This is an excerpt from Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes by Jeffrey J. Huber.
Applying Four Common Emphases of Humanistic Coaching
Humanism can manifest itself through the coaching process in four ways. These common emphases are affect, self-concept, communication, and personal values.
Emphasizing affect means paying greater attention to thinking and feeling and less attention to acquiring specific information and skills. Following are some suggestions for emphasizing affect.
Set affective objectives. Setting specific affective objectives means you commit to making a conscious effort to integrate humanism into your program. Examples of affective objectives include encouraging and leading athletes to demonstrate a love for their sport and themselves and to demonstrate a concern and respect for teammates. Another affective objective is to demonstrate a concern and respect for your athletes and acceptance of them as unique individuals, not just as a group of athletes. Another goal is to act as a role model and model a love for the sport and belief in the importance of becoming a more complete person.
Pay greater attention to athletes’ feelings. Simply asking athletes how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives, showing a genuine concern for them as human beings, listening to their problems, and being sensitive to their emotional responses are all ways of paying greater attention to athlete’s feelings.
Have athletes become more aware of their teammates’ feelings. Awareness of others’ feelings emphasizes affect and helps athletes move outside their egocentrism. One way to facilitate this greater awareness is to hold a team meeting and ask your athletes to express their feelings, understand their teammates’ needs, and find ways to support each other at practices, competitions, and outside the practice venue. Also, when disagreements occur between athletes, ask each athlete to try understanding the other’s viewpoint.
Stress the importance of learning and thinking strategies. According to Rogers emphasizing affect also means emphasizing thinking. When you emphasize thinking, the information and skills being taught are not as important as the process and strategies for learning. Consequently, a humanistic coach emphasizes learning how to learn and teaches athletes specific strategies to help them become good learners. For example, having athletes mentally review information about drills before, during, and after each practice helps them learn how to learn drills. Many athletes tend to leave a practice and never think about that practice ever again. When taking time to review information discussed in practice, athletes are more apt to organize the information, give it meaning, remember it at the next practice, and, consequently, improve at a faster rate.
Helping your athletes develop a positive self-concept is another way to emphasize humanism. Remember that your athletes develop their self-concept in part through interaction with you and how you communicate to them about who they are as human beings. How can you facilitate this process? Following are some suggestions.
Maintain positive perceptions and expectations of your athletes. It is easy to form limiting notions of your athletes and unconsciously communicate these limitations to them. These notions then become part of a hidden curriculum: the things you unconsciously teach as the unintended outcome or by-product of your coaching. Statements such as the following ones can become part of a hidden curriculum: “This athlete is mentally weak.” “This athlete will never make it.” “This athlete can do skills A and B great but will never learn skill C.” “This athlete will always be a B-level player.” Rid yourself of preconceived limiting notions of your athletes and avoid any hidden curriculum. Expect the best. When you expect the best, you generally get the best. Don’t count out any of your athletes. Like Jimmy, the young lanky boy I coached many years ago, just when you think someone can’t do something, you may be surprised.
Communicate these positive perceptions and expectations through word and deed. It is good to have positive perceptions and expectations of your athletes, but make sure you communicate them to your athletes both by what you say and what you do. Take the time to tell your athletes what you think of them and what they are capable of achieving and communicate these expectations through your coaching. Saying, “Well, you didn’t make it this time but I know you will at the next competition” is an effective example. Also, demonstrate your confidence in them through your actions. For example, you tell one of your athletes that she can become a champion if she puts in more work and then you stay after practice or volunteer to come in on your day off to work with her.
Maintain positive perceptions and expectations publicly and privately. Coaches sometimes disparage their athletes behind their backs. Getting frustrated and needing to vent some frustration is part of coaching, but you have to support your athletes and believe in them, even when they aren’t looking. Being a humanistic coach means, in part, being genuine as a person. Being genuine means acting as you really are as a person and having your words match your internal feelings. In other words, you openly let others know how you feel. Venting is part of human nature and part of dealing with stress. But you have to be true to your athletes. You can’t say one thing publicly and then turn around and say something contrary privately. Besides making you a hypocrite and disingenuous, your words ultimately get back to the athlete and ruin the coach–athlete relationship.
Invite rather than disinvite athletes. According to Purkey and Novak (1996), teachers invite students by communicating to them that they are capable, self-directed, and valued, and by expecting behaviors and achievements commensurate with their worth and emerging self-concept. In contrast, teachers who disinvite students send a message that students are irresponsible, incapable, worthless, and undirected. As a coach, do you invite or disinvite your athletes?
Build a positive self-concept by promoting success rather than failure. To promote success, break down learning tasks into small and attainable increments. Coaches sometimes ask athletes to do too much too soon. Perhaps this is because they forget how many smaller tasks comprise a particular movement. They ask athletes to do a skill that actually involves many skills, none of which the athletes have yet mastered. When you ask athletes to do too much too soon, you set them up for guaranteed failure. The result of repeated failure can be a poor self-concept, a feeling of external control, and a sense of helplessness.
Promoting success and a positive self-concept also includes implementing mastery learning (Bloom, 1976). The concept of mastery learning suggests that all learners can learn; the only difference between learners is the amount of time each person requires to learn the material. While Bloom’s concept of mastery learning deals mainly with concept learning, mastery learning can be applied to motor learning as well. Not all athletes will learn to perform at the elite level. However, most athletes can learn much of what you teach to some level of proficiency. The humanistic coach focuses on helping each athlete master as many skills as possible for their particular sport and level of experience and ability.
