John Kessel

Never Be An Athlete's Last Coach

We explore leadership through the lens of high-performance sport by interviewing Great Coaches from around the world to try and find ideas to help all of us lead our families, our colleagues, and our teams better.

Our newsletter contains the best ideas from those interviews.

Latest Interview


After a volleyball career that involved 16 U.S. Open Championships and time spent playing professionally in Europe, John Kessel started coaching at the Collegiate level in the USA in 1971 and achieved strong success, leading his teams to National titles in 1986 and 1987.

He served as the Team Leader for the 2000 USA Olympic Beach Volleyball Teams in Sydney, resulting in a gold medal. He also led the 2004 USA Paralympic Women's Sitting Volleyball Team in Athens, who brought home the bronze medal.

John's impact as a coach and administrator has been truly remarkable, leaving a lasting legacy on the sport through over 30 years of dedication to Volleyball USA and more than 20 years to World ParaVolley.

Not only an accomplished coach, John is also the author of more than 12 books, including the highly-regarded IMPACT coaching manual which is now in its 33rd edition.

John's achievements have been recognised by the Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame, and in 2007, he was honoured as a Sport Ethics Fellow by the Institute for International Sport.

He has also shared his expertise with other Olympic sports, consulting with more than 20 different sports and traveling around the world to speak about coaching, particularly in the youth space.

Speaking to John for this week’s episode of the Great Coaches Podcast felt like receiving a one-to-one masterclass in coaching and leadership. Many points were raised that could be considered ‘highlights’, but some that personally resonated included:

  • Why the player that knows ‘why’ they are doing something will beat the player who knows ‘how’ to do something

  • The power of praise, and how to positively reinforce the ‘right things’ that we catch others doing

  • The role of the coach in helping individuals to show competency, and the strengthening impact this has on the group as a whole

  • Why ‘never being an athlete’s last coach’ is his own personal definition of success

Listening to John Kessel speak, you truly can hear the decades of experience behind everything he says and believes. This interview is one that you’ll want to listen to - particularly if you’re a parent, coach, or leader aiming to better inspire and develop the leaders and citizens of tomorrow.

Listen here on… Apple | Spotify  | Google


If a friend, colleague, or family member shared this newsletter with you, why not subscribe to start receiving your own copy each week?

It’s completely free to sign up, and all you need to do is click the button below and register your email address.

Leadership Insights

Bob Bowman is a gold-medal-winning American swimming coach, and four-time member of the U.S. Olympic Team coaching staff. To date, he has guided his swimmers to an astonishing 38 Olympic medals and 43 world records, although he may be best known as the coach behind the 23-time Olympic gold medalist American swimmer, Michael Phelps.

In this clip, Bob speaks on identifying the performance-related stress experienced by athletes and how he helps them with their ‘mental game’.

If you like this, you can find more than 1200 other insight videos on our website, covering a variety of leadership topics such as setting up new team cultures, establishing team values, or helping others with their inner voice.

All of the insights are indexed, searchable, and can be downloaded to share. Some may require a one-time purchase or subscription - check the individual insight’s description for more information.

Leadership Skills

As you may have heard in this week’s interview with John Kessel, learning, and having a passion for learning and development, can play an important role in the success and longevity of an athlete’s career.

For our lesson on ‘learning’, we’ve collected the thoughts of 14 Great Coaches regarding this important topic.

Containing a podcast, transcript, and selection of clips of Great Coaches discussing their own learning insights, this lesson is filled with useful and actionable points, including:

  • Why ‘life-long learner’ is so commonly quoted as a defining characteristic of great coaches

  • The important roles played by curiosity and a growth mindset in fostering a passion for learning

  • How great coaches identify eager learners, and the reason they actively aim to surround themselves with them

Whether you are a parent or coach interacting with children on a daily basis, or a leader or manager who seeks to encourage a growth mindset amongst team members, the points shared in this lesson are bound to resonate with you.

Want to find more content like this? You can find lessons on a wide range of leadership-related themes and topics on our website:


During our interview this week, John referenced this terrific article published by Forbes Magazine in 1988.

Titled “No More Mistakes And You’re Through!”, the article contains the hilarious insight of comedian John Cleese, who speaks on the importance of making mistakes.

A highly relevant topic and one that I enjoyed sharing - and laughing over - with my own family around the dinner table, this article is definitely worth the read.


If you are looking to improve your own leadership skills, then you can reach us at

Our team of executive coaches, including The Great Coaches host, Paul Barnett, bring a wealth of experience as International CEOs who have faced the challenge of stepping forward in uncertain moments.

Contact Us

If you have any feedback or would like to speak with us, you can contact us at [email protected].