The bridge between coaches and academics slows achievement for both parties. Coaches fail to utilize new ideas in their quest for success. Researchers aren’t aware of needs requiring new investigations. As these two groups move forward, there is hope this gap will be reduced.
One area which has helped lessen the distance between these two groups is instilling confidence. The work of Albert Bandura, an educational psychologist, has been readily transferred and accepted by many coaches. This is due to the applicability of the ideas put forward by Bandura (1997).
Bandura believed confidence was a great predictor of success. Four factors helped develop confidence. The first of these factors was mastery performances. Mastery performances are believed to have the greatest impact. Mastery performances are what many coaches refer to as repetitions, or “reps.” A rep is a successful execution of a trial or exercise, usually a technical exercise. Coaches design technical training sessions to get as many reps into the practice as possible. Coaches and athletes have an appreciation for the amount of reps an athlete has performed. These groups understand the more successful reps, the more likely a successful performance. Thus, Bandura has suggested what coaches practice when attempting to develop confidence.
The second of Bandura’s four factors is vicarious experiences or modeling. This has been described as having the athlete or performer observe a successful performance. Through observing key aspects of the performance, the athlete can discern the necessary requirements for a successful execution of the event. Coaches often refer to this as a demonstration, or “demo.” A good demo gives the athlete an opportunity to visually learn what is needed to achieve a successful trial.
There has been recent research about what entails a good demo. Hodges and Franks (2002) have found modeling does not have to present perfect execution. A faulty modeling performance followed by correction leading to a successful execution of the task has been found to be an effective learning tool, too. This is good information for coaches. Coaches often desire a perfectly executed demo. Hodges and Franks indicate this is not always necessary for learning to occur. Coaches and Bandura can agree on the value of modeling.
Following the vicarious experience in order of priority is verbal persuasion. In this factor, the instructor provides verbal cues and instruction regarding how to perform the desired action. Coaches may sprinkle their training sessions with coaching points. This is along the same lines as Bandura’s verbal persuasion. This requires coaches be aware of correct actions and the technical points required. Coaches should be able to identify problems and provide the correction necessary for success. At higher levels of coaching, coaches should be aware of the best manner or method to disseminate this information. This may be best accomplished by addressing the group or team, or through a one-on-one conversation.
The last of these factors is optimal arousal. This refers to both mental and physical arousal for athletes. The physical level of arousal can be manipulated by the coach through warm-up exercises or other activities. Aligning the optimal mental arousal state can be more difficult. For familiar tasks, coaches can recall and discuss past mastery experiences (reps) to invoke feelings of competence. For new, novel tasks coaches must employ a different strategy. Coaches must sell rather than tell (Beswick, personal communication) athletes of their potential for the new task. This is the art of coaching.
These factors, when considered and recognized by coaches as processes they currently employ, help bridge the gap between theory and application. As this gap narrows, coaches will appreciate and utilize more theoretical material, leading to application of theory to practice. Coaches are concerned with improving their athletes and thus will entertain ideas (and theories) which will help them achieve this end.
To help develop confidence in their athletes, coaches should construct practices which include the four factors described by Bandura. This approach addresses both the application desires of coaches as well as implementing the theoretical work of Bandura. Paraphrasing Lewin, there is nothing as practical as a good theory.
Dr. William Steffen is the Chair of Sport Coaching at the United States Sports Academy. He was formerly the women’s soccer coach for nine years at the University of Oregon. He has also worked with members of the national women’s program. He has written and lectured extensively on coaching soccer. He most recently presented at the annual meeting of the National Soccer Coaches Association of American (NSCAA).
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman
Hodges, J. & Franks, I. (2002). Modeling coaching practice: The role of Instruction and demonstration. The Journal of Sport Sciences, 20, 793-811.