What Is the Best Coaching Style?
Coaching styles range from the classic “drill sergeant” style associated with Vince Lombardi to a hands-off approach described as laissez faire. Which style is best depends upon a number of factors including the coach’s personality, why the athletes have chosen to participate, the maturity of the athletes, and the specific task to be taught. Let’s examine three of the most commonly recognized styles – but clearly not all possible styles.
Authoritarian Style. The classic “drill sergeant” style is often referred to as command style. The coach dictates and the athletes respond. Athletes normally look to their coaches for direction and decision making. Athletes in interactive team sports such as volleyball, basketball and soccer actually prefer coaches who use an autocratic style where most decisions are made independently by the coach.
Strengths: This style is useful when information must be transmitted to the athletes in a short amount of time, for example, when calling a play in basketball in the last few seconds of a tied game. It is also preferred when dealing with safety issues or when an athlete is disrupting the lesson plan. When a young athlete is doing something dangerous to himself or others, a command to stop is required as opposed to a discussion of why safety is important! If the lesson is disrupted by unruly behavior or clowning around, the coach has a responsibility to demand that such behavior stop immediately for the benefit of the other athletes who are paying attention and wish to learn. It also is necessary when the coach must decide who plays a particular role on the team (say, starting pitcher in baseball) when multiple players aspire to the same role or position. Coaches often use this style with very young or immature athletes, at least initially until the athletes have been taught sufficient skills and strategies to begin participating in the decision making process.
Weaknesses: Authoritarian style takes control away from the players and provides little opportunity for decision making. In the long run and particularly with older, more mature athletes, a controlling attitude on the part of the coach can undermine long-term motivation resulting in athletes leaving the sport, particularly in recreational sport programs where participation is optional.
Laissez Faire Style. This style basically permits the athletes to do whatever they wish and has been labeled “baby sitting.” Volunteer coaches lacking technical knowledge often resort to this technique as do beginner coaches who wish to avoid the drill-sergeant reputation in youth sports.
Strengths: This style permits the athletes to feel as if they have control over their involvement and is used by experienced coaches when they want their athletes to experience the consequences of specific decisions – sometimes positive consequences, sometimes negative. Used correctly, it can help coaches teach the athletes to be decision makers.
Weaknesses: With immature and/or inexperienced athletes, this style can lead to chaos and may be unsafe. Athletes who do not know or appreciate the consequences of certain behaviors may make choices that increase the risk of injury.
Cooperative Style. With this style, both athletes and coaches participate in the decision-making process.
Strengths: Participants tend to have a greater understanding of the rationale behind certain decisions (why we work on our weaker skills in practice rather than practice our favorite moves), and they tend to be more committed to achieving the mutually determined goals.
Weaknesses: This style takes time to arrive at decisions when all participants’ concerns are taken into consideration. It can also lead to conflict if conflicting goals are held by teammates (for example, “Who gets to start?”).
Effective coaches select different styles to accomplish different goals. As you can see from the brief outline above, there does not appear to a “best” style. Effective coaches choose the style that is most appropriate for their objectives in any given situation or circumstances. In effect, the different coaching styles are like a tool kit. Effective coaches choose the tool that is best for the task at hand.