Sports Coaching

Sport coaching is as difficult and as demanding as any other aspect of sport. Good coaching and poor coaching often have impacts on the individual athlete or a team and can become magnified out of proportion to the coaching direction itself. The complete and well-trained sports coach is seemingly a multidimensional personality, possessing a wide range of technical, communication, and interpersonal skills.

There is no one source from which strong sports coaches are produced. Many successful coaches were sports players with average physical talents; others developed coaching skills through formal academic or sports institute education. All sports coaches must possess certain attributes, some in greater measures than others, to provide effective direction to their athletes or teams. An important attribute is a technical knowledge of the sport. A passion for the sport is a coaching asset on its own, but a love of the game standing in isolation is not a sufficient grounding for coaching effectiveness. While it may not be essential that the coach possess tactical genius (although the further one moves to elite competition, the more important tactics will be to a primary coaching consideration), the coach must have a thorough grounding in the fundamentals of the sport, or the coach will not be able to provide the necessary direction to the athletes in either training programs or competitive events. In North America, the knowledgeable technical coach is sometimes referred to as one who understands "the Xs and Os," a reference to the visual aids often used by coaches to diagram a play or a maneuver.

Other coaching skills include preparing physical training programs and practice planning. Technical sports knowledge permits the coach to plan how the athletes will best develop their skills for competition. A critical part of coaching is the establishment of realistic overall performance goals. To achieve such goals, the thorough coach develops training programs that build on the concept of the periodization of training. Through periodization, the coach will plan a training year that is divided into the general periods of preseason, competitive season, and off season, with each of these periods divided into sub-periods to take into account such events as a special competition or injury rehabilitation. The macro planning of the athletic season works in tandem with the micro planning that a coach will employ to prepare individual practice and training sessions. All training is directed toward a training objective, which in turn must be focused toward a distinct competitive or performance goal. A coach must have a solid understanding of performance and the function of the body in every respect, as the coach must appreciate the limits of human capabilities if training is to be maximized without exceeding athletic capabilities.

Mental and psychological training for the athletes is critical. The coach is the prime motivational support for both individual athletes and teams. It is the coach who sets the tone for the quality of training sessions. Coaches also lead the effort to motivate and to maintain the athlete's emotional control during competition.

A coach needs to impart tactical ability in competitive situations. Many coaches are very skilled at scouting an opponent and devising a strategy, commonly described as the development of a game plan. The execution of the game plan by a team often depends on the coach's ability to make tactical adjustments during the course of the competition. A coach must develop a resolute emotional control to minimize the influence of external competitive forces, such as officiating and crowd noise, to implement the game plan or to make such adjustments to the plan as circumstances may demand. An effective coach in a game situation will usually be able to detach to a certain degree from these influences without losing touch with the emotional state of the team or individual athlete. Tactical success also requires the coach to remain current with every development and performance trend in the sport.

In an overarching way, the coach will be the primary personal support for the athlete in many cases. Coaching is, at its heart, a trust relationship between coach and athlete. At its best, the coach is a supremely influential figure for good in the life of the athlete, a sporting mentor with whom the athlete has a powerful emotional bond. The successful coach puts the interests of the athlete ahead of his or her own in every circumstance. In rarer cases, the often well-intentioned coach becomes a Svengali, a hypnotist who controls the athlete in every aspect of his or her life. Such coaches often lose sight of their primary duty to develop the skills of the athlete, rendering the athlete a part of the coach's personal agenda instead. Such situations are ultimately self-defeating for both athlete and coach.

SEE ALSO Computer simulations as a training tool; Motivational techniques; Sport performance; Sport psychology; Visualization in sport.