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When It Comes to Coaching, Relationships Matter

For any coach, a key to success is getting the players’ attention and having them buy into what the team is trying to accomplish. Coaches have employed a variety of strategies in this quest.

Some coaches scream or throw a tantrum to inspire the squad. Others might try to inspire through a quieter, more cerebral approach. The list of strategies is endless, but some researchers believe they’ve found the best approach to connecting with athletes.

They believe that by building relationships through a student-centered approach, the entire team will benefit. It’s an approach being used from the youth level all the way up to the major leagues.

One of the biggest proponents of the student-centered approach is Richard Light, a professor at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. He believes teachers and coaches can best get their messages across by being open to communicating with players and trying to understand their point of view.

Others have echoed Light’s message. Laura M. Miele is a professor at Ohio University’s Graduate Program for Coaching Education. She recently saw Light speak on this topic and was inspired to write about the importance of positive relationships with players.

“A player participating on a team that is athlete-centered as opposed to coach-centered is more advantageous because learning outcomes can be improved,” Miele wrote. “As the players feel that they are part of the process, they respond accordingly.”

Light and Miele agree that if coaches try and relate with players, the players are less likely to lose their love for the game and they'll have less anxiety.

If a coach is properly using this method, his or her lessons should be framed in a way that players will be prompted to ask questions.

“By taking into consideration how to elevate player responsibility and accountability through the application of the positive principles of coaching, you will open up the minds of your athletes and create positivity, hence improving productivity,” Miele wrote.

This way of thinking has been used at some of the highest levels of sport. Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon uses this methodology to get through to his team. He places importance on what’s important vs. what’s habit.

“I am constantly amazed by Joe, constantly learn from him,” former major leaguer David Ross told baseball writer Peter Gammons. “It is all about people. He spends time getting to know everyone, and how they think, how they deal with all the human insecurities we all deal with beneath the surface.

“He makes baseball fun the way it was when we were kids. He makes you believe that when he makes a decision, it’s never personal. It’s for the team, it’s professional.”

Different coaches have evolved their styles to mimic Maddon’s approach. Ultimately, however, Madden said it’s about using past experiences to find what works.

“You gain experience, and you gain your ability or your ways in regards to doing things from those who are good,” Maddon said. “But you can really learn from the guys who you think do it poorly, too.”

From GameChanger and Ryan Williamson

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Youth sports, coaching tips, Coaches and Parents