The Psychology of Successful Sports Coaching
Coaches are always looking for the latest insights, tips, and technologies when it comes to getting the most out of their players. Regardless whether it’s kids or the pros, savvy coaches know that building a winning culture takes more than just blowing a whistle and encouraging the team to play their best. What is it about some coaches that allow them to not only succeed, but often take otherwise average teams and help them when championships? Similarly, what is it about other coaches with great talent “on paper,” yet fail miserably when attempting to turn that potential into reality? Successful coaching includes knowing your X’s and O’s, but it is so much more than that, prompting us to take a deeper dive into the psychology of successful sports coaching today.
Understanding the basics
All people, from young to old, want to feel respected. Great coaches start from this position, and work every day to build and develop strong interpersonal relationships with their players. Respecting players does not mean taking an “anything goes” attitude, nor does it mean eliminating expectations and accountability. The old saying “your players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is a great philosophy to embrace, and should serve as the cornerstone for positive coaching at every level of sports.
Truly caring for the people you coach is the first big step, and this alone will help coaches experience some success. After care and respect, there are two additional foundation pieces I consistently see in great coaching contributing to maximum success:
- Treat players uniquely. When it comes to coaching a team, one size does not fit all. In fact, great coaches take the time necessary to know each player, including his or her background, interests, future goals, and overall mental health. Going even deeper psychologically, the best coaches learn each player’s unique personality so that they can understand both the best ways to motivate the player, as well as console the player when the chips are down. What makes this player tick? How do I offer empathy toward this player and her serious injury? What do I need to do to lift this player’s spirits after a tough game? In all of these scenarios, successful coaches use a unique approach to the individual athlete, rather than approaching all players the same way, all the time.
- Hold all players accountable consistently. While it is tempting for coaches to overlook the star player’s transgressions, it is important to install team rules and policies that apply to all. Regardless of talent, consistency with discipline is an important piece contributing to overall team chemistry, cohesion, and ultimately success. Coaches who play favorites, politics, or set rules for players based solely on athletic talent may please star players, but will ultimately lose the trust and respect from the rest of the team. When coaches treat discipline consistently, only then do players adhere and appreciate team culture, and the consequences associated with irresponsible behavior.
The role of a coach on a sports team is a big deal, as the ways in which the coach leads his or her team will largely determine the level of success the team experiences. YES, great coaches can lead their team to over-achieve, but it is important to also remember that less-invested coaches can have the exact opposite effect on an otherwise talented team. You win with people, and how you build up your team is one of the most influential variables associated with on-field success.