England has during the last World Cups experienced different styles of coaching. Sven Gøran Eriksson applied his democratic coaching style on the English stars, getting critique for not being able to control the performance setting enough, when failing to make it to the final in the World Cup in 2006. Fabio Cappello took a different approach when coaching the Three Lions in South Africa – 2010. The autocratic Italian, managed the English team with an iron fist. The result: even worse than the two previous World Cups.

Vincente Del Bosque – the coach of the successful Spanish national team stated a few weeks ago – that one of his major concerns before and during the World Cup in Brazil, was to keep his players happy and enjoying the experience of the performance setting.

So what to make of this? We clearly see that different coaching styles being used by different coaches in the World Cup, but how could this affect World Cup performance?

Autocratic leadership is defined by Weinberg and Gould (2011) as a coaching style that uses independent decision making and stresses personal authority when working with decision making. Athletes input to training, goals and plans are generally not invited and the coach often uses punishment when not following instructions. On the other hand; democratic leadership is being characterized by the athletes`participation in decision-making, goals and forming of plans, tactics and methods (Weinberg & Gould, 2011).

Clearly the two perspectives differ from one another, but coaches use different approaches as the situational and contextual factors change and develops (Chelladurai, 1993). Some situations (e.g. tactical changes during a game, substitutes, quick error correction) require a more autocratic decision-making whereas other situations and contexts (e.g. preparing technically, tactically and socially for the game/ in half-time talk) might provide better results with a democratic coaching-style. Another factor to consider is the interesting point from Chelladurais`model of leadership (1993) – that athletes expectations of coaching style and decision-making play a major role in coaching effectiveness. If your team has not experienced a democratic coaching-style before, you might not start this process during the championship in Brazil. This process needs to be trained and clearly communicated within the team – to get approval and understanding of the choice of coaching-philosophy and what this implies for the team and players.

If we take a look into what a high performing team strive for to acquire success – factors like; strong team cohesion, high efforts and work ethics, quality in preparation, effective on-pitch decision-making, strong motivation and low levels of anxiety – clearly play a part on the pathway to the final at Maracanà stadium, 13th of july. Kidman (2001) points out that a democratic coaching-style will make athletes and teams better off in a performance setting. This – he argues is because of the teams/individuals increased involvement in development, higher motivation for learning and improving, greater understanding of tactics and skills and increased ability to high quality decision-making in high pressure situations. Last he emphasizes another critical factor for a World Cup team – teamwork would be enhanced, resulting in greater on-field success.

Team cohesion – keeping the group together towards a common shared goal, is clearly linked towards a democratic coaching style (Gardner, Shields, Bredemeier, & Bostrom, 1996) with the coach providing social support, instructive feedback and being perceived as low in an autocratic behavior. To keep your team together and focused on the challenges ahead – requires a lot of attention from the coaching staff. A cohesive team pulls the extra weight during tight games and follows up common shared goals and game plans – to maximize the results.

High-performance settings as the World Cup, also provides high pressure/high anxiety settings for athletes and coaches. We see again and again teams not being cohesive and resilient enough, and thereby choking under the enormous pressure the World Cup sets up. In this part psychology plays a major role. A democratic coaching style provides more social support and gives teams and athletes a better buffering zone against anxiety and performance pressure hence allowing team-athletes performing at their peak (Pensgaard & Roberts, 2002).

Research also indicates that when coaches are being  highly intrinsically motivated, they tend to be more autonomous in their coaching style (Fredrick & Morrison, 1999). Such coaching behavior applies well into supporting athlete and team autonomy – which in turn is seen as a strong facilitator for intrinsically motivated behavior within the team, with all the positive consequences that follows (Deci & Ryan, 2002). Coaches that use mainly a democratic approach might be more aware of the underlying psychological mechanisms that comes into play when performing in high pressure settings?

It is an interesting fact that psychological mechanisms as; group cohesion, social support, intrinsic motivation, common shared goals, feeling of autonomy and competence plays a major role in developing top performance – all of these qualities  seems to be feeding directly into a democratic coaching environment – giving a strong body of evidence to evaluate use of coaching style and its impact on team and athlete performance.

So when you are watching the World Cup in Brazil this following month – don`t just enjoy the fantastic footballers, but look into how their coaches behave and what coaching-style the World Cup coaches exhibit. Remember the fact that different contexts requires different approaches and that the best results often are made when coaches are able to provide the right type of coaching-style at the right moment, but with a strong and solid fundamental philosophy.

Have an entertaining and educating World Cup!



ReferencesShow all

Chelladurai, P. (1993). Leadership. In R. N. Singer, M. Murphey, & L. K. Tennant (Eds.), Handbook of research on sport psychology (pp. 647-671). New York: Macmillan.

Fredrick, C.M. & Morrison, C.S. (1999) Collegiate coaches: an examination of motivational style and its relationship to decision making and personality. Journal of Sport Behavior, Vol. 22 No. 2 pp. 221-233

Gardner, D. E., Shields, D. L., Bredemeier, B. J., & Bostrom, A. (1996). The relationship between perceived coaching behaviors and team cohesion among baseball and softball players. Sport Psychologist, 10, 367-381.

Kidman, L. (2001) Developing decision makers: An empowerment approach to coaching, Christchurch, NZ: Innovative Print Communications.

Pensgaard, A. M., & Roberts, G. C. (2002). Elite athletes’ experiences of the motivational climate: The coach matters. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 12, 54-59.

Weinberg R.S. & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Human Kinetics

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