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As a coach, you are required to give a great deal of time and energy to provide a worthwhile life experience for children. By putting to use the basic principles of sport psychology, you can increase the positive impact you have on the lives of your athletes.


A deep understanding of the mastery approach guidelines is essential for their effective use. In addition, communication skills and self-awareness are important for successful application of the guidelines.  


Everything we do communicates something to others. Because of this, coaches should develop the habit of asking themselves (and at times, your athlete) how their actions are being interpreted.

This allows the coach to gauge how well the message is received. A simple method to conduct this check is called a "confirmation brief." During this exercise, the coach provides direction to the player. The player then, in his own words, repeats the message back to the coach. Many instances of a player not following the direction of the coach can be traced back to miscommunication. It's as simple as the selected words have different connotation or denotation to the receiver than the sender intended.  

Effective communication is a two-way street. By keeping the lines of interaction open, you can be more aware of opportunities to have a positive impact on athletes. Fostering two-way communication does not mean that the athletes are free to be disrespectful towards the coaches. Rather, it invites athletes to express their views (both positive and negative) with the assurance that they will be heard by the coach. Additionally, by modeling the attributes of an effective listener, you can hopefully improve the listening skills of your athletes.

Effective communication also requires the coach to view the team as a group of individuals and respond to these individuals accordingly. For example, an athlete with low self-esteem could be dramatically impacted (positively or negatively) by an event that would have little impact on an athlete with high self-esteem. By improving your sensitivity to the individual needs of athletes, you can be more successful. The ability to "read" athletes and respond to their needs is characteristic of effective coaches at all levels.


An important part of self-awareness is insight into how we behave and come across to others - knowing what we do and how others perceive what we do. One of the best ways to do this is by understanding our personality, and how it relates to the personalities of our athletes.

Research suggests that coaches, in general, have very little awareness of how frequently they behaved in various ways. Fortunately, awareness is something that can be increased. Below are two behavioral change techniques recommended by sport psychologists.

     Behavioral Feedback

Try to develop procedures that will allow you to obtain feedback from your assistant coaches. When you share a conversation regarding each others' behaviors, you can then discuss alternate ways of dealing with problem situations and athletes, and prepare yourself and your coaches, for similar situations in the future. This clearly requires trust, and an openness among the coaches but, with the understanding that this is all for the good of the players and the team, this should be accomplished. Additionally, from time to time, it's important to discuss situations with your athletes to obtain feedback from them, as their perspective will often differ from yours, and that of your assistant coaches.



Self-monitoring - observing and recording one's own behavior - involves taking some time after practices and games to evaluate your behaviors and actions. When going through this self-analysis, ask yourself what you did relative to the suggested behaviors in the mastery approach. It is recommended you create a checklist, or a "Self-Report Form." Below are some recommended introspection questions.

1. When athletes made good plays, approximately what percentage of the time did I respond with reinforcement?

2. When athletes gave a good effort (regardless of the outcome), what percentage of the time did I respond with reinforcement?

3. Approximately how many times did I reinforce athletes for displaying good sportsmanship, supporting teammates, and complying with team rules?

4. When athletes made mistakes, approximately what percentage of the time did I respond with

     a. encouragement?

     b. corrective instruction provided in an encouraging manner?


5. When athletes made mistakes, did I stress the importance of learning from them?


6. Did I emphasize the importance of having fun while participating in the sport?


7. Did I do or say anything to help my athletes apply what they learned today to other parts of their life (school, home, friends, siblings, etc.)?


8. Replay some of the events of the practice or game. List the reactions I wish I had differently than the ones I displayed at the time.

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