Post By: John Pine | Monday, April 6, 2020


Youth sport drop-out rates are as high as they have ever been, this article will discuss effective coaching styles and ways to make all players on a team feel valued. Creating a competitive but caring culture has shown to increase enjoyment, motivation, and effort for athletes of all ages.

Pygmalion-Prone vs Non-pygmalion-prone coaches

These two coaching styles are in stark contrast of each other. Pygmalion-Prone coaches are set in their beliefs, they think that athletes are born with their skill set. They tend to believe that if they do not have success over the course of a season, it is because he/she does not have good athletes. A Pygmalion coach has an authoritarian coaching style and stifles creativity and autonomy, they are not flexible. They also tend to create a performance-oriented team climate. Performance-oriented team climates are created when coaches place heavy values on the outcomes of performance (winning vs losing games), they try and get players to compete against each other for starting spots and typically only give attention to these star players. These coaches typically fall to self-fulfilling prophecy theory:

  1. The coach forms initial expectations about athletes based on personal cues, physical traits, and behaviorally based information.
  2. The expectation formed tends to affect how they treat the player (star players get attention, while others are left behind)
  3. The coaches behavior begins to affect the athlete's performance and behavior, without quality feedback and positive coach-athlete interactions, the other athletes lose motivation and drive to improve.
  4. The athlete's performance conforms to the coaches expectations, proving the coaches initial expectation correct, and reinforcing this ideology.

If you are a coach reading this and you found yourself guilty of some or all of those traits listed above, that is okay!! Noticing the traits that are not your best is the first step in fixing them. Now is a good time to turn the page and become non-pygmalion-prone. Non-pygmalion-prone coaches are the exact opposite, they believe all players can be developed if they are given the time and give they effort necessary. They believe that if the team is not successful, maybe it is a problem with his/her coaching style. They tend to be flexible and promote autonomy (choice) to the team with their democratic coaching style and cultivating a mastery-orientation. Different than the performance-oriented climate, a mastery climate promotes learning skills and mastering the game. They know it is a learning process and do not demand immediate perfection. Mistakes are part of the learning process and are valuable to development. The next question you have may be, “what are some easy tips that I can implement immediately to change my team's culture?”. That is a great question!

Non-pygmalion-prone coaching tips:

  • At the beginning of the season, sit the team down and come up with values, goals and accountability measures. Make the guidelines clear that if ANY player or coach (hold yourself accountable as well) breaks the rules, the team will come up with a fair punishment.
  • Make a list of all the drills you want to do that day in practice, and then have your athletes decide the order of which they want to complete them. This way you still get everything done you wanted to for the day but also giving them the power to choose the way practice is done.
  • 1-minute drill – Every other week or so, while they athletes are doing a drill or practicing, let the assistant coaches run the drill and have the head coach pull EVERY player aside individually for 1 minute (roughly). Tell the player 2 things that they think they are doing great and then an area they can improve on. Then ask they players for feedback of your own coaching style, “Is there anything I can be doing better?”. They may not answer/feel comfortable answer this at first, but as you continue to do this drill and you keep asking them for feedback, they will begin to open up.
  • Talk with them about their lives outside of sport! Especially for youth athletes, they may have a lot going on in their lives, show some interest and that you care about them as a person, not just an athlete.

These are just a few drills you can implement immediately into your practice settings, show some compassion and help your players not only become better athletes, but better people as well.