In any sport, it is generally accepted that the performance of a coach influences the performance of their athlete/team. So, it is not only important to assess the factors that influence athlete/performance, but those that influence the coach’s too.
Coaches can be taught to devise the best possible training plan and given the best possible advice to implement their agenda, but their behaviour while executing the plan will have a great impact on the development of the athlete/team.
There are multiple constraints and factors that influence a coach’s behaviour. Knowing these factors and building a coaching environment around them, can help to maximise the coach-athlete/team relationship.
What Influences a Coach’s Behaviour?
A coach’s behaviour is influenced by a number of things, including ideological, institutional, cultural and ethical factors (Jones, 2000). But that’s not all. Coaches are also competing with their egos and hidden hierarchical structures (Purdy, Potrac, & Jones, 2008), to name a few.
So, let’s think about how we can gain an understanding of all of these factors that influence a coach’s behaviour.
Any understanding relates to how the person (in this case the coach) perceives the nature of reality, and the nature of knowledge. Put simply, there exists an underlying philosophy that informs our understanding of their behaviour.
To inspect this underlying philosophy, there are a number of different learning (Behaviourist, Cognitivism and Constructivism) theories that have been put forward over recent times. However, in the simplest possible terms, coaches develop a philosophy through their “learning sources”.
Learning sources are the places from which coaches have gathered the information that they pass onto the their athlete/team. These include their past playing experiences, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, as well as their coaching badges, mentoring, reflective practices and problem based learning.
The Link Between Learning Sources and a Coach’s Behaviour
To understand the influence of these learning sources, let’s take a look at a case study of a top level football coach (Jones, 2003) called Steve Harrison.
Harrison states that he learned a lot from trial and error (Behaviourist – connectionism) and believes that mentoring “is a primary and valued knowledge source”.
As Harrison says: “You learn as you go along, you learn by experience. What I do has basically come from watching people I admire and people I don’t admire a lot of times, but with a variation on the theme … you add variations of your own; I think that’s how people learn.”
This point highlights the link between learning sources and coach behaviour. However, Harrison admits that he once misunderstood the connection between the two, which led to one of his biggest regrets in football.
Harrison says: “That’s where I made my biggest mistake in management. I managed like Graham Taylor, but I’m not Graham Taylor. I wasn’t like Graham, and I’ll never be like him. But I thought that was the done thing.”
“So, I took my personality away and tried to do it like that and messed myself up. I didn’t enjoy it all and the players didn’t either. So, you work in the manner you feel comfortable with.”
Developing a philosophy that is based around a coach’s personality and their own style of learning therefore seems critical.
In Steve Harrison’s case, giving one on one time to develop a personal relationship with athletes and taking the time to grow a social relationship with them seems key. Affording him the space to do so may help to maximise his performance. However, this approach wouldn’t work for every coach, it comes down to the individual’s philosophy.
This leads us to another interesting point, as Harrison’s account emphasises the difficulty for governing bodies to create coaching courses, as “one size fits all” may not be the best approach.
While a “one size fits all” approach may be the most efficient of doing things, it is a key learning source that will suit some coaches more than others, depending on their personality.
By failing to align learning sources and personality, the philosophy that certain coaches develop may not link with their greatest human strengths. This can result in coaches failing to meet their potential.
How Much of an Impact do Learning Sources Have on a Coach’s Performance?
To highlight how these learning sources impact a coach’s performance, let’s look at the difference between coaches who coach different age groups.
Parkington et al (2014) studied coach behaviour by assessing 12 youth coaches across six different age groups. The behavioural results showed coaches of the younger age groups used more instructions and more training form activities, whereas coaches of the older groups used more divergent questioning and playing form activities.
Additional information was collected from interviews stated that it was the coach’s beliefs, their previous coaching experiences and perceived pressures from the context that determined their behaviour. This context can be dependant on the traits of the athlete/team, with age being one example.
The experiment highlights how a coach’s behaviour can be influenced by the context of their surroundings. So, if we are training coaches in a “one size fits all” environment, they will all be learning within the same context. Therefore, systematic training could create systemic coaching ideologies.
However, if everyone were to develop their own philosophies, based on their personality and experiences, these patterns would perhaps be less likely to emerge.
So, if we all conform to the same learning sources, this study suggests that we could be fabricating behaviour, which may not be best-suited to the coach and could therefore harm the athlete’s/team’s performance.
To develop an elite coach’s learning it’s important to acknowledge its complexity. Coaches should ideally be given the space to develop their own philosophies, to help maximise athlete/team performance.
The more we take the time to understand/research a coach’s preferences, the more we can help direct them to develop a style of coaching that is best for them. This should ultimately help the coach get the most out of their athlete/team.
Thanks to Charlie Mitchell, a Freelance Journalist, for helping to put this article together.