In the academic literature, researchers are defining the coaching philosophy in different ways, and not a single definition is similar with other ones. To enumerate some, Wilcox and Trudel define the philosophy as: “A coaching philosophy is a set of values and behaviors that serve to guide the actions of a coach.” or “A coaching philosophy is a personal statement that is based on the values and beliefs that direct one’s coaching.” as defined by Kidman and Hanrahan 1997. Lyle define the coaching philosophy as “A coaching philosophy is a comprehensive statement about the beliefs that . . . characterize a coach’s practice.” (Nelson, 2018)
As can be seen, the definitions are complementary, but it cannot be said that any two are identical. If take all them together, we can understand that core of a coaching philosophy is created around values, behaviours and beliefs all having impact in the coaching process.
Often misunderstood and misinterpreted by coaches (Horsley et al., 2015), the term of Coaching Philosophy, as Philosophy itself, has a vague meaning. (Cushion and Partington, 2016b) Mostly the coaching philosophy is confused with technical tactical strategy and vision of one’s about a certain sport. While a coach technical tactical model is constructed around a coach’s game knowledge and previous experiences and can be interpreted by his strategy and his objectives, the coaching philosophy itself is a restricted set of values related to the coach’s behaviour and practice.
The interest in studying the coaching philosophy came more from the researchers then from practitioners. Coaches being already involved in the process of coaching, and not seeing philosophy as something tangible, tend to focus more on developing certain skills or certain techniques than to develop their coaching philosophy. (Cushion & Partington, 2016)
Even though researchers have suggested that coaches with a strong philosophy tend to be more consistent in their actions, coaches prefer to focus their attention on tangible issues that have an immediate impact.
In a study about coaching education courses, Nelson and Cushion (2006), found all these education programs put a great accent on the development of a healthy coaching philosophy. In the initial courses, educators are aware that every single coach that take part comes with a philosophy, but also they are aware that most of them do not posed a well-developed philosophy.
In the UK, all National Governing Bodies developed the education courses in a way that help the practitioners to reflect on their core values and beliefs in order to develop their coaching philosophy as the base of their coaching development. (Nelson and Cushion, 2006a)
Why a coaching philosophy is important
A lot of coaches tend to believe that having a coaching philosophy is not important and they seem to not understand the impact that philosophy has in the training process. (Mergelsberg, 2007)
In the academic literature, some researchers (e.g. McCallister et al., 2000 Voight & Carroll, 2006) are assuming that readers have already an understanding of the definition and what constitutes a coaching philosophy. Based on that perception the authors omit to provide a clear point of view of what are the components of coaching philosophy and what it’s definition is. (Cushion and Partington, 2016)
As Mergelsberg(2007) described, even they are not aware, each and every coach possess its own philosophy. From his point of view, the philosophy is described by a person’s everyday behaviour applied in the training environment. Same as in real life, in football coaching, two persons can have different views or approaches, so is the same with philosophies, they differ for every person. Even though every philosophy is different, certain elements as positivity, passion for the game, setting achievable goals, prioritise the development of players or focus on developing the athlete not just as a player but as a person are a vital part of healthy coaching philosophy. (Mergelsberg, 2007)
Prioritizing the development of the players was one of the core value found in the philosophy of elite American Football coaches at High School level. (Gould et al., 2007)
In order to create a proper environment where the development of the players is the main objective, winning should be put on a second plan and should come as result of a proper development. To allow a proper development, the coaching philosophy should be guided around the possibility to allow proper participation and to facilitate the transfer of values from coaches to players. The coach in his relationship with the athlete has to interpret multiple roles. A coach should be a teacher, a mentor, a role model and even a friend for the athlete.
In team sports, in all categories, from youth to adults, winning was always seen as a matter of success and reflected in the eyes of the audience the ability of the coach. According to Cumming et al. (2007) in youth sports, winning is not always the important thing for the players as some of them are practicing the sport for enjoyment, but failing to do so can be perceived as coach’s lack of knowledge or ability or poor game understanding for players.
