If we are to acknowledge the ability of coaches to have a significant effect on an athlete’s psychological welfare (Chelladurai, 1990, Mageau & Vallerand, 2003, Potrac, Jones & Cushion, 2007) it would seem sensible to assume that a large portion of their coaching practice would be tailored around ensuring their interactions were as conducive to successfully developing these traits as possible. Sadly though, whilst mental attributes and characteristics have been widely offered as reasons for success or failure within the sporting domain (Cox and Yoo, 1995; Orlick & Partington, 1998; William & Krane, 2006), it is apparent that not enough is being done within Youth Development Programs (YDP) to positively facilitate skill acquisition in this highly specific area of talent development.
Recent studies (Harwood, 2008; Harwood, Baker & Anderson, 2015) point to a reluctance from coaches to emphasize the development of psychosocial skills within their trainings due to a lack of education surrounding the subject area. This seems strange considering how widely cited the dangers are of coaches emphasizing the wrong values within their environment (Brackenridge, Pitchford & Wilson, 2011, Curran et al, 2015; Duda, 2013) and even more so when considering how heavily used the notion is of there being 4 (Technical, Tactical, Mental, Physical) or even 5 (Technical, Tactical, Physical, Psychological, Social) pillars or corners of an athlete’s development (US Soccer, English FA).
If a lack of education is being cited as the reason professional coaches are failing to address these critical areas of a player’s development it can be suggested that a review of current protocols is warranted.
In an effort to establish the value of a change in formal education surrounding how coaches can better affect the positive psychosocial development of players, Harwood Baker and Anderson (2015) performed a single subject multiple baseline across multiple treatments that focused on improving a coach’s understanding of 5 psychological characteristics. The 5 C’s of Commitment, Communication, Concentration, Control and Confidence were discussed within a theoretical framework underpinned by the concepts of Self Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan, 1985) Achievement Goal Theory (Elliott, 1999) and Self Efficacy (Bandura, 1977).
The results clearly displayed a significant value in the intervention with participant scores increasing across each component from the baseline totals. Overall, visual comparison of the mean levels from baseline to post intervention for the dependent variables indicated players’ perceptions of their 5C psychosocial responses and behaviors increased following the 5C intervention.
Considering a core function of youth soccer programs and by extension the intention of a youth soccer coach is to develop a plethora of skills within their players that can transcend to life outside of the soccer field this study presents a very interesting mean of rationalizing the inclusion of such educational processes within the framework of the National level licenses used as a mode of educating coaches within this environment.
Positive Youth Development through sport and the development of life skills are the fundamental objectives for many a youth sport practitioner (Camiré et al, 2011). Others at the more elite end of the spectrum, also have to consider how specific psychological skills and strategies influence performance and talent transition (MacNamara et al., 2010). Simply though, regardless of the primary focus, both avenues matter in the modern-day social contexts of sport and health.
With much of the latest research in talent development showing that exposure to a more varied set of psychological and especially social and cultural challenges play an important role in achieving growth (Cote, Lidor & Hackfort 2009; Holt & Dunn,2004) the importance of understanding such factors cannot be overlooked. Moreover, it is also important to acknowledge that the vast majority of young athletes in competitive sport programs will not transition to the elite level. This fact necessitates both a coach’s and sport organization’s attention toward the issue of how to maximize positive developmental experiences and outcomes for all players, while maintaining a balanced focus on the qualities most associated with performance improvement (see Johnston, Harwood, & Minniti, 2013; Vella, Oades, & Crowe, 2011).
Acknowledging the evident complexities of this role, and the subsequent dearth of these factors being attended to within coaching environments (Harwood, Baker & Anderson, 2015; Larson, Alferman & Christensen, 2012) seems to offer further merit for the inclusion of such educational opportunities within the formal learning pathway adopted by coaches at both the Grassroots and Elite levels of the game. Without encouraging a change, a critical component of effective youth development and player performance will continue to be overlooked to the detriment of the potential success of both the current and future generations.