Coaching styles and coaching strategies are terms typically thrown around in academia, the media, and sport. For the purpose of this read, I will refer to a coaching style as a concrete, well established framework from which to base a game-plan. A coaching strategy however, will be referred to a coach’s adaptation style and how he or she applies it to the situation, given unforeseen elements. Let’s look at an example:
A track coach whom specializes in sprints is given the task of coaching mid-distance runners at a large track and field event. The meet is expected run in large heats, but each of his athletes are running in the same heat of roughly 20 individuals. The coach, experienced in sprint style training, decides to put the slower and larger runners up front as ‘rabbits’ or pacers. The purpose is to hide his faster runners behind the ‘rabbits’ for the final 200 meters in the race. Once the last 200m arrives, the larger runners will open a ‘gap’ of which the smaller, faster runners can break out of while the larger runners become ‘blockers’.
In this situation, the coaching style is sprints; the situation is a distance event; the elements would be the large amount of people within the heat; and the strategy would be the ‘rabbit/blocking’ technique. So why do we care? Researchers in psychology have discovered that specific coaching strategies and styles have the potential to both directly and indirectly affect sport performance (Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007; Macquet, Ferrand, & Stanton, 2015).
One strategy of coaching that is clearly seen throughout competition is known as planning. Planning is an integral part of each coaches’ ability to approach new challenges. Planning involves the prioritization of duties, observation of behavioral cues, evaluation of action efficiency and assessments of past performances. Through planning, coaches have the ability to directly reduce the time it takes for their athletes to recover both mentally and physically (Macquet et al., 2015).
Another important aspect of coaching which has been empirically researched and supported is the notion of message delivery. The manner in which coaches address their athletes has shown to directly and indirectly impact an athletes’ sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Mellinger & Cheek, 2014). The strength of these components, in turn, have the potential to influence overall motivation in sport-related activity (Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007). Researchers have termed this idea as: Self-Determination Theory (SDT).
This theory suggests that greater motivation will create greater a sense of positivity and performance as a result (Ntoumanis, 2001). With this in mind, when coaches plan their strategies and apply their styles, it is important to remember that the overall goal is to create a positive environment from which to increase motivation and enhance overall athletic performance. So, what does all of this mean? As previously noted, there are a multitude of coaching styles. Furthermore, there are endless ways to design and enhance applied strategies. The most effective styles of coaching, according to Self-Determination Theory are those that establish a greater sense of autonomy, relatedness, and competence within the athletes’ minds.
Let’s review the original example. A sprint coach was given a task to win a mid-distance race. Utilizing his experiences in an alternative specialization, he established a clear and concise strategy based on the strengths of his athletes (relatedness) and what has been personally successful in the past. This strategy works based on trust and how well the athletes can execute it (autonomy). Therefore, individual experience and understanding of an alternative strategy will have a major impact on the overall success of the team (competence). This collective unit approach summarizes everything SDT needs to be successful.
Properly educating coaches on sport psychological theories such as SDT, have the potential to enhance both the styles and strategies coaches need to be successful. Overall, coaches will always be seeking new and innovative ways to gain an edge over their opponents. Continuing education appears to be an easy, and potentially cost effective way, to start.