In a study by Smith et al. (1978) players, perception on coaches’ abilities based on the game success was analysed. It was suggested that even the success during the games does not have a great impact on the enjoyment of players, players that were more goal oriented were assessing their coachability based on their ability to win games. (Cumming et al., 2007)
Usually, when seen as a role model, the coach core values can be transmitted to players and assimilated in their personal life philosophy. In an attempt to understand how life skills can be transferred from coaches to youth athletes, Collins et al. (2009), found out that for this process to happen a strong athlete-coach relationship, based on communication and trust, should be present and coaches should treat youth players as young adults. Being treated as young adults in conversions and allowing the freedom to think maturely can help the athlete to develop his leadership skills. (Gould et al., 2007)
In chapter five of his book “Coaching Science”, Gordon (2009) describes the motivational climate as the environment in which athletes can accumulate information and improve their performance. Considered a requirement in the athlete drive to improve, the motivational climate is often impacted by coach’s philosophy and conduct. Training is mostly impacted by coaches’ beliefs and understanding of the game alongside their coaching manner and style, which can have an influence on the player’s development. The motivational climate is described as having two types of environments, Goal-Oriented environments and Task-Oriented environments.
A Goal-Oriented environment is an environment where players are usually driven by their extrinsic motivation and where the coach is putting more focus on winning than enjoyment and development, where players are treated based on their skills and where the rivalries are encouraged.
On the other hand, in a Task-Oriented environment, coaches tend to encourage peer collaboration, to put accent on both individual and group improvement. In this type of environment, coaches use to tolerate the errors and use them as learning tools. This type of environment is recommended to be used by specialists as it allows players to be influenced by their internal emotions and desire. (Gordon, 2009)
What constitutes a coaching philosophy? (e.g. personal values, beliefs, skills)
When interviewing coaches at several elite academies in Europe, Nesti and Sulley (2014) concluded that some coaches described their philosophy as an extension to their beliefs about the most important things in life and their role is to prepare future professional athletes to become better human beings. These beliefs have roots in their youth development period and were inherited from their previous inspirational coaches.
It was also observed that players learn better when their coaches use their coaching philosophy to make players believe that their progress matters the same for the coaches as it matters for them personally. (Nesti and Sulley, 2014)
The idea of coaching philosophy is not often clear in the coach’s head. Van Mullem and Brunner (2013) are suggesting that beliefs and values should be resumed into a so called ‘mission statement’ in order to get a clear idea of your personal philosophy. Having a mission statement, allows the coaches to have a better view of how their values and beliefs can have impact on their actions during training and games.
The process of creating a successful working mission statement is a long term process and based on trails and error and reflection over personal values and beliefs. (Van Mullem and Brunner, 2013)
Reflecting on values and beliefs is has been studied and debated a lot in the academic literature. It had been demonstrated by researchers that reflective practice helps the coaches in the process of learning and developing their coaching philosophy. The process of reflection can provide a link between knowledge gained from professional practice, observations, coaching theory, and education. (Nelson and Cushion, 2006)
According to Ghaye and Lillyman (2004) negative scenarios are forcing coaches to reflect on their behaviour and actions in order to find improvements and avoid those scenarios to happen again.
In order to help youth coaches to reflect on coaching philosophy and help them to find out if their values and are appropriate for the youth football environment, Martens (2004) propose a list of questions for self-reflection. His suggestion is that coaches should self-reflect on their reasons for coaching, on what goals they have as a coach, on what are the goals of their teams and on what characteristics a youth coach should have. Also is suggested to reflect on the existing values and on what his message for the players is. (Martens, 2004)
Values are seen to be the way of how individuals are assessing day to day experience and how they relate them to life and the way that people tend to prioritise things. Compared to beliefs and opinions, values tend to be more secure and is a small chance to get changed over time. (Lyle, 2005)
Example of values can include hard work, respect, winning, or discipline. It was suggested that players tend to perform well and develop better if they are involved in an environment where everyone is treated equally and with respect. (Nesti and Sulley, 2014)
Coaches that are valorising the hard work, will appreciate and prise more the players that are giving their everything during matches and games. (Van Mullem and Brunner, 2013)
Sometimes coaches with not well-defined philosophy tend to alter their values and believes due to a wrong perception of demands from the club or the peer coaches. Often, coaches are used to motivate the existence of a certain value in their philosophy by saying that it is a must to have it, although they are aware that they cannot acquire this characteristic. So for these coaches, philosophy tends to become more of a statement than a set of principles and this can negatively impact their training process. (Lyle, 2005)
How a coaching philosophy could potentially alter or adapt within different levels?
