To the untrained eye, or for those who rely on the movies for enlightenment, being a sports coach could wrongly be viewed as a one-way street. The reality of course couldn’t be more different. Improving athlete engagement is a mainstay in the role played by coaches.
Ok, so shouting from the side-lines and giving a pre-match pep talk is part of the job, but so is listening. Really listening. Because like any other relationship, it takes communication and two-way input to flourish.
So then, how can we ensure the coach-athlete relationship reaches its potential? Well, athlete engagement plays a pretty important role, and as chief in command, it falls to the coach to develop this relationship.
If you’ve just got your sports coach qualifications and are new to the industry, or if you are starting out with new athlete, here’s some tried and tested ways to improve athlete engagement from the get-go.
Involvement is key
Be honest, who wants to follow instructions all day, without any say in the matter? Athletes may be disciplined by nature, but they are not machines. They may also have great ideas to improve their performance. It’s important to listen to their perspective and regularly ask for their thoughts too.
Get them actively involved in coaching sessions from the onset. Ask them what they enjoyed and what stretched them. Find out what they would do differently next time, and any trends they’re keen to try out.
There’s a certain freedom linked to creativity. If it wasn’t for this, athletes wouldn’t have discovered altitude training camps, playing football in the sand or tried resistance training in the water. It all starts with daring to try something new – being creative in your approach to your sport.
As a sports coach, think of ways that you can encourage your athlete to be creative – who or what inspires them, what athletes do they look up to, and what can be learnt from them?
Time and space
Problem solving under pressure is part of what it takes to be a top athlete. Just look at Cesc Fabregas, Paula Radcliffe or Felix Baumgartner (base jumper who jumped from space) and some of the difficult decisions they’ve had to make in their careers.
Giving athletes the time and space to problem solve is crucial to their personal development. But also, by giving them the space to think through at their own pace, you will uncover a committed and engaged athlete.
One of the more obvious ways to grow engagement is to develop exciting sessions. Invite your athletes and teams along to give their input.
In the same way that companies have ‘away days’ and team-building exercises, this is your opportunity as a sports coach, to get everyone involved in session planning.
Not only does it build a positive platform for success, but it builds a culture of creativity and openness too.
Back and forth
On that note, the basis for a sound relationship is respecting the other party and listening to their point of view. As a sports coach, regularly request feedback from your athletes. Improving athlete engagement in part comes from finding out what they like to do, and where you can focus your efforts more. It could be from training sessions or new techniques, it might be in relation to new kit they are using. Whatever the opportunity, take time to really listen to what they have to say.
To emphasise the point, in some business, they have a ‘mentoring up’ system where junior colleagues mentor older staff, rather than vice versa. It’s supposed to encourage mutual feedback and nurture engagement.
When it comes to taking risks, a sports coach can be an inspiring force for good. It’s all about creating an environment that allows athletes to feel comfortable, to be themselves, to try new practices and to take risks.
Easier said than done though, since with risk comes the potential for failure. But as sports psychology experts remind us, sport is so much more than about winning.
Psychology Today, advises athletes to talk to their coach’s about their ambitions and then “Figure out with them how to incorporate risk taking into your current progression and training schedule.”
Make them curious
If engagement is about two-way communication, then invite your athletes to think about their sport in a different way. Improving athlete engagement can be as simple as asking them questions that rouse their curiosity, that make them want to learn more. In return, they feel more valued and engaged.
A problem shared is a problem halved – that’s the philosophy behind many great thinkers. And it’s true.
This may be easier for athletes that compete as a team, rather than individuals used to working on their own. Build trust with your athletes. Encourage them to work through their problems together, we can conqueror anything.
It may also be highly motivating knowing that someone else has our back. Now that’s a great way to spark athlete engagement!
Don’t forget to have fun!
Did we mention that it’s important to have fun! It’s all too easily get bogged down with the stresses of competing, the worries of injury, the fears of getting older. Along the way, it’s important not to lose our sense of fun – for many, it was the reason we started the sport in the first place.
We are naturally more interested and engaged when we are enjoying what we do. So, it makes sense to bring a touch of fun to proceedings. Like, for instance, the time the England squad used a rubber chicken in training. What can you do to incorporate some fun into coaching?
Give it time
Last but not least, give your relationship time.
Athlete engagement is something that doesn’t always happen straight away. Like all partnerships, it takes time and effort, as well as trust and confidence, which can take time to nurture.
But if you follow these steps, you’re no doubt on the road to successfully improving athlete engagement. So keep at it!
Keen to unlock your potential as an individual or business?