Posted 15/05/2020 in Category 1

What are athletes experiences of great coaching?

What are athletes experiences of great coaching?

Coaches at every level share many motives for coaching. They wish to shape future generations of athletes, give back to their sport, help athletes develop physically, psychologically and socially through their sport. Some coaches aspire to work professionally in professional clubs and lead athletes to the Olympic Games. Whatever their motives might be, one motive is strikingly positive: for athletes to experience great coaching at the hands of a brilliant coach. This drive is so compelling that coaches spend thousands of dollars on coaching courses, training programmes, video technology and so forth. The drive to be help, guide, support and advise is so captivating that some coaches give their entire lives to be an excellent coach. But what if there were a clever way forward to save time, money and all the associated worries. What if there were some useful guidelines to follow? The beauty of coaching in the 21st century is that there is an ever-growing research body in countless journals to show us the best way forward.

Andrea Becker examined athletes’ experiences of great coaching among 18 elite level athletes. The 18 elite level athletes took part in interviews to share their experiences of great coaching. With 9 male athletes and 9 female athletes from baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball and water polo, she distilled the essence of great coaching. These interviews highlighted six major themes: Coach Attributes, Environment, Relationships, System, Actions, and Influences.

Like most research, the take home messages are scattered and overly demanding for coaches to absorb and blend into their developing coaching roles. For this reason, we focus on what the coach can do that is achievable without being an overload. In short, the coach holds sway over their coaching attributes, their relationships and their actions. While they shape environments. systems and influences, it’s sensible to keep the changes to a few.

We call this method CARA (which encompasses coaching attributes, relationships and actions). Cara is the Irish word for ‘friend’ which sums up many of the key themes that ran through Becker’s study. When coaches keep their role of a friend in mind they set themselves up for a lifetime of good coaching, good relationships and good examples for others to follow. 

Within this mnemonic, the coach can focus on Caring. Asking, Responding and Accepting in a circular fashion. When coaches Care, they work to improve themselves and their athletes. When coaches Ask questions of their athletes, they honour their athletes’ intelligence, creativity and trust. When coaches Respond with respect and encouragement, their athletes thrive especially in difficult circumstances. Finally, when coaches Accept their athletes as fallible – as are all human beings – greatness grows. 

Treat your athletes as you would a good friend and you will not go wrong in your coaching career or life. Your ‘cara’ (which means ‘friend’ in Irish) will be with you forever. You will have placed a footprint in the hearts and minds of your athletes that will stay with them. Your greatness with shine through their actions and the relationships they have with other people. The greatest gift you can give your athletes is to work on yourself so you will not need to work on your athletes. 


Becker, A. J. (2009). It’s not what they do, it’s the way they do it: Athlete experiences of great coaching. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 4(1), 93-119

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