The Both-and coaching Breakdown

This blog promotes a Both-and Approach to athlete development and coaching. Here are the key tenets to a Both-and Approach:

  1. To connect with athletes BOTH as players AND people.

Coaches are in a unique position: we can not only help athletes acquire physical skills, but can also shape their self-perceptions and expectations, impact how they define success and react to failure, and influence their interactions with others. Given their scope of influence, youth sport coaches need to balance skill-building (i.e., technical and tactical competencies) with relationship-building. Coaches who engage with athletes BOTH as players AND as people can intentionally tailor their actions to the strengths, interests, developmental stage, and values of each athlete. In doing so, we can best support the motivation, development, and well-being of the young people with whom we work.

  1. To BOTH acknowledge expertise AND shift responsibility to players.

As coaches, we are privileged: we are in a position of power and may have unique sport experiences/expertise.  We need to be mindful of this privilege in the service of youth development, and our own! Coaches can BOTH acknowledge their expertise, using that knowledge to help athletes develop skills, AND create opportunities for athletes take ownership. This includes allowing athletes the chance to communicate their needs, offer input, make choices, solve problems, and own their process. Coaches who shift responsibility to athletes do not relinquish their duties; instead, we support our athletes’ self-directed learning and give ourselves the chance to learn from our players.

  1. To embrace BOTH competition AND cooperation in sport.

Competition is cooperative at its essence: the word’s Latin root is “com”—together—and “petere”— to strive for something.  Despite the etymology of competition, sport culture tends to pit teams and players against one another; and, too often, youth sport culture (e.g., coaches, parents, players, and administrators) strictly view cooperation as a team construct: players come together to beat their opponent.

BOTH-AND coaching takes to heart its cooperative essence to serve youth development (including performance outcomes). Building an inclusive, cohesive team is important. These supportive relationships matter to social development and can be meaningful to athletes long after their youth. With that said, a competitive culture that supports (or allows) demeaning the opposition to differentiate them undermines positive development. For performance outcomes, belittling the other team may help “pump” athletes up at half-time, but a sole focus on outperforming the opponent can leave players complacent if /when they successfully do so. For social/moral development, the “us” vs. “them” mentality can promote exclusion, discrimination, and aggression—all of which can undercut the potential for sport to help players become better people.

BOTH-AND coaching embraces BOTH competition AND cooperation. Cooperative competition promotes a mutually respectful, earnest striving against one another, for one another.  Challenging opponents with integrity provides athletes (and their opponent) with optimal conditions for continued improvement. The end goal is personal and collective growth—a standard that better guards against complacency and pushes us all to reach our potential.

  1. To support athletes’ self-concept as “playmakers” BOTH on AND off the field

BOTH-AND coaching requires that we rethink coaching. Popular notions that “sport builds character” might suggest a social acceptance of sport as a context in which youth develop and show character.  In reality, though, the public largely sees athletes as agents of change in their athletic endeavors not in social/political spaces. Real-world issues (e.g., class, race, or sexuality) cannot, however, be divorced from sport because these issues cannot be divorced from us.  When athletes (and coaches) take to the field, we carry with us experiences and identities that are bound up in the larger social contexts in which we live. Even if we show up “just to play”, these matters unavoidably seep into the sport. To fully acknowledge this reality, coaches need to support athletes beyond wins and losses. We need to provide youth with an experience that serves a larger social responsibility: to create an inclusive climate that honors our athletes’ individual identities and encourage our players to view themselves as BOTH on-the-field playmakers AND engaged citizens.