Shared Decision Making
Create and support regular opportunities for athletes to participate in shared decision making, goal setting, and expectation setting.
WHY: Incorporating athletes into team decision making upends the traditional view of the coach as “expert” and conversely, celebrates a collaborative environment of teaching and learning where ALL athletes are contributors and work with coaches to shape their experience. Sharing the decision making process creates an athlete-centered environment that is more reflective of athlete wants and needs, and is foundational to strong coach-athlete relationships. This type of inclusiveness empowers the athlete to actively engage within the team context and promotes a stronger connection to group goals and aims. Additionally, involving athletes in decision making can contribute to higher levels of motivation and the development of individual leadership competencies.
HOW: The coach builds formal structures and utilizes various strategies to bring athlete voice into the team context. This requires the coach to set boundaries for which decisions will be collaborative, defining what is appropriate given the age and experience level of the athlete and how team members will be involved. Examples include creating team rules and expectations, goal setting, deciding on a team slogan or theme for the season, assisting in practice planning, or post-season debriefing and planning. Additionally, the coach looks for opportunities to solicit suggestions and input from athletes during training and competition that informs next steps that the individual or team will take. For example, a coach may ask players to choose the next element or drill within a practice or identify a strategy or play to be used within a competition.
In a post-practice debrief, this Baseball Beyond Borders coach solicits input from the team regarding which pitcher should get the start in their upcoming game. There is a conversational and inclusive approach to this inquiry, with several openings and spaces given for athletes to contribute their thoughts and ideas.
In this clip, Kelsey Plum draws up a play for Coach Mike Neighbors as her team comes into a timeout. Notice the automatic nature of this interaction, and the coach paying careful attention to understand the athlete’s perspective. This brief interaction demonstrates a high level of trust and is reflective of an environment where athletes are asked to share in decision-making and feel empowered to provide input.
EL Education provides tools, activities, and video examples of teachers collaborating with students to generate classroom norms and rules of engagement. Each of these takes a student-centered approach, where decision-making is placed in the hands of the youth with some level of guidance from the adult leader. There are great parallels here that coaches can use to think about developing team rules and expectations.
This post is focused on the broader topic of creating athlete-centered experiences. Within it, there are some specific (yet simple!) strategies of ways to embed athlete choice and decision-making within training sessions. The examples provided strike a nice balance between providing basic parameters and creating the space for athletes to exercise choice.