Mastery learning means learning a particular skill to a certain level of proficiency before moving on to the next skill. For example, when you break down a skill into smaller increments, make sure your athlete masters each smaller skill before moving on to the next skill. It may take time and patience on the part of both athlete and coach, but it will be well worth the effort later in the athlete’s career.
A third major emphasis of a humanistic approach to coaching is communication. Communication includes attention to the principles and skills of effective human relations, honest interpersonal communication, and constructive conflict resolution. Following are some suggestions for emphasizing communication in your coaching.
Establish effective human relations through honest and open interpersonal communication. Honest and open communication means being real with your athletes, rather than aloof and unapproachable. Honest communication also means really listening to what your athletes have to say. A shortcoming for many coaches is that they don’t take the time or give enough effort to really listen to what their athletes are trying to say. Being a good listener is not easy but sometimes it is all an athlete really wants or needs.
One season I had trouble establishing a relationship with one of my athletes. I was angry with her because I thought she never listened to me. Over the course of the season, our relationship became increasingly distant. Finally, another athlete said to me, “Coach, you need to talk to her.” At first I dismissed her comment, but the more I thought about it, the more I knew she was right. So, one afternoon I took some time to talk with her. I said a few things about how I felt, but then I just listened to what she had to say. The more I listened to her, the more she listened to me. I am positive that our meeting was a turning point in her season and career. And it literally happened overnight. We met on a Wednesday and on Thursday she competed in the NCAA championship. She finished third with a lifetime best performance, a performance that far exceeded anything she had done to that point in her season.
Take time from your daily routine to communicate with your athletes. Maybe it is just a few minutes as they are coming into practice or while they are stretching. Or maybe you connect with a few of your athletes before they leave practice. The more you communicate with them, particularly on a personal level, the more of a relationship you establish with them. Take the time to occasionally meet one-on-one in your office. Have an open-door policy so that your athletes feel comfortable stopping by even if it is only to say hello. Schedule individual goal-setting sessions. Besides nourishing the athlete–coach relationship, these meetings provide athletes with the opportunity to express their feelings and talk about things important to their athletic careers and their personal lives.
Arrange team meetings and team goal-setting sessions. These sessions give your athletes the opportunity to communicate among themselves. It is worthwhile to attend some of these meetings to lay the ground rules for athlete interaction and discussion topics. For other meetings, it is more important that the athletes take responsibility for the meeting and you need not be present. Some of the topics your athletes can consider are how to support one another inside and outside of practice, how to communicate effectively with each other, and how to openly talk about problems and their resolutions.
Use the principles and ideas of humanism and Rogerian theory to constructively resolve conflict. No matter how effective you are as a coach or how great your athletes are as people, you will have conflict at some point within your team and within your program. And the quicker it is resolved, the sooner you right the ship and continue moving forward. It might be a conflict between you and a player, between two players, between an assistant coach and a player, between two assistant coaches, between coach and parent, or between the offense and the defense. The number of potential conflicts lurking on the horizon is great and you and your athletes need to be trained and ready to confront these battles. Humanism and Rogerian theory provide a perfect battle plan.
According to humanism and Rogerian theory, the best way to resolve conflict is for both sides to sit down and communicate. Since people act in accordance with their phenomenological reality, this communication involves having each person really listen and attempt to understand the other person’s private world of experiences. Because humanism emphasizes self-direction, self-determination, autonomy, and self-evaluation, it is expected that each person, with the coach acting as facilitator, will assume responsibility for resolving the conflict.
Personal values should be a part of your coaching philosophy and your coaching curriculum. You teach values whether you know it or not. If you are unaware of the values you teach, then they have become part of your hidden curriculum. As mentioned a number of times in this book, effective coaches are aware of everything they teach. Consequently, be conscious of the values you teach—or want to teach—and incorporate them into your coaching curriculum so that you teach positive values and eliminate negative values you might be inadvertently teaching your athletes.
Encourage your athletes to discover their own personal values. Simon, Howe, and Kirschenbaum (1972) suggest 79 strategies for helping students elaborate and clarify values. Personal values you might teach include acceptance of self and others, acceptance of personal faults and mistakes but still maintaining self-worth, and valuing effort and performance more than winning. One personal value worth teaching is personal responsibility. Historically, humanism has valued autonomy: the individual taking responsibility and control for his or her life.
Stress personal responsibility as a value. You can nurture personal responsibility in many ways. Having athletes set their own goals and select appropriate ways of reaching their goals gives them a sense of control and autonomy. Also, setting up athletes for success helps establish an internal locus of control. According to attribution theory, athletes with an internal locus of control see success as a result of personal effort and not an external factor such as luck. In other words, an athlete with an internal locus of control believes that he is in control of the outcome of events.
Stress personal problem solving as a value. Rather than solve a problem for an athlete, you can facilitate the athlete’s effort to solve the problem. This concept is at the center of Roger’s client-centered therapy, in which the client, not the counselor, solves the problem. Based on Rogerian theory, a nondirective model of teaching has been developed for fostering a sense of personal responsibility in athletes. The following section outlines the nondirective model.
Read more from Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes by Jeffery Huber.