Posted 09/05/2020 in Category 1

The more the coach knows about you, the more motivated you will feel

The more the coach knows about you, the more motivated you will feel

Some athletes like to keep their lives private – not even allowing their coach know about their lives away from the training ground. It’s often a load off the coach’s mind if they need not worry about their athletes’ lives when they are not training or competing. It’s likely that some coaches might wish for their athletes to keep their private and professional lives separate so that what happens away from practice and competition does not interfere with practice and competition. But does this compartmentalised life help the athlete meet their motivational needs in their sport? 

In team sports like football, we hear about coaches winning on and off the pitch by their holistic care and appreciation of players and staff alike. Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool Football Club and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City /Football Club are two examples of coaches that work tirelessly to integrate all staff in the club’s mission and get to know and understand the lives of their players as footballers and as people. 

One theory of motivation, self-determination theory, suggests that athletes need to feel competent, feel a sense of choice about their sport and feel connected to others. When these psychological needs are met athletes feel motivated. Often the coach can fulfil some or all these needs through their interactions on and off the training ground. For example, a coach might help an athlete improve specific sport skills (competence), ask the athlete about what’s best to develop their career (autonomy) and connect with the athlete on a personal level inside and outside sport (relatedness). 

But how much time and support does an athlete need and does the time an athlete receives influence their motivational needs? Researchers from St Lawrence University in the United States, Cheryl Stuntz and Caitlin Boreyko asked 249 athletes to complete a survey assessing how their coaches treated them and their team mates on technical skills, how well their coaches knew them outside their sport and negative rapport as well as the core elements of competence, autonomy and relatedness. The results showed that athletes who thought coaches knew more about their personal lives than the personal lives of their team mates showed higher perceived competence and relatedness. For those athletes who thought they received more negative rapport behaviours than their team mates showed higher relatedness and autonomy. 

What do these findings mean for coaches? Coaches should try to be aware of how they interact with athletes on a team. They need to know that when they know more about an athlete, the athlete feels connected, competent and imbued with a self-determined motivation. A little time chatting in a coffee shop with each athlete might kindle the motivational fire to months and years to come.


Cheryl P. Stuntz & Caitlin L. Boreyko (2018) Predicting psychological need satisfaction from differential coach treatment: Does receiving more of the coach’s attention than teammates matter? International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 16:6, 640-656, DOI: 10.1080/1612197X.2017.1303529

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