Coaching & Performance

What makes a great coach? Athletes value professionalism, consistency, and integrity in coaching.

The environment cultivated by the coach plays an implicit role in the athlete’s self-confidence and performance outcomes. In world-class sports, athletes attributed successful performances outcomes to

  1. Task-specific focus (57%) and self-focus (43%),
  2. Enjoyment (64%) and being relaxed (50%)

Negative performance indicators according to research by Hayes, Thomas, Maynard, & Bawden, 2009 include

  1. Worrying about doing the wrong thing (50%),
  2. Having doubts (43%) and being nervous (64%),
  3. Unhappy (57%) and under-pressure (50%)

Aggressive coaching styles do not always foster the positive attributes noted by Hayes et al. (2009) and instead give way to those negative characteristics listed. 

Along the lines of confidence and sports psychology is the concept of moral congruity on performance.   Hodges and Lonsdale (2011) examined associations between coaching style, athlete motivation, and pro-social and antisocial behavior.  They found that autonomous coaching fosters greater intrinsic motivation and pro-social behavior among teammates and with opponent team members as well.  To the contrary, in controlled (or authoritarian) coaching (likened to Williams and Hodges (2005) description of coaching based on “intuition, tradition and emulation” (p.637)) the degree of intrinsic motivation is diminished as motivation to meet coaching expectations replaces self-determined motives for goal achievement. 

Hodges and Lonsdale (2011) concluded that although controlled coaching may mandate immediate compliance, autonomous coaching and subsequent pro-social behaviors are more in line with an athlete’s natural moral tendencies.  When athletes feel a greater sense of self, rather than divided morally, they are more apt to exhibit greater success and their motives for success are more likely to be intrinsically motivated.  This is also consistent with the Becker (2009) study detailed below, in which athletes valued “professionalism, consistency, and integrity” (p. 100) in what they considered to be facets of good coaching. (Both professionalism and integrity being considered moral aspects of coaching.) 

In summary, key qualities of great coaching according to elite athletes:

(Becker, 2009; Nine male and nine female athletes from various sports who had competed at the NCAA Division I level or higher were interviewed and the following principal domains emerged as qualities of a great coach)
  1. Coach Attributes
  2. The Environment
  3. The System
  4. Relationships
  5. Coaching Actions
  6. Influences. 

Relevant to this discussion on effective coaching tactics, and within the domain of Coach Attributes, Becker (2009) found that athletes included “highly knowledgeable,” “enthusiastic” but “emotionally stable,” and exhibiting “professionalism, consistency, and integrity.” The discussion further entails that these qualities were found to build trust in the coach-athlete relationship.

Becker’s (2009) title summarizes my position regarding effective coaching perfectly:

“It’s not what they do, it’s how they do it…”

To further iterate this point of the importance of “how” feedback is provided, Mouratidis, Lens, and Vansteenkiste (2010) examined the effects of feedback in the context of autonomy supporting or controlling coaching styles.  Their findings suggested that corrective feedback or “criticism and hard feedback” are better received in an autonomy-supportive manner.  When feedback is provided in a controlling manner, athletes are less likely to be intrinsically motivated and may instead be discouraged by the feedback. 

Criticism and harsh feedback are not the problem; it’s how these criticisms are presented to the athlete.  The traditional coaching style of many male coaches is aggressive, with yelling and “in-your-face tactics” . Both the Becker (2009) and Manley, Greenlees, Thelwell and Smith (2010) studies cited knowledge, experience, and team successes as creating a culture of trust between the coach and athlete.  


Becker, A. J. (2009). It ’ s Not What They Do , It ’ s How They Do It : Athlete Experiences of Great Coaching, 4(1), 93-120.

Hays, K., Thomas, O., Maynard, I. A. N., & Bawden, M. (2009). The role of confidence in world-class sport performance, 27(September), 1185-1199. doi:10.1080/02640410903089798

Hodge, K., & Lonsdale, C. (2011). Prosocial and Antisocial Behavior in Sport : The Role of Coaching Style , Autonomous vs . Controlled Motivation , and Moral Disengagement, 527-547.

Manley, A., Greenlees, I., Thelwell, R., Smith, M., Faculty, C., & Hall, F. (2010). Athletes ’ Use of Reputation and Gender Information When Forming Initial Expectancies of Coaches, 5(4).

Kate, MS, CSCS

BECAUSE THE WINS ARE EARNED, NOT GIVEN. #ENGPERFORMANCE Since 2008, Engard Athletics has provided quality, evidence-based training to hundreds of clients and athletes in the Valley. Now, utilizing advanced training techniques and challenging the fitness industry, I’m providing this elite level experience to you online. Our training programs include movement prep, periodized strength training, recovery therapy, performance nutrition plans and motivational strategies that optimize performance outcomes.

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