IT’S NOT WHAT THEY DO, IT’S HOW THEY DO IT: ATHLETE EXPERIENCES OF GREAT COACHING
Andrea Becker conducted 18 in-depth interviews with elite-level athletes (9 female; 9 male) from baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball, and water polo about their experiences of great coaches.
Greatness is not about what coaches do, but rather how they do it. All coaches teach. Great coaches teach the details. All coaches communicate. Great coaches communicate honestly. All coaches prepare. Great coaches prepare meticulously. All coaches develop expectations. Great coaches develop high expectations and do everything in their power to help athletes achieve them.
For the athletes in the study, it was the content, method, and quality of their coaches’ actions that distinguished them as great. These coaches influenced the athletes’ self-perceptions, development, and performance. Most importantly, they influenced the athletes’ desire and ability to become the best that they could be, not only in sport but also in life.
- More Than Just a Coach – are teachers, mentors, friends. They care about the athletes and are not afraid to make mistakes, show faults, or admit they don’t have all the answers.
- Personality Characteristics – Cognitive (combines prior knowledge and being at the current knowledge), Emotional (passionate, inspirational, and enthusiastic, and able to use emotion to regulate athletes’ energy in games), Social qualities (i.e. how coaches acted towards others, namely seen as genuine, honest, loyal, patient, and non-judgemental), Psychological (committed, disciplined, competitive, professional and consistent).
- Abilities – able to evaluate player potential, read and analyse training and match situations, adapt and overcome shortcomings, working with an integrated support team.
- Experience – previous experience buys credibility and respect, as the current players believe the coach can relate to their experiences.
Creating and Managing Environments
- General Team Environment – athlete centred (not about the coaches), team centred (doing what is best for the team), structured, and fostering support, caring, and mutual trust.
- One-to-One Communication – coaches viewed as accessible, approachable, good listeners, and comfortable with athletes.
- Practice Environment – planned, highly structured, game-like, intense, and competitive
- Great coaches not only implement their training philosophies and game-strategies, they also fully believe in their philosophies and strategies.
Fostering and Maintaining Relationships
- Personal – setting boundaries, athlete-centred relationships based on trust, confidence and respect, coaches showing interest in athletes as people, athletes could relate to coaches.
- Professional – accountability for self and team sets the bar for athlete accountability, coaches believed in athletes, focus on building athlete strengths, empowering athletes.
- Teach – coaches don’t just teach skills, they model them; specific instructions and attention to the little details, matching teaching to the individual athletes’ ability.
- Communicate – saying what they wanted and also why; being clear, consistent, and honest; being appropriate, positive, and timely with input; strategic use of shock-value.
- Motivate – able to motivate athletes through motivational strategies tailored to the individual, either through setting visions and goals, or with appropriate ‘carrots and sticks’.
- Preparation – ensuring high physical conditioning and utilising appropriate mental skills tools; being consistent in pre-game preparations, regardless of the match importance.
- Respond to Athletes – athletes broadly appreciated a response to their efforts, whether it was positive or negative.
- Perform Under Pressure – great coaches remain confident, calm, and emotionally stable and this calms the athletes.
- Disregard the Irrelevant – great coaches were seen to disregard anything that was irrelevant to winning games. They see the big picture. They also expect players to be self-motivated and responsible, for example it not the coaches role to enforce punctuality standards.
Becker, A, It’s Not What They Do, It’s How They Do It: Athlete Experiences of Great Coaching. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 4 · Number 1 · 2009