When it comes to athletic success, is it more important to be coached how to learn specific techniques, or to instead play in the ways in which you are the most confident and comfortable? While learning the specifics how to to run, throw, catch, and tackle are certainly important, some critics argue that coaches can, at times, over-coach technique at the expense of allowing athletes to play/move comfortably in ways unique to their own bodies. To further illustrate this point, watch a game a notice how the athletes vary among one another in the ways they play the sport — in fact, often athletes become known for their unique stance, throwing movement, or ways in which they shoot or hit. Of course, simply allowing athletes to play however they feel like playing probably isn’t the best way to maximize abilities, either, but where is the delicate balancing point between coaching and allowing an athlete to play how he or she finds most comfortable?
Are all athletes wired to succeed using the same coaching?
Many times in my career I have witnessed coaches teach their entire teams how to learn a sport skill without giving any consideration to individual learning styles and physical gifts/limitations. Think of this as “one-size-fits-all-coaching.” The big question, however, is if the same instruction to all really brings out the best in individual players? Furthermore, what happens to those athletes who struggle with frustration trying to learn and master a sport skill taught by the coach a specific way, when the athlete feels that he or she could do better if the instruction were developed more toward the individual athlete?
Confidence is king
Sport psychology studies have consistently revealed that confidence (also loosely defined as self-efficacy) is positively correlated to our best performances. This makes perfect sense when you think about it — when we are confident we experience better focus, motivation, and resiliency, while minimizing issues stemming from nervous anxiety. But what happens when an athlete is forced to perform a skill that he or she is uncomfortable doing the way the coach demands? In many cases confidence is replaced by self-doubt and uncertainty, leading to disrupted mind-body synchrony, negative self-talk and thoughts, and ultimately performances below the athlete’s potential.
Creating a successful balance
Probably the best way to coach is to use basic skills as a starting point, but for coaches to go beyond that and learn as much as they can about how each individual athlete ticks. Certain techniques might be better/worse for tall players, short players, strong players, and fast players. Additionally, some supposed tried-and-true techniques may actually hinder athletes with unique body types and mechanics, leading to unforeseen future problems. Remember, in order for an athlete’s confidence to improve he or she must buy-in to what the coach is selling.
Good coaches realize that while it’s important to teach tried and tested sport skills, it’s equally important to learn how to coach to each individual’s strengths and abilities. When it comes to coaching, there’s “more than one way to skin a cat,” and helping athletes feel comfortable and confident should be kept in mind when teaching athletes techniques and skills.