The Importance of a Strong Athlete-Coach Relationship


Five key themes for success have been identified as common factors amongst medal winning athletes at the Olympics.

1. The Coach – Athlete relationship: where a mutual trusting and respectful relationship exists between the coach and athletes. Each knows what to expect from the other (predictability), they understand how the other communicates, the environment they work best in and how to maximise their strengths in the context of their sport.

2. High level Athlete self-awareness: the degree to which an athlete understands how they behave, what their strengths and limitations are, what motivates them and how to adapt their behaviour to produce more effective outcomes.

3. Quality of the training environment: this includes aspects such as athletes’ equipment, strength and conditioning programs and overall facilities used.

4. The management of the competition environment: this relates to how well planned the competition environment was logistically and how difficult circumstances were managed so they would not limit the athlete’s performance.

5. Support mechanisms: people in the athlete’s life. Everyone from family and friends to staff surrounding athletes such as doctors, massage therapists, nutritionists, trainers, physiotherapists.

The coach-athlete relationship was found to be the most important factor and absolutely non-negotiable.

This article will break down the importance of the athlete-coach relationship, what positive and negative relationship skills look like and how to best foster those and how this differs from individual to team sports. Following articles will delve into the other key factors that lead to success in sport.

The relationship between a coach and their athletes is a key component to any kind of success in the sporting world.

Many trainers strive to establish these as strongly as they can, with each one of their players. Doing so, not only assists the coach in understanding the motives and drives of each competitor but also highlights the fact that the athlete is appreciated as a person.

A team’s success is mostly measured by its season record and overall amount of victories, yet winning is only a minor part of success. Success alone does not make a team great until it is paired with effective coaching.

Effective coaching runs deeper than wins and losses, it also includes reaching athletes on an individual level.

Coaches who focus on positive, personal relationships with their athletes are ensuring success beyond their record on the field.

Relationships are the foundation of coaching and even though a relationship is a two-way street, it’s the coach’s responsibility to pursue a real relationship with their athletes.

Coaches hold a place of respect and authority, but still feel reachable enough for athletes to open up and view their coach as a role model or mentor.

The challenge of coaching is balancing rationale and logic along with empathy and emotional awareness. A strong coach-athlete relationship is important not only for the athlete’s growth as a positive, ethical and moral person, but for the team’s performance as a whole.

Positive Relationship Skills

Coaches who value and focus on effective, personal relationships with their athletes are guaranteed benefits regardless of wins and scores because they will have helped to influence positive moral and ethical behaviours. Through strong relationships and a holistic approach to coaching, young athletes will develop as people and play better as a team.

The skills an effective coach possesses revolve around honesty and positivity. Coaches who genuinely want to connect with their athletes need to be empathetic and understanding. They must accept, support and respect their athletes as well as the people around them. They must realize that being a role model is a 24/7 job. Approachable and interested coaches will attract players, both those interested in a relationship and those who don’t know if they want one.

If coaches are willing to create a relationship but are unsure how to begin, they can try a few simple methods. They can host events outside of the athletic program, like a meal or fun activity during the weekend. It gives the athletes an opportunity to connect with their coach outside the usual relationship structure.

Another method is being available as a tutor or advisor. Before or after school, coaches can hold office hours that figuratively and literally promote an open-door policy. Sometimes athletes won’t respond and sometimes they will. It is really about going more than halfway and giving athletes every chance to build a possible relationship.

Negative Relationship Characteristics

The coach-athlete relationship is considered particularly crucial because of its effect on the athlete. Young athletes are susceptible to the effects of their surrounding environment and to the ideas of others, making the coach-athlete relationship critical to the development of athletes as professionals as well as sports participants. If a coach is obsessed with victory and their sole goal is winning, they may be able to reach that goal. However, it comes with the strong possibility of introducing ethical and professional dilemmas.

Success without effective relationships produces athletes with ability, but with no personal growth. Coaches must understand their job isn’t just about physical progress, it’s about setting their young athletes up for success in life. A lack of interest, remoteness, deceit and pessimism are key characteristics to avoid as a coach. Apathy and irritability set a poor example to be followed and lead to ineffective relationships.

These characteristics do not provide a healthy foundation for positive relationships, and exploit malleable minds in pursuit of victories on the field, when the real victories are found in teamwork and personal connections.

Effective and Successful Coach-Team Relationships

When an individual is strengthened, the team is strengthened. Genuine relationships between athletes and coaches generate more trust, better communication and a winning attitude. An open line of communication helps everyone be more honest with one another, which leads to stronger training, athletic progress and personal growth. Winning will become a by-product of relationships the team and coach/coaches have created with one another.

Victories, success, winning or goals measured through numbers are attainable without relationships, but that has its drawbacks. Coaches become remote and distant, and players adopt a “win at any cost” attitude, characterized selfishness and poor sportsmanship. By promoting a positive competitive environment, athletes can have the opportunity for unlimited personal growth both on and off the field.

On the other hand, if you truly and genuinely care about your athletes as individuals, if you listen to and value their opinions, if your caring of them transcends their athletic performance because you are truly interested in them as people, if you are positive and supportive, then you will be the kind of coach who significantly and positively impacts the athlete’s life for years to come. And as a by-product of that, you will consistently field highly motivated, disciplined athletes who want to win for you!  The relationship between a coach and their athletes should be a beneficial one: athletes should be able to communicate their frustrations, struggles, and ideas with their coach, and this will, in turn, allow the coach to implement better strategies when it comes to training their players.

It involves problem solving, understanding, patience, and trust from both parties in order to fully reap the rewards, but the coach has to be said to be the key to creating resilient relationships.

4 positive relationship guidelines to help foster great player – coach relationships:

1. Communication is key: One of the most vital elements of a good relationship between coaches and athletes is open and honest communication.

2. Players thrive off of positive reinforcement: Building athletes up by means of positive support and active encouragement helps them to not only accomplish their own personal goals in terms of the sport they are involved in but will ensure they are a constructive part of the team.

3. Coaches need to stay available: Coaches who ensure they can be approached are those that are able to foster meaningful and rewarding relationships with their players.

4. Trust is the cornerstone of a strong bond: All relationships work thanks to trust, and those fostered because of mutual involvement in sports are no different.

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