What's the Most Effective Coaching Style?

Working hard does not have to be torture. Hard work can be fun and rewarding if you coach it right.

It is often argued that effective coaching is as much an art as a science. Styles vary. There is no "one size fits all" methodology.

In the early 1970s, Ronald E. Smith, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Washington, asked a group of 10-year-old baseball players what they liked and didn't like about their coaches. Smith recalls the boy who said, "My coach isn't tough enough or mean enough." When Smith asked the boy to explain, he replied, "Well, that's what coaches are supposed to be like."

Old School vs. New School

This is an example of old-school versus new-school coaching. Old-school coaches often create a punish-first, converse-later environment and a fear of failure among their athletes. They require undivided attention when speaking and intimidate those who speak against their decisions. They have a tense relationship with the athletes and assistant coaches, and their negativity often causes the athletes' attention to stray, and ultimately may cause them to quit the team.

On the flip side, new-school coaching encourages greater success by improving lines of communication among players and coaches and taking a stern but not offensive approach. This style of coach gives and receives advice, encourages team leaders and leads by example. As a result, the coach often sees increased participation and improved tactical knowledge among his athletes.

Based on my research, I've adopted a coaching approach that involves a lot of explanation. I believe it's critical for my athletes to understand why we do some things and why we don't do others. Athletes don't seem to respond or progress well to mindlessly doing rep after rep without understanding the reasons for it and the theory behind it.

Connect Before You Correct

Coaching is about connecting, mentoring and creating relationships. You need to connect before you correct. If you don't care about your athletes, why would they care about you? Why would they want to do that extra set or rep? If they can't stand to be around you, dread coming to train and ultimately become unmotivated, they won't want you as a mentor either.

The drill sergeant approach doesn't work for me and many other folks. However, the positive friend approach is effective. I want my athletes to get results and have fun. Working hard does not have to be torture. Hard work can be fun and rewarding if you coach it right.


  • Christopher Munsey. Coaching The Coaches. American Psychological¬† Association, April 2010, Vol 41, No. 4. Print version: page 58.
  • Wade Gilbert, Ph.D., Catherine Jackson, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., "In Search of an Effective Coaching Style." American College of Sports Medicine, December 5,¬†2004.
  • W. Glenn Reese. "Old School vs. New School Coaching Styles." The Sport Digest.

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