coaching methods

Effective Coaching Principles and Theories

Coaching integrates the principles based on teaching pedagogy, psychology, kinesiology, physiology, biomechanics, motor learning, and other scientific and unscientific concepts, theories, and approaches to maximize athletic performance. 

Effective coaching involves developing motor abilities, cognitive abilities, and psychological abilities to build the total athlete. 

The science of coaching requires knowledge based on scientific facts and laws that are undeniable in the sports world. The art of coaching involves an understanding of athletes' psychological and emotional development based on research, theories, and principles that relate to teaching motor abilities.

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Coaches transmit knowledge, facilitate learning, help problem solve, and teach decision-making strategies to athletes.

Coaches have effective communication skills to instruct learners based on scientific principles and theories. 

The best coaches are familiar with how athletes learn, process, and react to information.

Many countries have an educational system with methods for teaching sports like track and field. In China, for example, the basic coaching principles are taken from the international governing body of track and field, World Athletics. 

The coaching education program includes the general principles of exercise physiology, biomechanics, sports psychology, methodology, and other beliefs that allow coaches to know what to teach and the how and why of sports skills (Zhoung, 2010). 


Philosophy and Coaching

The term philosophy comes from the Greek word philosophia, which translates to the “love of wisdom.” Philosophers deal with the study of knowledge itself to pursue and attain wisdom. Philosophies may differ in theory, but all are associated with personal values, reason, critical thinking, human existence, and many other facets of life. Since ancient Greece, philosophy has gained new meanings and methodologies, but it still and always returns to a way of thinking. Philosophy is the search for wisdom and purpose, including the pursuit of knowledge that guides us through life. 

Your coaching philosophy will determine decisions regarding the team atmosphere, training objectives, performance expectations, social interactions, rules, and even disciplinary actions. A coaching philosophy encompasses the program’s belief system, expectations, and goals based in part on scientific facts, research, and evidence. In addition, your experience is an invaluable part of your coaching philosophy, according to Hunter (2010):

One of the most enlightening and most valuable sources of information can come from years of experience as a coach. Throughout these years, the coach will have tested many of his or her ideas or beliefs. It is from this informal experimentation that the coach will gain anecdotal evidence. It is referred to as “anecdotal” evidence because the evidence is gained through informal experimentation, usually on a few athletes. This contrasts with the scientific evidence gained from strictly controlled experimentation. (p. 24)

Coaching Philosophy of Scott Cappos

To utilize experience, knowledge, values, beliefs, and judgment to help student-athletes achieve goals in all domains of life: academically, athletically, and personally. Smoothly blend the art and science of coaching to plan, implement, and evaluate proven methods. Teach student-athletes how to prepare, execute, and compete. Build solid relationships based on mutual respect and shared goals.

Develop the Total Person

Coaches should focus on the long-term character and physical development of the individual, not only as an athlete but as a successful adult. Coaches and athletes benefit from focusing on developing the total person, athletically, personally, and socially.

Coaches have a unique and essential role to play as sports life lessons are far more significant than athletics itself. The value of hard work, dedication, consistency, resiliency, and coping with adversity are essential life skills for athletes to establish. A good coach is always aware that athletes are learning so much more than just how to succeed in a specific sport; they learn to live well in the world.

Always keep in mind that sport is just one aspect of your athlete’s life. Coaching might be your life’s work, but it should never be the exclusive or even primary focus of a developing athlete, no matter how successful they are. 

Coaches need to focus on the long-term development of the athlete versus just winning. It is crucial to develop the total person in athletics; it will lead to better performances, promote positive relationships with peers and coaches, and build the foundation for success later in life. 


Remember to coach the person, not the event.

As coaches, showing genuine concern for the welfare of your athletes is very important. Simply asking how they are doing and showing a sincere interest in their lives will help you to understand the athlete’s state of mind. When an athlete struggles with an emotional issue, it is the best time for coaches to let their active listening skills shine to show support and empathy. It is easy to coach a successful athlete, but no athlete is successful all of the time.

For long-term success, coaches must provide support and be a stable presence for an athlete during success and failure alike. A simple text or email with encouraging and positive words will, without a doubt, improve the well-being of an athlete and get them back to focusing on performance improvement. In this way, your consistent positive attitude will show the athlete you care about them on and off the track. Coaches that engage in the lives of the athlete will build strong, long-lasting relationships with their athletes.

