"Do You Even Care, Bro?": A Look At How We Coach (And Can Coach Better)

Yikes… this title sounds super sport psych-y, doesn’t it? Hang on!

Even before my education in psychology, I have been fascinated with how coaches treat and motivate athletes. Every coach has a different style - some more technically and tactically-focused, some motivational, some unapproachable and demanding but successful, and the list goes on.

Most likely, if you were a high school, college, or higher-level athlete, you have wondered about this too.

While we can argue that one style is not necessarily better than another, it is true that the style needs to match the situation and the team! Adaptability is the name of the coaching game.

Thus, I present you with a cumulation of thoughts on coaching styles and how we can better our work:

1) Do you coach or…?

  • teach?

  • demand?

  • counsel?

  • criticize?

  • lead?

A coach should certainly have expectations; what kind of competitive environment would that be with no goals?

Setting goals is important, but it’s not the coach’s job alone to achieve them.

However, it’s also not solely the athlete’s job to achieve them.

This is a cumulative effort. A coach should empower athletes to do the work for themselves, instead of doing it for them or coddling them. At the same time, don’t strand them.

Don’t take them by the hand toward the goal. Expect high (reasonable) standards to be met, but give actionable steps to get there when athletes need guidance.

2) What environment do you set up?

  • Is it positive?

  • Can you handle negative when it pops up?

  • Is it motivational?

  • Is it strictly ego-/achievement-driven?

It’s important to manage the atmosphere that you coach in.


If there are a bunch of egos running rampant in your team (your ego included), you can bet your next paycheck that the focus is not on the team’s goals —and thus, the process of achieving team goals together— and rather on soothing insecurity and proving territory.

That’s really not beneficial to a team.

Learn how to handle conflict when it arises, know how to appropriately (and not combatively) check egos —including yours— and shift the focus from achievement to building a team culture that benefits and includes everyone.

Set common goals, values, and standards. It will help the team coach themselves, in part, and allow you to focus less on telling them what to do and more on getting the best out of each athlete.

3) Can you take the heat?

Do you handle criticism well?

Or do you get defensive when approached?

Athletes should feel like they can speak up if they need to, whether about their performance or with concerns or suggestions about yours.

Don’t get combative. 

This actually means your athletes are invested enough to give a second thought to you, your structure, your plans, and your decisions.

Hear them out.

If you start getting heated, say “thanks for sharing that with me. I’ll get back to you/take it into consideration” in a non-condescending manner, and leave the situation.

If all goes well, respond calmly and thoughtfully (for most of us, this means “slowly and thinking before speaking”). Maybe explain to the athlete your point of view, why your decision will still stand, or work on a compromise.

Regardless, foster the trust between yourself and that athlete. Again, being questioned means that the athlete cares or is bought in to this common goals and standards to some level. Don’t blow it.

4) Do you take responsibility?

Are you accountable for your role in failures as well as successes?

Or do you blame dysfunction within the team? Do you blame the other team? Do you blame the weather, the ref, the facility, the flooring, etc?

Do you take responsibility for the expectations that are on your athletes, or do they shoulder it all themselves?

Pro Tip: no one wants to work with or play for a coach who throws them under the bus and walks away unscathed. Be accountable for your role in success, failures, and expectations.

The common goals, values, and standards apply to you too.

5) Do you care?

Okay, I’ve been told that this sounds rude to ask, but…

Do you actually care about your athletes?

Or do you just care about their results? Do you care about how it makes you look?

Do you foster their growth? Do you believe in them?

Do you give them skills and tools that they can use in their lives as well?

Give yourself an audit on all of these things.

Regularly reevaluate why you coach and how.

Is it beneficial? Does it fit the situation? Does it help the team? Who wins?

If only you win, you need to change.

A good coach will make sure that no athlete slides through the cracks. Grow your Adaptability Muscle as much as you want to grow your biceps.

It’s not your job to motivate your athletes. It’s your job to motivate yourself and build a climate of learning and development. If you foster athlete growth, there’s literally nowhere to go but “up” and (most likely) “win”.

I would love to hear any additional thoughts you coaches may have on this topic. Let’s develop athletes and humans.

Also, if you’re in Cologne, come through to RheinGym, our athletic training hall. We will get you RIGHT and READY!!