Four Keys to Building Positive Coach Athlete Relationships

Recently I was watching a game on television and there was a controversial call made.  At half-time they cut to the commentators, one of whom opined, “I have always thought players win games, coaches lose games and referees ruin games.”

Ouch. Well OK then.

If you guessed he was a former player you guessed right.  I won’t address the referee issue here although c’mon they are important and deserve our respect.

As for coaches, I am of the opinion that they matter very much.

So, I was happy to see a recent study published by a Canadian Sport Psychologist, Penny Werthner, which gives credence to the importance of effective coaching.

The research  which presents the four keys to building positive coach athlete relationships.  She conducted following the Beijing Olympics, but published this summer prior to the 2012 HrLondon Olympic Games.

Here Are Werthner’s Four Keys To Building Positive Coach Athlete Relationships
Technical Knowledge.

This is crucial and essential to working with the elite athlete who relies on the coach for information and great teaching. There is evidence that the ability to teach is the most important factor in the success of a boss or a coach. Certainly at the highest level technical knowledge is essential to the teaching process.

 Care and Trust.

Effective coaches care about the athletes they coach. An Olympic athlete is  under tremendous pressure and needs to trust that her coach has her best interest in mind. I think this is true of any age and any level of athlete, but the more intense the pressure–whatever the source–the more crucial that the athlete believes in her coach’s compassion. Therefore it is crucial that a coach have the ability to communicate that care.

Werthner includes the ability to listen as a crucial skill for communicating care and compassion as a coach working with the elite athlete. This requires a coach provide time and patience. One example she cites

“As Émilie said of Yi Hua, “She gives me 100 per cent.” Each of these coaches has built trust with her athletes and the coaches they work with. They built that trust with patience, recognizing that it takes time, and with skilful communication.”

This bears out in the research on adult learning as well.  Listening is a sure sign of respect; a crucial factor when working with the high performer.

 Clear Communication.

Clarity in communication impacts both a coaches ability to teach and to demonstrate care and compassion. The examples that Wertner gave indicates that the communication is direct and honest. It is received well because the athlete trusts the coach and the coach delivers the message in order to get the most out of the athlete.

 “As Xiuli said, “I was straight with Clara. I told her the truth.And then she helped Clara make the technical changes by getting on the ice and showing her correct technique. Being able to clearly and concisely communicate what technical changes are necessary in a sport is a crucial skill in coaching. Being able to demonstrate the changes is an additional skill. These coaches are skilled in being honest and caring at the same time. As Melody said, “I want them each to succeed.”

She also indicates that communication is a dialogue. Again, listening plays a role, as does the ability to problem solve together and come to solutions. This takes confidence from a coach, but at the same time it builds confidence in an athlete when they are part of providing the solution.

An Individualized Approach. 

Treat each athlete fairly but not the same. Even coaches working with a team sport recognize that they need to differentiate their approach to each athlete in order to get the best out of them. Incidentally this is also a key to providing powerful adult education in the workplace.

The pressure on athletes at the highest level to perform can be immense. Coaches can have a powerful impact on these elite athletes. The four keys to building positive coach athlete relationships can go a long way. A competent and caring coach can be the difference between an athlete earning a medal and going home empty handed.





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