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The coach-athlete relationship is central to coaching. It is not coincidence that behind every successful athlete or team there stands a coach! Athletes who have achieved the highest levels of performance (e.g., Olympic or World performances) acknowledge the work and support of their coaches. These are the coaches who recognize the significance of the quality of the coach-athlete relationship and make every effort to connect with each one athlete in their team or squad. Ultimately, the relationship coaches develop with their athletes becomes a vehicle that takes them on a journey of growth and development.
Considering the important role this relationship plays for both performance success and personal satisfaction, the question many coaches may be asking is, “How can I develop and maintain quality coach-athlete relationships (i.e., relationships that really work)? Effective communication is the fuel of relationships; it helps enhance and maintain its quality, while lack of it is likely to lead to inefficient, unproductive and dissatisfying working partnerships (Rhind & Jowett, 2011b) regardless of type of sport context (i.e., performance or participation).
The COMPASS modelRhind and Jowett (2008, 2010, 2012) investigated the strategies coaches and athletes use to develop and maintain high quality connections with one another. Their research revealed that coaches and athletes employ the following 7 strategies: 1. conflict management2. openness3. motivation4. assurance (positivity)5. preventative (advice)6. support 7. social networks. These 7 key communication strategies comprise the COMPASS model (see Figure 1 below) and are found to facilitate and maintain relationship quality. For example, Rhind and Jowett (2011a) have indicated that COMPASS and its strategies can help maintain close, committed, complementary and co-orientated relationships (i.e., better quality relationships and high quality bonds). Their research findings also suggest that the absence of these strategies can lead to relationships which are characterized by distance, indifference and interference all of which are characteristics that prevent progress and development.
COMPASS is a communication model highlighting key strategies that coaches and athletes use or can use to develop better working relationships (see Rhind & Jowett, 2011b). COMPASS can help navigate the coach-athlete relationship ensuring its journey is both successful and satisfying.
Conflict management - reflects efforts to identify, discuss, resolve and monitor potential areas of disagreement or misunderstanding.
Ask yourself (and your athlete):
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, HOW do you show your athlete/coach you are calm, patient, good listener, prepared to resolve issues?Openness - includes conscious efforts to engage in open lines of communication
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, WHAT do you do to explain your viewpoints, provide feedback and recognition and accessible or approachable? Motivation - highlights efforts from both coach and athlete to develop and maintain a partnership that is rewarding, ambitious and dynamic; provides reasons for maintaining and staying the relationship.
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, HOW do you show you are motivated to work hard and achieve, you have the skills required to achieve the goals set and passionate about what you are doing?
Assurance - includes showing one’s commitment to the relationship (e.g. making sacrifices that will assist the relationship to be purposeful, functional and successful)
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, HOW do you make sure that your athlete/coach can rely on your when things are not going so well or that he/can approach you with anything that may he/she is concerned about?Preventative - underlines efforts to discuss expectations, rules, roles and what should happen if these are not met
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, HOW do you make sure that your athlete/coach know what you expect from him/her and the potential consequences if expectations are not met? How do regular talks and reviews are being held and how helpful and constructive are they?
Support - is reflected in helping one another (coach/athlete) through difficult times; support can be emotional, informational, tangible
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, HOW do you give support when needed and what do you do to appreciate the support that is needed? Social networks - the relationship built between the coach and the athlete is not disconnected from other relationships and people (e.g., assistant coaches, teammates, scientific support providers, parents, partners); subsequently, creating opportunities to develop strong bonds with others is paramount to the success of the coach-athlete relationship and maintaining a common social network
For each question, you may also wish to consider “what do you do” or “how”, for example, HOW do you use your social networks to benefit your relationship and the goals you have set out to achieve?
To conclude, relationship maintenance is important. Coaches (and their athletes) can actively strengthen their relationship bonds: Closeness, Commitment and Complementarity (i.e., 3Cs). COMPASS can serve as a framework that helps ensure that through its strategies you develop a coaching environment within which there is (a) appreciation for one another, (b) fun and cheerfulness, as well as (c) co-operation, team work and support. Moreover, the very characteristics that describe the quality of relationships (i.e., 3Cs) can serve as strategies to maintain and further enhance them. For example, within Closeness, trust and respect are important relational properties and among others underline that you, as coach, are sensitive to your athletes’ feelings. You can of course still disagree but never disregard your athletes’ feelings as well as thoughts, views, opinions and beliefs. Athletes are more likely to appreciate their coaches’ non-judgmental ways, compassion and understanding towards them. These are important indicators for your athletes that coaches value them as an athlete but also as a person. Athletes who are valued by their coaches are likely to want to work with them, persist, and give their very best.Commitment is another characteristic of the relationship quality and signifies your thoughts that the relationship is strong and sound and has promise. Creating a committed relationship is easy if you are prepared to invest time, effort and energy. High quality coach-athlete connections that last the test of time require investing time in them (e.g., planning a training and competition programme to suit the individual athlete)! Coaches who wish for responsible and accountable athletes, they need to show them that they accept responsibility and accountability for their own actions first. Finally, Complementarity is a relationship quality that is synonymous to collaboration and cooperation. As a coach you need to make sure that athletes understand that you are there to help them and that you have their best interest at heart. Subsequently, everything you do is to support each one athlete within your squad and team to reach their potential. Athletes look up to their coaches for direction and leadership and as such coaches need to find ways to positively influence their athletes to improve and develop. Both coaches and athletes’ behaviours of responsiveness, receptiveness and friendliness can make a significant difference in the pursuit of sporting excellence.
Did you find this post helpful? Please add a comment to let me know your thoughts.
If you found this blog helpful you might also be interested in:
• How to Create a Relational Coaching Environment - Evidence based tips to help you build closeness, commitment and complementarity with your athletes and improve your coach-athlete relationship. The tips have also been produced as infographics.
• At the heart of effective coaching leadership lies the dyadic coach-athlete relationship
• The vehicle to success: CAR can transport coach and athlete on a journey of fulfilment
If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.
ReferencesRhind, D. J. A., & Jowett, S. (2012). Development of the Coach-Athlete Relationship Maintenance Questionnaire (CARM-Q). International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 7 (1), 121-137.Rhind, D. J. A., & Jowett, S. (2011a). Linking maintenance strategies to the quality of coach-athlete relationships. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 41, 55-68.Rhind, D., & Jowett, S. (2011b). Working with coach-athlete relationships: Their quality and maintenance. In S. Mellalieu & S. Hanton (Eds.), Professional Practice in Sport Psychology: A Review (219-248). RoutledgeRhind, D.J.A., Jowett, S. (2010). Relationship maintenance strategies in the coach-athlete relationship: The COMPASS model. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 106-121.Rhind, D., & Jowett, S. (2008). Relationship maintenance strategies in the coach-athlete relationship. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 43, 235-235.
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