How a Coach's Expectations Influence an Athlete's Success

Coaches, have you ever wondered why your athletes tend to meet your expectations—why those whom you expect to perform well do well, and those whom you expect to perform poorly do poorly?

It may have less to do with your eye or your feel for talent and more with the expectations themselves.

RELATED: 3 Things That Can Destroy Your Mental Toughness

This theory has its root in a 1968 study in which teachers were informed that certain students had the highest potential for improvement during the year. What the teachers didn't know was that the students were not pre-tested; they were selected at random. Yet at the end of the year, the students fit the prediction, leading the researchers to conclude that the teachers provided more feedback, instruction and reinforcement to the students they expected to improve.

More recent studies in sports show similar results. Understanding the relationship between expectations and performance allows coaches to develop awareness of their expectations and behaviors, and how they impact athletes. There are four steps to this cyclical coach expectancy model, broken down here.

Step 1: Coach forms expectations

At the beginning of any season, coaches are trying to get an idea of how each athlete can help the team succeed. They look at a number of factors, which tend to fall within three categories: personal cues, performance information and psychological characteristics.

Personal cues are things like socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, family background, gender and physique. Performance information can include previous performance accomplishments, other coaches' comments and observations of the athlete. Psychological characteristics include things like coachability, discipline and love of the sport.

If coaches are accurate in their assessments, there is not a problem. However, coaches can be inaccurate and unwilling to change their beliefs once established. Expectations alone do not impact performance, but they do impact how coaches treat athletes.

RELATED: The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

Step 2: Coach's expectations influence their own actions

Generally, the higher the expectation, the more time a coach spends with an athlete, developing closer ties and deeper relationships with "star" players. Coaches also provide instruction and praise differently to those who fall into the low-expectancy category. After a successful performance, they tend to provide low-expectancy athletes with less praise, less reinforcement and lower informational and corrective feedback to help them learn and improve. Additionally, coaches tend to set lower performance standards for low-expectancy athletes and give them a minimal amount of time in practice performing drills but more time doing non-skill-related tasks like shagging balls or keeping score. These coaching behaviors impact the athlete's level of success and improvement.

Step 3: Coach's behavior affects their athletes' performance

If high-expectancy athletes receive better instruction, playing time and practice time in drills, they will have a closer relationship with the coach and will most likely continue to improve and perform at a high level. Low-expectancy athletes with less practice time, instruction and feedback have a more distant relationship with the coach, and less confidence and motivation as well, so they are set up to fail.

RELATED: What's the Most Effective Coaching Style?

Step 4: Athletes' performance confirms the coach's expectations

If an athlete whom a coach didn't expect much of performs poorly, the coach may see it just as prediction coming true. But really, a coach's behavior looms large in success or failure.

So maybe it's time to re-evaluate what you expect of players in relation to the time and direction you give them.

Who do you spend most of your time with at practices? How do you give feedback and instruction, and does it change for each athlete? Who is getting the majority of the reps in practice, and how often are people just standing and watching?

Your expectations influence your behavior, and your behavior impacts your athletes. Be the best coach you can be by understanding how your expectations drive your behaviors.

RELATED: Why Coaching Is More Important Than You Think

REFERENCES

  1. Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom: Teacher expectations and pupils' intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  2. Solomon, G., Striegel, D., Eliot, J., Heon, S., & Maas, J. (1996). "The self-fulfilling prophecy in college basketball: Implications for effective coaching." Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 8, 44-59.
  3. Chase, M., Lirgg, C., & Feltz, D. (1997). "Do coaches' efficacy expectations for their teams predict team performance?" The Sport Psychologist, 11, 8-11.
  4. Horn, T.S., Lox, C., & Labrador, F. (2001). "The self-fulfilling prophecy: When coaches' expectations become reality." In J.M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (4th ed., pp. 63-81). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.
  5. Solomon, G. B. (2001). "Performance and personality impression cues as predictors of athletic performance: An extension of expectancy theory." International Journal of Sport Psychology, 32, 88 – 100.
  6. Becker, A., & Solomon, G. (2005). "Expectancy information and coach effectiveness in intercollegiate basketball." The Sport Psychologist, 19, 251-266.
  7. Solomon, G., DiMarco, A., Ohlson, C., & Reese, S. (1998). "Expectations and coaching experience: Is more better?" Journal of Sport Behavior, 21, 444-455.
  8. Horn, T. S. (1984). "Expectancy effects in the interscholastic athletic setting: Methodological considerations." Journal of Sport Psychology, 6, 60-76.
  9. Sinclair, D. A., & Vealey, R. S. (1989). "Effects of coaches' expectations and feedback on the self-perceptions of athletes." Journal of Sport Behavior, 12, 77-91.
  10. Solomon, G. (2008b). "Expectations and perceptions as predictors of coaches' feedback in three competitive contexts." Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletics in Education, 2, 161-189.
  11. Martinek, T., & Johnson, S. (1979). "Teacher expectations: Effects on dyadic interactions and self-concept in elementary age children." Research Quarterly, 50, 60-70.
  12. Martinek, T., & Karper, W. B. (1982). "Canonical relationships among motor ability, expression of effort, teacher expectations, and dyadic interactions in elementary age children." Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 1, 26-39.
  13. Martinek, T. (1988). "Confirmation of a teacher expectancy model: Students perceptions and causal attributions of teaching behaviors." Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 59, 118-126.
  14. Chelladurai, P. (2007). "Leadership in sports."In G. Tenenbaum & R. C. Eklund (Eds.), Handbook of Sport Psychology (3rd ed.) (pp. 113-135). New York: John Wiley.
  15. Horn, T. S. (1984). "Expectancy effects in the interscholastic athletic setting: Methodological considerations." Journal of Sport Psychology, 6, 60-76.

Topics: MENTAL TOUGHNESS | MENTOR | YOUTH SPORTS | SKILL DEVELOPMENT | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | POSITIVE COACHING