Developing a coaching philosophy is a long term process and cannot be done overnight. Usually philosophy has to be flexible and adaptable to different working environments. A well-developed coaching philosophy will have a good impact on the coaching process and can offer stability in the coach-player relationship and in the coaching environment. If players are aware of coach’s coaching philosophy, they might be more receptive and can understand and get over a decision that might affect them directly. (Roberts, 2012)
In a study about European’s top club’s academy coaches, Nesti et al. discovered that youth coaches had a great passion about their current role and they that long term commitment is the key to becoming successful in these positions. Many of them were not seeing the youth coaching as a stepping stone to adult football, and they were aware that their vocation is to guide youth athletes and develop them both as a player and as a person.
Clubs like Ajax or Bayern Munich tend to employ former successful club players and offer them the possibility to work with the younger age groups in their top performance academies. This approach is beneficial for everyone, but mostly the young players are the one that get the most out of this. Firstly, is beneficial for the coach as he can continue his journey in a football environment after a successful career. Working in a club that allowed them to achieve success, can drive them to be great examples for the players and offer back something to the club. Secondly, is rewarding for the club as it allows them to continue their tradition and maintain their philosophy. Last but not least, is a great advantage for the players, as having the chance to be coached by their idols or their parent’s idols can motivate them in their process of development and learning. (Nesti and Sulley, 2014)
Danish (2002) underlined that sport is not just a fun activity and enjoyment for youth players but can contribute to the personal development of youth athletes. Youth coaches can have a huge impact not only over the sports development, but also over their life development.
Also, the coach plays an important role in the players engagement in sports. If a proper environment is developed and everyone is treated fair and engaged in all trainings, regardless the ability, players will feel included and can develop themselves. If those are not happening, players may experiment a loss of interest and could lost their drive to develop and they can even give up practicing sport. (Danish, 2002)
Nesti and Sulley found out that successful elite coaches had a good understanding of their personal philosophy and ideology on how should act like a coach. When they were asked about their coaching philosophy, each one defined his philosophy in his own way and most of the times different than other coaches, but in all the answers some common key topics could be found. The most commonly trait was about putting the development of the player on the first place. (Nesti and Sulley, 2014)
While in youth sports is more about enjoyment, participation, and life skills development, in adult sports, there is a much more accent on performance and winning. (Lyle, 2005)
Experienced coaches tend to reflect more often on their coaching philosophy as a tool of monitoring their coaching process. They are also willing to experiment new things in their trainings and have the necessary knowledge to adapt or change completely the practice if the new tested method is not working properly. (Nash, Sproule and Horton, 2008)
In a research done by Bennie and O’Connor (2010) over professional players and coaches, was found that a well developed philosophy is critical in providing the team with direction and investing players and staff with different duties. Coaching philosophy influence the way that the coach crate the environment, how the communication inside the team is and how the team is lead. Everyone in the team, from players to staff should be totally aware of the philosophy and should guide their work under it. (Bennie and O’Connor, 2010)
How coaching philosophy could potentially impact or effect coaching behaviour (e.g. what could happen if a personal coaching philosophy is threatened or challenged?)
One of the few researchers that assumed that behaviour is affected by coaching philosophy, Lyle (1999), emphasize on the fact that coaching practice is not objective, due to his beliefs that coaches are not able to allow values to impact their behaviour. He considers that coaching philosophy is a set of personal beliefs inherited from past experiences and education programmes. These beliefs can suffer changes if external pressured factors are applied on one’s coaching philosophy. (Cassidy, Jones and Potrac, 2009)
In certain cases, even a coach has a predefined set of beliefs and principles and an already defined coaching philosophies, they are unable to put it into practices as the club they are working with poses its own philosophy and its own values. In order to satisfy the demands and the philosophy of the current club, or in their pursuit for a better coaching position, coaches are willing to compromise their personal beliefs and philosophy. (Cassidy, Jones and Potrac, 2009) Is often possible that there can be differences between coaches publicly promoted values and their personal values as well as between coaching values and core values.
Even with slightly differences in vision and values, conflicts may occur and consent has to be negotiated through good practice. Differences between coaching values and organisational values or between coach’s philosophy and sports general notions can be a main cause of conflicts to appear. (Lyle, 2005)