Ethics and Behavior

Successful coaching also includes fostering the moral and ethical development of the athlete. A code of behavior-based guidelines that outline proper ethics will provide the foundation for personal expectations and behavior.

Issues such as drug use, fair play, and sportsmanship will undoubtedly arise. Having informed, open discussions on ethics will only enhance the trust and relationship between coaches and athletes. An appreciation with mutual respect of officials, opposing coaches, and other athletes in the sport is a critical aspect of the educational process.

Coaches need to be friendly with their student-athletes but not cross the line to friendship; coaches need to be coaches, not friends with an athlete. In many ways, this mirrors a parenting relationship. Thompson (2009) states, “You will need to develop a caring and continuing relationship with the athletes you coach” (p. 5).

Children do not thrive when parents act as friends. Children need parents to set limits and model socially acceptable behavior. This is also true for coaching; athletes need you as a coach, not a friend.

Coaching Roles

Coaching requires presenting knowledge to athletes so that they may develop and improve specific sports skills. Coaches are engaged in training, developing, and guiding athletes (Zhoung, 2010). However, there is so much more to successful coaching than teaching skills and improving performance. Coaches have many roles as they guide a developing athlete, including teacher, administrator, manager, mentor, social worker, psychologist, role model, and leader, to name just a few.

On the field, coaches help athletes by imparting knowledge to improve athletic skills and performance. Coaches lead and direct training sessions to create a safe and positive learning environment. Coaches observe, provide feedback, and create improvement strategies for athletes.

Off the field, coaches deal with administrative duties such as facility management, budget, team travel, equipment needs, practice outlines, recruiting, community outreach, and fundraising.

In addition to the on- and off-the-field roles coaches play, they provide a support system for athletes. Coaches help athletes stay focused on athletic achievement as well as offering support with academic and personal issues. Coaches need communication and social skills to build relationships and support the athlete’s mental and emotional abilities. All these roles are entwined and overlap during virtually every coaching interaction.

Team Player

Coaches should understand their sport to successfully communicate and relate to all the athletes in the program. Coaches who show genuine interest in the total program will improve team dynamics and unity.

Coaching Environment

A coach must establish a practice environment that promotes healthy physical and psychological development. The coach sets the tone for practice with high expectations and challenging but achievable objectives accomplished by high effort.


The number one goal of training is to improve performance.

Training to improve performance does not have to be regimented and militaristic. Practice can still be fun, satisfying, and rewarding, as well as challenging. Athletes can enjoy working out and still achieve personal goals during training. Always provide opportunities for success, praise the small victories at every opportunity, remind the athletes that small changes make big things happen.


Practice Strategy: Group Activities

Offer challenges during competitive group-based activities that create and foster social interaction among athletes. Personal relationships forged in sports often result in lifelong friendships because athletes are like-minded and focused on improvement.

The coaching environment should include intentional social interactions between the athletes to cultivate relationships. Sports increase an athlete’s sense of well-being, improve their communication skills, provide an outlet for social engagement, and develop friendships, all while advancing athletic skills.

Create different ways for athletes to learn and achieve by using small groups, peer coaching, and cooperation in practice. Group work can benefit new learners when they get help from an experienced peer; group work encourages social interaction and creates a positive learning environment.

Safety and Risk

Coaches are responsible for ensuring the effective use and maintenance of the facilities and providing a safe environment. The equipment should be appropriately maintained and in good repair. Coaches are responsible for making athletes aware of potential dangers and hazards during practice and competitions. Also, education in basic first aid and injury treatment in case of emergencies is necessary for coaches.

Strategies for coping with extreme weather must be in place. Evacuation plans for lightning, tornados or other circumstances must be discussed at the start of the season and reviewed when poor conditions are forecasted.


Coaching success is not just based on athletic performance; it also includes teaching values, ethics, self-belief, responsibility, discipline, effort, and determination. 

Athletes should be actively engaged and productive to improve motor learning that results in better athletic performance. 

Learning a new skill is difficult. Be sure to celebrate when a technical breakthrough occurs. Even something as small as a fist bump from a coach lets the athlete know the coach is watching, cares, and is happy with how a practice is progressing.

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