It’s easy to think that of a sports coach as a ‘supplier’ even a performer, providing services to their athlete. After all, they; mentor, guide and support athletes through the good and bad. But it would be foolhardy to consider this a one-way partnership. Because it is indeed a multi-layered job; and one that requires a certain human touch and two-way communication at its heart.
Just take a look at any successful athlete and behind them you’ll see a solid partnership with their sports coach. This one-on-one rapport is not something that can be forged overnight. It takes months and years of hard work from both sides to create mutual and lasting respect and trust.
Furthermore, a paper by Loughborough University concluded that one of the key factors to a successful outcome in coaching is indeed “the quality of the relationship between coaches and athletes.”
Since the role of a sports coach is critical to the success of the athlete, it’s only right that their needs are also met. In an industry where burnout is rife, and momentum needs to be sustained on both sides, it’s important to give equal consideration to the psychological needs of a sports coach as well as the athlete or team.
The importance of the sports coach
Dealing with the demands of a competition can be stressful for athlete; it’s a burden that’s shared in equal measure with their sports coach. After all, they win and lose as a team.
It should come as no surprise therefore, that coaches have the same psychological needs as athletes; a sense of belonging, self-esteem and a desire to outperform their competitor. Simply put; coaching every bit requires the same respect and consideration as competitive sport.
But while there may be many resources available for athletes, it appears that it’s easy to overlook the needs of a sports coach. The industry will agree that more should be done to help their own self-awareness and remove barriers to performance, be it internal or external factors.
But first, it’s important to understand the factors that contribute to coaching performance.
Meeting basic needs
Much like any individual, a sports coach has certain basic psychological needs in order to achieve their potential. It’s a profession that demands high emotional intelligence, trust, dedication and respect at its core. Because of this, there’s a lot of self-sacrifice along the way.
At the core of the athlete-coach dynamic, is a symbiotic need to fulfil, achieve and succeed. One fuels off the other. As such, these are some of the needs that a sports coach needs in order to perform to their best:
- Self-worth; it’s not just important for an athlete’s success to pique, but for the sports coach too. Their sense of self-worth is often reflected in the triumphs of their team.
- Autonomous working: the ability to work to one’s own style, is one of the great appeals for joining the coaching profession. This means working in an environment that is free from bureaucracy and encourages freedom and trust. In coaching courses, we learn the importance of manging work practices, allowing coaches to trust their instinct and work autonomously.
- Self-identity: feeling valued and making a noticeable contribution all play their role in self-identity. If coaches are to encourage athletes to be the best versions of themselves, and trust their instincts, it’s important that they too have a sense of worth and strong personal identity. They must be empowered to make decisions and feel capable and competent enough to see them through.
- Belonging: regardless of profession, a sense of purpose and belonging are one of the most important motivators in any job. We are social creatures, and without a sense of community and value, we can’t perform to our best.
- Job satisfaction: It goes without saying that enjoying what we do is the key to any success. Even though sports coaching is an industry that people tend to be passionate about, jobs still have their stresses and challenges. Which is why it’s important to have the right athletes and chemistry to forge a solid relationship. As one sports paper noted: “Satisfaction has been the focus of a series of studies because individuals who are satisfied and happy, as opposed to dissatisfied and unhappy, are more likely to be persistent in good and bad times, choose more challenging activities, and generally desire to accomplish in the life domains that matter to them” (Michalos, 1980)
Whether you’re a sports coach or an organisation or club that employs coaches, there’s a few ways to meet the basic psychological needs of your team. Here’s a few areas to give consideration to:
It’s important for both the sports coach and the athlete to work in an environment that is conducive to success. Organisations have a duty to create a culture of openness, making work fun and enjoyable, with opportunity to grow and flourish.
In this day and age, job security remains one of the biggest worries of employees. This is especially true of the sports coach, since many work on a freelance basis. Unlike a ‘regular’ job this may mean having irregular income. Offering a sense of stability and some predictability in terms of regular work, will go some way in offering comfort to this profession.
It is part of the human condition that we feel the need to belong. It’s what makes us sociable creatures and underpins our very existence. But belonging also means placing value on one’s self. It’s often seen that sports coaches with successful athletes have a greater sense of belonging and self-worth than those with lesser performing talent.
As a sports coach, it’s important to have your personal set of goals, and to measure whether these are being met. Have a strategy in place for reviewing these and assessing whether changes need to be made.
The spotlight on coaches from the media creates an immense pressure on them. It may be the role of the sports coach to guide their athlete to the top level, but it is not without sacrifices and challenges on their behalf. Ask yourself if you are receiving the respect and praise you deserve for your contribution. If not, how might you change this?
There are many times in sports coaching where negativity sets in, or criticism is rife. It is one of the unfortunate, but necessary, parts of the job.
It can be easy to be preoccupied with oneself, especially if the glare of the media spotlight is on you. But it’s also important to be conscious of how this impacts your behaviour and the greater environment around you. Self-reflection and self-awareness are important tools to use to gain perspective. Ask yourself what would it be like to be in your athlete’s shoes, and how they perceive your working relationship too. It’s fair to say that a sports coach that is preoccupied with other’s opinions of them is losing valuable energy to unhelpful thoughts.
Sports coaches are perhaps better equipped than anyone else to understand how to control and manipulate ways of thinking. However, as the old adage goes ‘it’s easier said than done’, and even harder when applying to yourself.
Exercising self-evaluation and self-control with a positive mind-set, is one such way of gaining some perspective. Apply the same techniques to your athletes, as to yourself. Have a set of short term, medium term and long-term goals to work towards.
Invest in yourself too. This means furthering your experience with training and extended coaching courses, as well as partnering with nutritionists and specialists to learn more about the wider sports industry.
In terms of your relationships, look at how these are managed and what can be improved. Athlete-coach relationships need investing in. Think of ways that you can build a bond with your athlete, that is equally beneficial for you too. Perhaps it’s about trying out new techniques together, or having a more open dialogue about ways or working.
As a final thought, don’t be afraid to push back on management, if you have an unmanageable workload. Research in the field suggests that appraisal of coach performance is important to examine the “great number of tasks that coaches are responsible for in undertaking their work.”
This has become a problem of recent times, with cost cutting and radical decisions being made in business all the time. Keep focused on what it is you need to achieve, and how you plan to get there.
However, probably one of the most important areas for consideration is how you can remove psychological barriers in your way as a sports coach. These can be challenging thoughts and feelings, as well as behaviours that are interfering with your own performance. It’s important to have an honest internal and external dialogue to identify these, and find solutions to overcome them.
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