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An Athlete’s Perspective: What Makes A Caring Coach

by Lori Gano-Overway, PhD, CMPC

01.14.2022

Concepts shared from research by Lori A. Gano-Overway, PhD, CMPC, and PCA National Advisory Board Member 

There is a good amount of research out there from a coach’s perspective on what he/she feels creates a caring and positive environment in sports. This new research, however, takes a look at the perspective of former high school athletes and outlines their experiences with coaches, and their takeaways on what stood out as important aspects of past coaches who created a caring environment that influenced not only their sports experience but in many cases, their life as a whole.


Four main themes surfaced:

Support & Encourage Athletes

  • When a Coach is tuned in, is a good listener, has good
    observational skills, and takes time to understand his/her players, the players feel the connection and support and want to give more effort.
  • When a coach puts the focus on their players by offering support, encouragement, providing constructive advice, and
    helping them see their potential, players are motivated to do well.
  • Coaches who focus on the holistic development of their athletes, including the development of important life skills, are viewed as creating the best environment and having the most impact
    in sports and in life.

Coaches who take the time to pull players aside individually
to discuss a players’ potential and to give them recognition of their
efforts feel seen and supported.

 Develop Meaningful Connections

  • When a coach is tuned into the needs and abilities of their players and creates personal connections in this way, players recognize that they are an integral part of the larger team community.
  • Players believe that a coach who creates a welcoming environment that encourages everyone to support one another and develop meaningful connections that extend beyond the sport get more out of their athletes.

Coaches who create a caring sports community, including developing community norms and values based on caring, promoting inclusion and acceptance, developing harmony and solidarity, and engaging in consensus building and shared decision making, are perceived as creating a more caring and motivating environment.

Create a Caring Community on the Team

  • By recognizing an athlete’s hard work and determination, even if they aren’t the best player on the team, a Coach communicates to athletes that when you’re putting in your best effort, they still care about you and that you can still learn from that experience. 
  • Coaches who clearly and consistently communicate expectations and identify how they can work together to promote a positive team culture based on creating a sense of community help make team members feel valued.

Balance Effort & Improvement with Caring

  • A great Coach communicates a shared mission with players, outlines how the mission can be achieved by the group if they unite together, and demonstrates a passion for achieving the mission, drawing all participants together in this shared goal.
  • Growth opportunities and life skills nurtured by coaches are not the results of one incident, but instead, a collection of consistent actions focused on the athletes, ensuring that they felt noticed and supported.

Lori Gano-Overway, PhD, CMPC is an Assistant Professor at James Madison University. Her research interests consist of understanding how the coaching or teaching climate can be structured to provide positive experiences for young people and foster positive youth development.

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