Facilitate formal and informal connections and develop positive relationships with and between athletes
WHY: A positive connection between an athlete and a coach builds a relational foundation that underpins a coach’s ability to engage with many of the other Ambitious Coaching Core Practices in an optimal way. The opportunity for an athlete to be in relation with a coach impacts the way in which they experience their sport and are able to engage with opportunities to learn and grow. Characterized by trust and caring, a positive coach-athlete relationship helps build a mastery-based climate, an environment that promotes social-emotional learning and physical skill development.
HOW: The coach uses a variety of intentional methods before, during, and after training sessions to develop relationships with athletes. Strategies include scheduling specific connection time within a practice plan and creating physical spaces and routines that promote engagement. The coach also structures time during training sessions to facilitate activities or conversations to help build and improve the peer-to-peer relationships and unity that facilitate the effort, chemistry, and teamwork necessary for success.
In addition to these planned connection points, the coach looks for opportunities to informally connect with individual athletes during competition and training. This may take place while athletes are actively engaged in a drill or during downtime and breaks in activity. Outside of training sessions, some coaches might also have the flexibility and resources to meet with athletes, or host activities, outside of practice time. This might include one-on-one meetings, team building events, or meals as a team.
Foundational to relationship building is the coach spending time to understand elements of the athlete’s identity, how they prefer to communicate, and other components of their personality. The coach is then self-aware of how their own leadership, communication, and identity interacts with each unique athlete, and exercises behavioral flexibility to adapt to the needs and preferences of the learner.
In this clip, the coach utilizes rest time during a drill to connect with an athlete, focusing on their performance in a recent competition. The coach connects the athlete’s effort to a team value of “striving for excellence”. Notice how the coach is able to maintain oversight of a second athlete engaged in a drill, while making a quality connection with another.
Sophia Jowett is an academic leader in studying effective practices for relationship building between athletes and coaches. This infographic shares some excellent strategies for creating closeness and connection.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll is known for culture building and creating strong relationships with elite-level athletes. Win Forever: Live, Work, & Play Like a Champion using storytelling to pass along many quality takeaways, based on Coach Carroll’s experience across a variety of coaching settings.