A smart, intuitive coach is a real asset to any player, says a sport psychologist. But it’s a myth that the best coaching relationship relies on strict rules or a one size fits all approach.  

Success in sports relies heavily on the relationship between a player and his coach. A player’s performance is influenced hugely by whether a coach inspires confidence, and drives him/her towards the greatness he envisages. 

One size fits all approach usually fails

Coaching involves drawing a balance between the morale and feelings of an athlete, with that of sticking to exacting standards. A one-size fits all approach doesn’t work, because every player responds differently to coaching tactics. So coaches who typically tend to fall back on the tricks already in their repertoire, end up disappointed. 

Misleading myths 

#1 Punishment is the pathway to discipline

Coaches usually tackle a breach of discipline by pushing players to run laps, or perform other exercises.  But this sort of punishment doesn’t work for everyone. Players sometimes respond by developing anegative attitude towards fitness and physical training.  

Bringing about real, long-term behaviour change calls for other strategies. These include stopping a player from participating in his favourite drill, or making him/her sit out of a game for a certain period. 

#2 Anger is motivating

Name calling, yelling and hurling insults doesn’t motivate players. In most cases, a loud expression of disappointment and anger diminishes confidence. Even if frustrated, a coach must direct anger towards the behavior or technical error of the player, rather than directly at the player.

#3 The pre-match pep talk is the game changer

Emotionally charged pep talks just before the big game are glamourised in films and television. However, these talks may backfire,  by heightening the anxiety of players who are already psyched-up. Some athletes need quiet downtime prior to the game, instead.

#4 Setting high targets inspires greatness

Athletes need to feel mastery and accomplishment, to sustain their motivation. But setting exceptionally high targets is likely to increase the chance of failure.  Instead, a good formula for setting ‘ideal difficulty level,’ is a goal that an athlete will be able to achieve 70 % of the time, at his current skill level.

#5 Winning is all that matters

Measuring success only in terms of wins and losses lowers the morale, because this puts success outside the player’s scope of control. Athletes who go into a game with this mindset, feel anxious and unfocused.

Coaches can help athletes achieve their best, by teaching them to draw on honed skills and strategies. The focus should shift away from match outcome. The greatest players are ultimately those who enjoy the play!

Divya Jain is Sport & Counselling Psychologist, &  the Head-Psychological Services, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis HealthCare.