Why coach-athlete relationships are vital

Creating a favourable first impression is vital when a coach begins to work with an individual athlete. And coaches have a much better chance of developing effective working relationships if they are able to manage the impressions and expectations that athletes form of them.

When meeting a coach for the first time, athletes inevitably make judgments about what they can expect from the coach in future. Whilst this initial meeting may be very brief, the expectations formed as a result can have a significant influence over athletes’ attention to coaching instruction, their acquisition of specific skills, and the nature of the coach-athlete relationship that is developed.

So how can coaches start to create effective relationships with their athletes from the very first meeting?

One recommendation is to identify and manage the sources of information athletes deem most influential when forming initial impressions and expectations of coaches. Importantly, recent research has indicated that factors which are out of the coach’s control (such as gender and nationality) have less influence over athletes’ expectations compared with cues that are much more controllable (e.g. body language, clarity of speech, clothing).

In fact, evidence from football has shown that athletes expect a coach wearing a suit to be a very good strategist, whilst a coach wearing a tracksuit will be expected to be competent at motivating athletes and developing technical skills.

This evidence suggests that coaches have a great deal of control over the expectancies that athletes form of them. Provided that coaches have a firm understanding of their specific role, they are in a position to create the perfect environment for the cultivation of successful coach-athlete relationships.