The Coach Athlete Relationship is a Performance Factor
The below article was written by Bo Hansen and summarized for the Jeppe Rowing Community.
The Coach athlete relationship is recognized as a performance factor in today’s modern sporting environment. Like any other relationship it is defined by the quality of understanding, respect, trust and predictability that exists between two people.
What makes the Coach athlete relationship unique (when compared to relationships which may exist between two athletes or two friends outside of sport), is that it is drawn from our understanding of social science and how infants form attachment to their parents or what is also known as their primary care giver.
Coaches are known as an athlete’s primary care giver. They are the people in the athletes lives who are expected to provide security, safety and emotional support. The fact is, we as human beings are conditioned to wanting this from our Coaches as a result of how we have been parented in our early childhood years.
Athletes who are able to form close attachment to their Coaches are more likely to feel secure in exploring their role in sport, pushing their boundaries, taking risks to improve performance and being able to confidently give 100% effort. The same applies for children who have responsible parents who provide this environment and support. It is no wonder the Coach athlete relationship is a performance factor which extends beyond all other factors. It is literally hardwired into us from our very first hours of being born.
One of the most compelling studies of athlete performance was conducted by Penny Wurthner on the 2008 Canadian Olympic team. The study found the most significant contributor to a medal winning performance or personal best was a productive Coach athlete relationship.
The study consisted of interviews with 27 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and 30 Coaches which were then analysed. The study found there were five distinguishing factors standing out and exhibited by the athletes who delivered Olympic personal best or medal winning performances.
Five Key Themes for Success
- The Coach Athlete relationship: where a mutual trusting and respectful relationship exists between the Coach and athletes. Each knows what to expect from the other (predictability), they understand how the other communicates, the environment they work best in and how to maximize their strengths in the context of their sport.
- High level Athlete self-awareness: the degree to which an athlete understands how they behave, what their strengths and limitations are, what motivates them and how to adapt their behaviour to produce more effective outcomes.
- Quality of the training environment: this includes aspects such as athletes’ equipment, strength and conditioning programs and overall facilities used.
- The management of the competition environment: this relates to how well planned the competition environment was logistically and how difficult circumstances were managed so they would not limit the athlete’s performance.
- Support mechanisms: people in the athlete’s life. Everyone from family and friends to staff surrounding the athletes such as doctors, massage therapists, nutritionists, trainers, physiotherapists.
The Coach athlete relationship was found to be the most important factor and absolutely non-negotiable.
Having established how the Coach athlete relationship is a critical factor in an athletes’ performances in both practice and especially in competition, it is critical to realize this relationship does not happen instantly. Instead it needs to develop over time just like any quality, trusting relationship.