The College Educator: Coach Rather than Professor Can Enhance Your Role

I encourage students to refer to me as Coach Heller instead of Professor Heller. I have coached sports for decades and have realized that the word associations with Coach align well with what a progressive and reachable teacher can accomplish with his or her students.

These typical word associations for Coach and Professor show how this realization can benefit a professor of business at the college level.

Word Associations

Professor Coach


  • Respected Teacher
  • Role Model
  • Knowledgeable
  • Leader
  • Authority
  • Academician
  • More Formal/Less Approachable
  • Mentor
  • Motivator
  • Trainer and Developer
  • Pushing People to Get to Next Level
  • Believer and Supporter of the Individual
  • Less Formal/More Approachable

Pushing and Motivating Students to the Next Level

Pushing students to the next level can be so rewarding. The word Coach supports this concept best: Coaches push their athletes to train throughout the season to elevate their physical abilities and knowledge toward the goal of improving the individual and the team. Weight-lifting to strengthen an athlete’s body is analogous to rigorous academic assignments to strengthen a student’s mind and knowledge base.

Depending on where I am teaching, I display pictures of myself and the head football or basketball coach at that school, and ask the students to identify the common objectives we share for our students and athletes.  Key responses have included:

  • Having high expectations for a student/athlete to improve
  • Pushing a student/athlete to achieve their potential, reachi the next level
  • Motivating a student/athlete to study/practice hard and develop a committed work ethic

I want students to understand that the semester can be a journey where I am committed to their mental growth and development in the same way a coach is committed to an athlete’s physical growth and development. The Core Purposes, identified in the syllabus and covered during the first class, vary by course. For my marketing management class, these are:

  • Provide broad and comprehensive foundation in marketing management, including technology-driven topics.
  • PUSH students to become more strategic, more creative, and more resourceful problem solvers.
  • Strengthen presentation and Excel application skills through relevant applications in weekly assignments.

Inspiring Students and Being an Extended Resource

Coaches are famous for inspiring athletes to reach and surpass their potential. Consider some of the following motivational quotes by famous sports Coaches:

  • “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.” – Lou Holtz
  • “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination.” – Tommy Lasorda
  • “ Failures are expected by losers, ignored by winners.” – Joe Gibbs
  • “No one has ever drowned in sweat.” – Lou Holtz

An instructor using the title of Coach facilitates the notion of inspiring their students in various dimensions. Brad Cohen, for instance, has an inspiring story—he became a renowned elementary-school teacher despite constant barriers caused by his noticeable Tourette Syndrome. In addressing a group of elementary-school students, he spoke of his belief that he becomes “their teacher for life. The title of Coach suggests a long-term commitment toward the student, not just a semester together.

Reaching out and mentoring students can be so worthwhile for them—but also for the professor. Being seen as the students’ Coach creates a comfort zone and facilitates the perception of being approachable. I encourage students to come to my office throughout the semester to openly discuss such topics as:

  • Future career directions
  • Future academic coursework: specific courses, major, minor, concentration certificates
  • Jobs upon graduating or internships: assistance with résumés, cover letters and networking
  • Recommendations on how my course could improve

As the respect for your abilities as a coach and mentor grow, students will look to you for crucial advice in current employment and career situations as well as in academics, and this may be where we as professors may have the greatest impact on our students’ lives. For instance, senior hospitality student asked my advice on whether she should keep pursuing a questionable business situation, including a major investment in launching a new website that people close to her were advocating. I challenged her rationale for continuing down this path and she soon decided to pursue a different direction. Later in the semester, I received a gratifying card from her, which she sent to me at home:

Coach Heller: You have been a tremendous help to me this semester. Even outside the classroom you’ve offered advice that has helped me work through some tough situations. I look forward to picking your brain on (what I’m sure will be) numerous future occasions. You’ve been a great Professor/Mentor!”

Had this student not seen me as a Coach, as well as a professor, she might well have continued on the same path, which probably would have led to losing money and experiencing a significant setback to her career.

Propelling a Professor’s Influence on Students to a Higher Level

Most professors gleam much satisfaction from positively affecting their students’ lives. By taking on the title of Coach, professors can reach out to students in capacities that ordinarily do not evolve. The benefits to the student can be significant, and the reward to the professor even greater.


  1. Great analogy! coaching is not about memorizing a play book, it’s about understanding the game. Teaching should be no different. A monkey or a dog can remember simple commands. Understanding the course philosophy has somehow been lost. Thanks for addressing the issue.

Speak Your Mind