“Athlete-Centered” coaching is a buzzword in the industry, a model that is implemented by sports programs across the world due to the increased focus on athletes’ well-being and development. The traditional coach-centered style has led to power struggles between coaches and athletes, but the future of coaching is shifting towards an equal coach-to-athlete relationship as an increased number of sports programs claim to be athlete-centered.
Athletes are recognizing their influential abilities and taking back their roles as the center of sports. Many are choosing to use their influence for good, pushing for major changes in the industry that will impact both their peers and future generations of elite athletes. Major movements are becoming the norm, including the fight for equal women's pay in the NWSL, the removal of coaches who are abusive and the creation of athlete representative organizations such as Global Athletes. Athletes are also developing advocacy organizations to stand up for unfair policies and make a difference.
While the idea of an athlete-centered coaching program is a clear opportunity to be more mindful of athletes’ well-being and development, there is a lack of knowledge on how to implement these practices, and many coaches do not understand what it means to be athlete-centered or how to implement it into their daily programming. After all, coaches were originally put in place to provide opportunities for athletes to build on their personal growth and development during a crucial time in their lives when they are still learning about themselves and pursuing their goals to reach their full athletic potential.
Athlete-centered coaching offers a set of guiding principles and behaviors for coaches to follow. If a program is truly athlete-centered, the coach becomes a guide and facilitator, rather than an all-knowing authority figure. The outcome of this is less of a power imbalance between the coach and the athlete; the coach’s main responsibility as the facilitator is to work with their athletes to identify and reach their goals. The benefits are endless and include developing a lifelong interest in physical and mental fitness, along with an ability to thrive in competitive team settings.
Here are a few steps you can take with your teams to develop an athlete-centered culture:
- Teach athletes about their sport, training, and performance: Athletes must fully understand their sport along with why and how they are training. For athletes to be in the driver’s seat of their performance and their careers, they must be held accountable for their actions and behaviors, especially in a competitive setting.
- Measure the athlete’s progression: Set up short- and long-term goals with the athletes and monitor their progression regularly and collaboratively. There should be both individual and group goals to embrace a team environment. Athletes should always know and understand their goals and those of the team.
- Promote a growth mindset: Create a safe and positive environment where your players can try new things and make mistakes. Problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking should also be encouraged.
- Introduce self-awareness by asking questions: Coaches can use feedback as a tool to consistently ask questions. This will reinforce self-worth, confidence, and independence.
- Utilize partner work and games: Creative learning is most successful in an environment that encourages games and partner work. This makes practice more interesting, varied, and intuitive. In youth sports, this adds more fun and engagement. It also helps prepare athletes for a wide variety of sports, games, and competitive scenarios.
- Holistic development of athletes: Coaches should be dedicated to the holistic development and well-being of their athletes by considering their personal, emotional, cultural, and social identities.
Coaches may not instinctively have the emotional intelligence and understanding of holistic well-being techniques, therefore coaches may benefit by being supported with a leadership coach of their own. To set a good example for their athletes, coaches should also be focused on their own personal development, making sure they are showing up for their athletes to their true potential every day. To learn more about the Coaches Soul groups, workshops, and leadership coaching programs, visit www.coachessoul.com