreciate them often - and they will form a lasting and lucrative bond with you and your program.


With a limited amount of time, resources, budget, and personnel, coaches must be very judicious and prudent in how they use their time. Invest the time to answer these two critical questions:

  1. How are you prioritizing and executing the vital 20% of actions that most determine your program's success?

  2. How can you best delegate, delay, or sometimes disregard the less important 80%?

Consciously engineer your program to live by the 80/20 Principle and you and your team will soon reap the rewards.

Printer-Friendly Format