Skills to Motivate and Develop your Athletes
Brian Mackenzie examines the skills required by coaches to motivate and develop their athletes.
The United Kingdom Coaching Strategy describes the role of the coach as one which "enables the athlete to achieve levels of performance to the degree that may not have been possible if left to his/her endeavours". At the 19th session of the International Olympic Academy, Greece 1979, Dyson widened the horizon to "the wise coach develops not only the fullest physical potential in his charges but also those capacities and habits of mind and body which will enrich and ennoble their later years".
The role of the coach could be quite daunting since the above implies what could be construed as a quite awesome responsibility, especially for the part-time non-professional. I believe the role of the coach is to create the right conditions for learning to happen and to find ways of motivating the athletes. Most athletes are highly motivated, and therefore the task is to maintain that motivation and to generate excitement and enthusiasm.
To be successful as a coach, you will need to develop many personal and interpersonal skills. These include:
I will not go into any depth here on these above skills as these will topics will be addressed in future Successful Coaching Newsletters.
Many people will consider the role of a coach to be one of teaching the athlete the appropriate skills to succeed in their chosen sport or event. The roles that you will find you undertake as a coach will be many and varied, and you may find at some stage in your coaching career that you will be: instructor, assessor, friend, mentor, facilitator, researcher, and many more.
Trust and Respect
Each athlete's training requirements are unique, and so a one-to-one relationship develops between the coach and athlete. As a coach, I believe there are two things that you need to grow in your athletes to have a good working relationship/partnership which will enable your athletes to develop to their full potential, and they are: Trust and Respect.
In working with an athlete, you are a team, and you should consider the athlete's partner, or parents in the case of young athletes, as being part of that team. They can provide valuable support to your athlete, which in turn can be very beneficial to you in your coaching role. Remember, you also need to trust and respect the athlete as well as the partner/parents. The roles of the coach and athlete in determining training requirements will change over the time an athlete is with a coach.
Styles of Coaching
There are perhaps two coaching styles - autocratic (do as I say) and democratic (involve the athletes in decision making). The autocratic style could be broken into two types - telling and selling and the democratic style into sharing and allowing. Coaches will use a variety of styles/types, depending on the coaching situation.
Autocratic Style - Telling
e.g. in a circuit training session, the athletes are told the exercises to be completed.
Autocratic Style - Selling
e.g. in a circuit training session, the athletes are informed of the exercises in the circuit. The coach explains the object of circuit training and the purpose of each exercise. Athletes can ask questions to clarify any points.
Democratic Style - Sharing
e.g. the coach identifies a circuit training session. Athletes identify possible exercises for the circuit. The coach selects from the suggestions a set of exercises.
Democratic Style - Allowing
e.g. the coach identifies a circuit training session. The coach defines the conditions of the circuit to ensure it is safe and meets the overall objectives of the session. Athletes identify possible exercises for the circuit and then select a set of exercises that meet the coach's conditions.
B. Woods (Applying psychology to Sport, Hodder & Stoughton, 1998) identified four styles of coaching:
Is Coaching an Art or a Science?
To support the coach, there is a wealth of scientific information based on research conducted with athletes. Information is available to support the coach and athlete in all areas of training and development including nutrition, biomechanics, psychology, physiology & medicine. There are several scientific methods to measure and analyse the athlete's performance, e.g. computer-aided analysis of VO2 max, lactate levels, running technique, etc.
The art of coaching comes when the coach has to analyse the scientific data and convert it into coaching and training programs to help develop the athlete. This analysis process relies heavily on the coach's experience and knowledge of the event/sport and the athlete concerned. By understanding the science, which is the foundation of training, a well-designed training program can be developed that will help an athlete reach their full potential. The art is understanding the science and then applying it.
As coaches, we would all like to develop the next Olympic champion, so how do we initially identify a potential successful athlete. Thomas Tutko and Bruce Ogilvie believe that the following characteristics form part of a successful athlete: Aggression, Coachability, Conscientiousness, Determination, Drive, Emotional Control, Guilt Proneness, Leadership, Mental Toughness, Self Confidence, and Trust. I look for four characteristics: Concentration, Confidence, Control (emotional), and Commitment. Of these four C's the primary one I focus on to develop in any athlete is Confidence. If an athlete has a high level of self-confidence, then ommitment, control, and concentration will also be increased. Likewise, a low level of self-confidence will negatively impact the other three C's.
Coaches need to be aware of their legal responsibilities, especially concerning the advice they give their athletes and the way they manage and supervise them. Coaches have a legal obligation to their athletes and should:
Health and Safety
Coaches are responsible for the health and safety of the athletes in their charge. Coaches should have access to first aid facilities and how to contact emergency services.
Protection from Abuse
Coaches also have a responsibility to protect children from all forms of abuse. There are four main kinds of abuse:
Coaches should be able to recognise indicators, which may signify abuse, and take appropriate action if concerned. All organisations (e.g. sports governing bodies, local authorities, clubs) should have a policy statement and guidelines regarding child abuse.
Coaches should have appropriate insurance, which covers both public liability and personal accidents. Many governing bodies include insurance as part of their affiliation fee.
It is recommended that coaches do not use their vehicles for transporting athletes to venues. If coaches do use their cars, then they should ensure they are correctly licensed and insured. With young athletes, coaches should seek the assistance of the parents/guardians.
Coaches have an ethical and legal responsibility to:
A coach is required to comply with their National Governing Body's code of ethics and conduct. The following is a summary of the code of ethics for coaches as supplied by the National Governing Body for Athletics in the UK to its registered coaches. The coach's primary role is to facilitate the process of individual development through the achievement of athletic potential. This role accepts the athletes' long-term interests as of greater importance than short-term athletic considerations. To fulfill this role, the coach must behave in an ethical manner respecting the following points:
Coaches should seek out and fully co-operate with all individuals and agencies that could play a role in the development of the athletes they coach. This includes working openly with other coaches, using the expertise of sports scientists and sports physicians, and displaying active support of their National Governing Body.
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About the Author
Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance, and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years experience as an endurance athlete.