United States Sports Academy
America's Sports University®

The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Old School vs. New School Coaching Styles


A debate is raging in the coaching profession concerning the treatment of athletes. Coaching styles are at the forefront of the argument as administrators, coaches, psychologists, parents, and the athletes themselves try to agree on which style is best to practice. Expectations dictate that the athlete should be able to adjust to any coaching style and perform accordingly. Failure to do so is blamed on the athlete and is considered a form of weakness on the part of that individual. Often, the athlete will quit the activity to avoid confrontation with the coach, effectively defeating the purpose of coaching, which is to help the athlete grow as a player and as a person. This behavior is prevalent in all sports arenas and crosses all boundaries of age, ethnicity, and gender.

How do modern coaches differ from coaches of the past? Do they differ at all? What can coaches do to reach their athletes and promote optimum performance? How can a coach earn respect from athletes without using negative responses and punishments? Which coaching style or styles do athletes respond best to?

Coaching Philosophy

A coaching philosophy is the foundation of a coach’s style and consists of a mixture of the coach’s personal beliefs, goals, objectives, and standards. Most coaches know in their mind what their philosophies consist of, but ask them to convey this information and they find it difficult to accomplish. An uneducated coach may respond with "my philosophy is to win!" This coach has no direction. Winning is great and promotes short-term job security, but coaches have a higher calling than just winning contests. The chosen philosophy is a direct reflection of the style the coach employs.

Coaching Style

One style of coaching is the command style. Marten reports (2004) that "in the command style of coaching, the coach makes all the decisions. The role of the athlete is to respond to the coach’s commands." The command style coach usually has a demeanor that is less than pleasant and feels that he or she must be serious 100% of the time or the athlete will not respond. A command style coach usually has problems with athletes quitting the program or complaining about the way they are being treated. Some will reply that the command style of coaching is not all negative. However, the coach must be cognizant of what is acceptable and what is not; what is determined as abusive and what is not.

A second style of coaching is the submissive style. The submissive coach makes as few decisions as possible. This style of coaching provides no direction, discipline, or instruction. Their coaching career is short-lived. They allow the athlete and others to dictate their coaching.

The third style of coaching is the cooperative style. A coach who implements this style is one who allows athletes to have a voice, while holding steadfast to the leadership position. This style of coaching usually takes into consideration the athlete’s style of learning. "Within any team there will be athletes with various learning styles. To maximize the team potential, coaches need to both understand these styles and accommodate them in their instruction and feedback during both practice and game situations" (Stewart & Owens, 2006).

Old School Coaching

Coaches have stated, "I use the old school style of coaching." Do they really know what that means? When the term "old school coach" is used the following characteristics come to mind:

When an old school coach goes too far, the consequences can be disastrous.

New School Coaching

Most successful new school coaches tend to be cooperative style coaches. Athletes today want coaches who are open to their ideas and value them as people. Cooperative coaching allows this empowerment of the athlete, while keeping the overall power in the hands of the coach. A prevalent trait of the new school coach is the thirst for knowledge. A new school coach is more open to change and adaptation than the old school coach. This does not mean that the new school coach is "soft." This simply means that the new school coach is not as domineering. A new school coach seeks to earn the respect of his/her athletes by demonstrating the knowledge they need to be successful. "A characteristic of effective coaches at all levels is continued ongoing learning and reflection…Virtually every portrait of great coaches shows them to be active learners who engage in constant reflection" (Gilbert & Jackson, 2004).

Characteristics of a new school coach might be:


Coaches are very important people in the lives of their athletes, the athletes’ families, and the community. Their actions can effect many aspects of an athletes life and this must be taken into account when a coaching style is chosen. Stereotypical old school coaches are disciplinarians first and teachers second. They usually deal with their athletes in a negative manner and are not open to change. Old school coaches believe that their way is the only way and their experience dictates that everyone should succumb to their will.

New school coaches are ones that are open to change, are willing to further their knowledge of the sport, and are teaching the athletes with the intent that they would develop their own understanding of the concepts. New school coaches tend to lean toward the cooperative style of coaching as the pursuit of knowledge leads them to understand the role open communication plays in pushing the athlete to peak performance.


Gilbert, Ph.D., Wade, Jackson, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., Catherine. (2004, December 5). In Search of an Effective Coaching Style. American College of Sports Medicine.Retrieved June 28, 2006 from http://coaching.usolympicteam.com/coaching/kpub.nsf/v/5Dec04.

Martens, Rainer. (2004). Successful Coaching - Third Edition. Champaign, Ill: Human Kinetics.

Stewart, Dr. Craig, Owens, Ph.D., Lynn M. (2nd.) Understanding Athletes’ Learning Style. Coaches’ info-service - Sports Science Information for Coaches. Retrieved June 30, 2006, from http://coachesinfo.com/category/becomingabetter_coach/272/.