Improve Your Coaching Style

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Coaching Style

Below is a familiar scenario that I have come across in many sports where I’ve had to intervene to support an athlete because a coach has focused too much on results and an athlete has lost confidence and direction.

Jonny (Tennis player) arrives for a coaching session with his coach (Bob) and a conversation like so takes place:

Coach: How are you doing Jonny, how can I help you today?

Jonny: I’m good thanks Bob . Though with my tennis I’ve lost my form, it’s just not happening for me.

Coach: Why is that, tell me more?

Jonny: I don’t know, I’m practising fine but under pressure it’s just not happening.  I’ve lost my last 4 matches, they just keep getting away from me.  I’ll lose a set and then I might get back into the game for a bit but then just lose momentum.

Coach: What do you think it is that’s going on?

Jonny: I think, technically my movement on the court isn’t very good. I’m on the back foot all of the time and I’m letting the opponent control the game.

Coach: So you’re letting him dictate the points.

Jonny: That’s right.

So Bob the coach goes on to look at the technical aspects of Jonny’s game, his movement and positioning form a big part of their work over the next few weeks.   Bob even watches Jonny perform a few times.

As the weeks go by Jonny makes Bob aware that nothing much has changed, he continues to train well and is finding the drills easy but in a match it is still a struggle where he keeps on making the same type of errors.

Bob now starts getting a little defensive because things aren’t working, he begins to accuse Jonny of not putting 100% commitment in, in matches, because he’s not getting into the right positions and not moving around the court like he should be.

Things continue in this manner but nothing changes, where Bob uses all of his coaching tools to help Jonny.  As time passes both Bob and Jonny get grumpier, Bob continues to question Jonny’s commitment.  The coach even talks negatively about him to some other coaches and players, making fun of him.

What’s happening here? Why is the coach not helping Jonny?

  1. Placing so much emphasis on results has meant the coach has let his own frustration get in the way of supporting Jonny fully.
  2. Focusing such a high percentage of coaching time solely on mechanics has ensured Jonny has tightened up and got more and more fearful.
  3. The coach has lost Jonny’s trust by making fun of him and questioning his commitment.

Sadly, this seems to happen a lot across many sports where the coach demonstrates attributes linked with Task Leadership and the athlete goes on to suffer and reach a point where they just don’t progress anymore.

Task leaders judge success solely against goals and objectives, they love to track achievement and monitor progress through results.  They go on to motivate their athletes by setting goals and clearly spelling out instructions and their hopes.  They expect their athletes to be disciplined and are very comfortable telling people what to do and how.

Unfortunately, task leaders can have high expectations and categorise people as good or bad.  As disciplined or indisciplined.  They stifle athletes and promote a feeling of fear.  They love giving suggestions and get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan.  Criticism and control are their friends.

A small percentage of athletes can find this leadership style helpful as it drives them to work harder and achieve.  However, a large percentage end up, like Jonny, trying too hard.  Losing the fun and enjoyment of their sport.  Overthinking and their confidence ends up plummeting.

If you are a coach who would like some support to understand your leadership style better, I’m here to help and give some suggestions.  One 2 One coaching is available, face to face, via the telephone or SKYPE or online via email.

Feel free to call me or drop me an email with any questions.

Best Wishes

David Charlton


David Charlton

HCPC Registered Sport and Exercise Psychologist

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]