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  • ELMS Sports Foundation

How Sports Psychology Can Make You a Better Coach

Imran Nadaph, a Certified Executive Coach and Vice President for High Performance Sports at ELMS Sports Foundation, explores the intriguing field of sports psychology in this piece. He offers helpful advice that coaches can use to improve their methods and enable their players to succeed on and off the field. By delving into the psychological aspects of coaching, coaches can learn how to effectively motivate their players, build strong team dynamics, and ultimately enhance their overall coaching effectiveness.   


If you are a coach, like it or not, you have a powerful influence on your athletes and teams. You are not only responsible for teaching them the skills and strategies of your sport, but also for shaping their mindset, attitude, and behavior. How can you do this effectively and ethically? How can you help them overcome challenges, cope with stress, and perform at their best?

The answer lies in sports psychology, the scientific study of how psychological factors affect sports performance and how participation in sports affects psychological well-being. Sports psychology research has been growing rapidly in the past decades, revealing fascinating insights that can help coaches understand and improve their athletes and teams.

Here are some of the key findings from sports psychology research that you can apply to your coaching practice:

1. Developing Optimal Level of Confidence: Confidence is crucial, but it needs to be realistic and balanced. Confidence is the belief in one’s ability to succeed in a specific task or situation. It can enhance motivation, effort, concentration, and resilience. However, confidence can also be detrimental if it is too high or too low. Overconfidence can lead to complacency, underestimation of opponents, and poor decision-making. Underconfidence can lead to anxiety, self-doubt, and avoidance of challenges. Therefore, coaches need to help their athletes develop optimal levels of confidence that are based on realistic self-assessment, constructive feedback, and positive reinforcement.

2. Improving Consistency with the Quiet Eye Technique: The “quiet eye” technique can improve accuracy and consistency. The “quiet eye” is a term coined by sports psychologist Joan Vickers to describe a longer and steadier gaze on a target or object before executing a skill, such as shooting a basketball, hitting a golf ball, or throwing a dart. Research has shown that the quiet eye technique can enhance focus, reduce distractions, and increase the likelihood of successful performance. Coaches can teach their athletes how to use the quiet eye technique by providing them with specific cues, feedback, and practice drills.

3. Enhancing Performance Through Positive Self-Talk: Self-talk can boost confidence, focus, and action. Self-talk is the internal dialogue that athletes have with themselves before, during, and after a performance. It can be positive or negative, and it can affect their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Research has shown that positive self-talk can help athletes increase their confidence, sharpen their focus, and initiate effective actions. Coaches can help their athletes use positive self-talk by encouraging them to use affirmations, instructions, or coping statements that are relevant, realistic, and motivational

Research has shown that positive self-talk can help athletes increase their confidence, sharpen their focus, and initiate effective actions. Coaches can help their athletes use positive self-talk by encouraging them to use affirmations, instructions, or coping statements that are relevant, realistic, and motivational

4. Supporting Athletes with Stress Regulation Techniques: Stress regulation can enhance performance and well-being. Stress is the physical and psychological response to a perceived challenge or threat. It can have positive or negative effects on performance and well-being, depending on the intensity, duration, and interpretation of the stressor. Research has shown that stress regulation techniques, such as biofeedback, meditation, or relaxation training, can help athletes reduce their stress levels, improve their mood, and cope better with pressure. Coaches can help their athletes use stress regulation techniques by teaching them how to recognize, monitor, and manage their stress responses, and by creating a supportive and positive environment.

5. Developing Adaptive Perfectionism in Athletes: Perfectionism can be adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the motivation. Perfectionism is the tendency to set and pursue extremely high standards of performance. It can be adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the motivation behind it. Adaptive perfectionism is driven by a desire for personal growth and excellence, while maladaptive perfectionism is driven by a fear of failure and criticism. Research has shown that adaptive perfectionism can motivate better performance, while maladaptive perfectionism can impair performance and increase the risk of burnout, depression, and anxiety. Coaches can help their athletes develop adaptive perfectionism by emphasizing the process and the effort, rather than the outcome and the result, and by providing constructive and balanced feedback.

6. Potential Harmful Effects of Abusive Coaching: Abusive coaching can harm performance and well-being, both short-term and long-term. Abusive coaching is the use of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse to control, intimidate, or manipulate athletes. It can include behaviors such as hitting, yelling, insulting, threatening, or isolating. Research has shown that abusive coaching can have negative effects on performance and well-being, both in the short-term and the long-term. It can lower self-esteem, increase anxiety, impair learning, reduce motivation, and damage relationships. It can also lead to physical and psychological injuries, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Coaches should avoid abusive coaching at all costs, and instead use ethical and respectful coaching methods that foster trust, respect, and empowerment.

As you can see, sports psychology research can offer valuable insights and tools that can make you a better coach. By applying these findings to your coaching practice, you can help your athletes and teams achieve their goals, improve their performance, and enhance their well-being.

Does that mean coaches have to become trained sports psychologists themselves?

Not necessarily. While it can be beneficial for coaches to have some understanding of sports psychology principles, they do not need to become trained sports psychologists. Instead, coaches need to work closely with sports psychologists or mental conditioning professionals to implement evidence-based strategies and techniques that will benefit their athletes. For example, with the assistance of a sports psychologist, a swimming coach may implement goal-setting strategies to help a swimmer stay motivated and focused on their objectives despite the highs and lows of the podium outcomes for an entire season. By collaborating with experts in the field, coaches can thus effectively support their athletes' mental health as well as performance.

If you want to learn more about sports psychology and how to incorporate it into your coaching, we invite you to join the next cohort of the High Performance Coach Development Program. This program is a comprehensive and evidence-based program that equips coaches with both the science and art of high performance coaching. The program covers the latest sports science topics, such as sports psychology, nutrition, injury prevention and management, and performance analysis.

It also nurtures empowering leadership qualities, such as self-awareness, interdisciplinary team management, and the ability to manage personal growth and development as a high performance coach. Through the High Performance Coach Development Program's modules on self-development and leadership, coaches will learn to apply reflective practice to increase their self-awareness and self-management. They will assess their personal leadership styles, including the role of empowerment, to better understand how to lead and motivate their athletes. The program also emphasizes the importance of managing others effectively, including assistant coaches, performance specialists, support staff, and other organizational staff, fostering a collaborative and high-performing coaching environment. Additionally, participants will explore the value of mentoring for their career and personal development, learning tips and strategies for finding and engaging with mentors in a structured way. They will also have the opportunity to build their developmental network, identifying key resources and influencers who can provide ongoing mentorship and learning opportunities for long-term career development. This will help them navigate their professional growth and advancement more effectively.

Overall, the program is designed to create holistic coaching capacity building, so that you can tailor your coaching approach to each athlete’s needs and preferences while fostering a positive and cohesive team culture. Don’t miss this opportunity to become a more effective and ethical coach. The choice is yours, but remember: the best coaches are those who learn from sports psychology and a whole range of other sports science disciplines to apply it to their coaching and ultimately give their athletes the performance edge.

Reference articles for this article -

  1. What We’ve Learned Through Sports Psychology Research -

  2. Confidence: How Much You Really Need and How to Get It -

  3. Why athletes need a ‘quiet eye’-

  4. The dual nature of Perfectionism in Sport:

  5. Controlling Coaching Behaviors and Athlete Burnout:

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