By Bo Hanson – 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments
A critical element in creating a more positive relationship with your athletes is the concept of behavioral predictability. Essentially this is about behaving in a consistent manner. For example, when the team wins or loses, your athletes should never be concerned about your likely behavior. Your athletes should know how you are going to respond to either situation.
When coaches behave in a predictable manner, athletes feel as though they have a better understanding of their coach. This helps the athlete to know where they stand and how to best approach the coach or not. The same can be said about building a high-performance team. Knowing how each individual team member is likely to behave in varying situations is something we have found most high-performance coaches to be extremely interested in. An understanding of this information will help the coach to assist the athlete develop self-awareness and make performance improvements.
Behavioral predictability is a major factor in the concept of trust in sport. Trust in sport is largely about being able to predict a known outcome. A coach can trust an athlete to carry out a set instruction because they have consistently done so in the past when tested. Trust in sport is the building block of a quality relationship. Without trust a coach is not likely to place a high level of responsibility with their players. Once trust is broken it can be impossible to repair or restore. At best it can take significant time of demonstrated predictable behavior.
Watch Bo Hanson talk about Trust in Teams and the Trust Account.
Often I talk about the concept of a trust account. In a similar concept to a bank account, a trust account has a series of deposits and potential withdrawals against it. For example, when we are talking about creating a trusting relationship with our athletes consider what constitutes a deposit or a withdrawal. A deposit from an athlete’s perspective is when the coach takes time to meet their unique coaching needs in a respectful and patient manner. This helps the athlete feel valued. The more often this is done the greater the trust which is developed. The trouble with the trust account though is the ratio required to remain in the black. It may take ten deposits to outweigh one withdrawal. From a coach’s perspective, what builds their trust of an athlete could be when the athlete executes the race plan or strategy according to what was agreed. Alternatively when the athlete neglects to communicate a change to the coach, the coach often feels as though some trust has been compromised, as now there is doubt over what the athlete is likely to do next.
high-performance teams also rely on strong and healthy trust accounts. Trust is to exist between all team members for the team to truly be successful. Take a defensive line in a rugby game. When a player does not trust another to mark their opposing player, one team member (or more) may break their defensive pattern to cover the player they lack trust in. This break down in the defensive structure can compromise the ability to defend the next play.
As a basic exercise, think from your coaching perspective what you rate as behaviors which are deposits in your trust account with an athlete or the team in general. For example, I count my athletes turning up on time and professionally preparing themselves for a practice without me telling them to do so as a deposit. I also count as a deposit when the athlete comes to me with their goals for the practice and the technical commitments they are working on. However these actions must be without prior instruction. The message this gives me is that the athlete cares, takes ownership and is responsible for themselves and their performance. This gives me faith that come race day they are likely to do the same. One thing is for certain, unless your athletes develop trusting behaviors during the season, it is not likely you will feel confident about their performance on race day.
The flipside also applies, as it is critical that we as coaches think about what the athlete’s trust account looks like with us. I try to be aware of this by behaving predictably and in a genuine manner. As well, I know my athletes value my presence before and after training, or before and after they get on and off the water at race time. This allows important time of availability when they can be listened to with empathy.
No doubt you have your own various deposits and withdrawal examples. I encourage you to look closely at the health of your trust account with your athletes. Be acutely aware of what can be considered withdrawals, and the importance of keeping the account in the black.
Interested in more ways to build a healthy coach-athlete relationship? You may find the following article or video presentation helpful
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