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Coaching Styles: Which Approach Is Best?

By Nelson Gord, Next College Student Athlete Team Edition, 05/16/18, 12:00PM CDT

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A great coach should be able to read his team and determine the best course of action. Secondly, the coaching style will be the most consistent when it’s a true reflection of one’s personality.

From tough-as-nails disciplinarian to always-sunny mentor, you can find varying coaching styles at every level of competition.

And we do mean every level — you’ll find some pretty tough Pee Wee football coaches out there. As the world’s largest collegiate athletic recruiting network, we connect college-bound student-athletes every day with college coaches across 34 sports.

We’re very familiar with the different Athlete Types that student-athletes exhibit, but what never ceases to amaze us is all the different coaching styles that are utilized to win games.

While the majority of coaches share a passion for winning and dedication to their athletes’ success, we became curious about which coaching style is ultimately the most effective.

Here’s what we learned:

Style over substance?

In Inc., Phil Jackson, who has amassed 11 NBA championship rings as a coach and two as a player, is described as an avid practitioner of meditation. When he was coaching the Chicago Bulls, he would lead meditation groups during practice and have his players practice sitting still.

The focus was on helping the players center themselves in moments of calm, and ultimately learn to avoid stress. Conversely, the Harvard Business Review describes the coaching style of storied NFL coach Bill Parcells, who won two Super Bowls and held a reputation for turning underperforming teams around: “You have to tell them the truth about their performance, you have to tell it to them face-to-face, and you have to tell it to them over and over again. Sometimes the truth will be painful, and sometimes saying it will lead to an uncomfortable confrontation. So be it.”

That’s quite a difference in approaches — one that embraces stress and one that avoids it. And yet, both have been used to lead teams to the pinnacle of success. This makes one think: What if the key to coaching is not really the coaching style one subscribes to, but how it’s used?

In the oft-cited book Successful Coaching, author Rainer Martens states that there are many ways to describe coaching styles, but the most-often described styles are the command style, submissive style, and cooperative style. The command style is one where the coach makes all the decisions, has a steely demeanor, and utilizes seriousness to get a response from their athletes. The submissive style is one where the coach makes few decisions, provides minimal guidance, and rarely provides discipline. And the cooperative style is a flexible style that attempts to empower athletes by sharing the decision-making.

The cooperative style also takes into consideration athletes’ style of learning, which makes it seem more of a new-school approach. In the typical team environment, athletes are expected to adjust to any coaching style, and if they do not, they are punished with decreased playing time or getting cut. The pressure is often on the player to adapt, but perhaps it’s time for coaches to consider being more flexible.

After all, the evidence is out there that different styles can lead to success, so what should the ideal approach be? It’s difficult to offer definitive answers, but we do have a few suggestions.

A winning gameplan

First, coaches should consider adapting to the players that they have. When dealing with a group of individuals, it makes sense to consider that not every team will respond the same way to the same coaching style. Some teams may respond to meditation. Some may respond to brutal honesty. A great coach should be able to read his team and determine the best course of action.

Secondly, the coaching style will be the most consistent when it’s a true reflection of one’s personality. A coach who is usually loose and carefree will likely experience difficulty playing the role of an uptight drill sergeant.

Lastly, remember that coaching is about more than just winning games. It’s also about providing mentorship and teaching important life lessons. After all, winning on game day can be a tremendous accomplishment, but life still goes on.

Remember these lessons, and you’ll find success long after the season is over.

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