By Bo Hanson - 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments
Every coach has their unique approach or style to coaching. Whether or not this leads to high performance and their athletes reaching their full potential, comes down to a few core elements. The commonality between all top, master level coaches is that they have a very strong understanding of their natural coaching style and also what adaptations they need to make for individual athletes and situations. This is what differentiates them and how they can achieve consistently high performances and improvements from their athletes.
All Coaches have a preferred way they like to coach; this is called their “coaching style”. It is essentially the way they naturally behave when they are coaching. When we refer to natural behavior, we are referring to the behavior which is likely to emerge when a coach is not consciously thinking about their approach but is instead, just doing what they have always done. It is similar to an athlete being on autopilot. Just doing, not thinking.
Sometimes this coaching style works well with one athlete, and poorly with another or works very well in certain situations but not others. As we all know, our personality impacts our behavior and as such has a direct impact on our coaching style. However, unlike personality which is relatively stable, a coach’s style is a preferred pattern of behavior and as such it can be changed or adapted depending on the situation. Most of all though, coaching style can be changed or adapted if the coach is self-aware of what style they prefer and whether this style is giving the results they are wanting.
Knowing what your coaching style is and being able to change it, is critical in order to appeal to the different types of athletes that you coach and the varying situations you encounter.
In coaching, one style does not fit all nor all situations.
First, recognize that as a coach you are a leader. As a leader you have a certain amount of power. Your power will essentially come from two sources: "position power" and "personal power."
Position power is just what it sounds like - you're the Coach so a certain amount of power comes from being appointed by the Club, College or Team Management for this role. But personal power comes from earning it, from developing it. Position power is a starting point for coaching an athlete or team but it is a coach’s personal power which is most impactful. Personal power is based on coaches building respect and credibility in the eyes of their athletes. The fastest and most effective way to achieve this, is to be the type of coach who can adapt their coaching to the needs of their athletes and the situations presented.
It is well known that a critical condition for an athlete to change their technique is the amount of credibility the coach has in the eyes of the athlete.
For example, if an athlete's previous coach has taught them a certain technique (which is ineffective), then unless the athlete's current coach has greater credibility than the athlete's old coach, the athlete will not change their technique.
This is because the athlete does not believe in the new coach as compared to their belief in the old coach. Building credibility is about showing your desire to adapt to the athlete's needs and then show your expertise in the athlete's eyes. You may find our articles on ‘Behavioral Predictability for Building Trust’ and ‘Do You Have Adaptability?’ valuable in understanding this topic further.
What is interesting in sport today, is the amount of information on topics critical to performance such as nutrition, sports science and biomechanics. Yet show me the same depth of information on how to build effective relationships and rapport with your athletes? Business recognized the need to develop the management and leadership skills of its people years ago. In sport many people still seem to be caught up with training programs and sports science. Believe me I know this is important. I won three Olympic medals and used every piece of sport science and biomechanical help I could, but it was the ability of my coach who really enabled me to be my best.
Actually, by the end of my career, my coach could do everything a sport science tester did and he understood the biomechanics of my sport to a degree that exceeded many experts in the field. What my coach did better than any other coach I have seen, was his ability to build rapport with his athletes, establish enormous credibility and develop the highest level of respect. To us, he was (and is to others today) a coach who was Athlete Centered. He adjusted his style to suit the needs of his athletes. I guess that is why he is Head Coach at one of the largest nations in the world. Personal power--in essence, your skill in dealing with people-is increasingly crucial to you and your role as coach.
In short, if you respect your athletes' individuality, their essential differences, they'll feel like they're on a winning team and will work harder, better for you. But you must empower them rather than just seeking power over them. You can do that by learning to listen, observe, and talk to them. Adapting so they feel important, wanted and highly valued will build their self-esteem and in turn increase their confidence in themselves. We all know the results that genuinely self-confident athletes can achieve.
Using the CoachDISC Profile enables you to identify your coaching style. When your athletes also complete their AthleteDISC profiles, the information you get will enable you to use the correct style with each athlete. With each of the four behavioral styles outlined in the AthleteDISC, there's a different way to communicate, connect with, provide feedback and motivate and counsel them.
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