Conscious coaching – positive impact or negative impact

 In Coaches, Competition, Tennis

I am excited to speak about conscious coaching and how the sports culture and coaches can impact female body image. The Women’s Tennis Coaching Association (WTCA) is hosting a conference in New York City for coaches who train female players. We will discuss why this struggle exists and the impact it has on a player’s game and her life, and how coaches can influence the struggle – positively or negatively.

Conscious coaching

Coaches typically think about what kind of coach they want to be when they first start, but after that it isn’t something that they often think about. They just do it. Whenever we just do something without any thought, the consequences can be negative and harmful. Just as I was finishing up my presentation, the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology published research on Young Athletes’ Interpretations of Punitive Coaching Practices. This research aligns with my talk – what kind of coach do you want to be, why do you coach, and what is the impact of your coaching style.

Role models

Anyone who works with kids (ages 11-13) is a role model. That includes elite performance coaches, sports coaches, teachers, and parents. We all play a significant role in determining how a child feels about themselves. That is why conscious coaching is so important. It’s important for coaches to understand their role not only in the development of a young athlete but of a young person. It’s also important for coaches to know the impact of a negative style of coaching and learn what other styles look like.


If a child’s experience is negative, they often will articulate negative feelings about their self. The research conducted by Young Athletes’ Interpretations of Punitive Coaching Practices (Battaglia, Kerr and Stirling) confirm this. Kids have self-degrading thoughts such as, everyone else is better, I suck, and/or I am a loser.

Not only do negative thoughts develop one’s inner self but kids start to question what teammates and coaches think of them. I have seen this occur frequently at this age. Kids are just starting to develop their identity in relation to other kids (comparison) and their sport. This is a critical time in the development of a young athlete.

Lastly, because kids feel negative about themselves and embarrassed about what teammates and coaches think of them, many at this point, aren’t excited about going to practice and some want to drop out. My hypothesis is and my experience has seen that when a child feels like their only two options are to feel embarrassed and humiliated or to drop out, many take the latter.

Yelling and benching

This research brought to light that two of the harshest punishments for kids this age is yelling and benching. After either approach, kids would question coaching strategies and harbor lingering feelings of distrust, lack of respect, and anger. Kids felt embarrassed and ashamed and doubted their ability to play the sport. Lastly, further complicating the situation, kids would distance themselves from the coach after experiencing punishment and realized the importance of the coach-athlete relationship in making or breaking their future sport experience.

I talk to coaches daily who still think yelling and benching kids is OK. They tell me it’s how kids learn. Is it? I think kids learn by being guided toward self-control, independence, reasoning, rewarding appropriate behavior (effort and intent), and empathy to name a few.

Coping with this

From an Elite Performance Coach perspective, I get the opportunity to talk to groups of coaches at conferences and conventions about conscious coaching but outside of that, I have very little control over what coaches do. My clients, ages 11-13, also have little control over their coaches and because of that, I’ve had many who’ve felt out of control and want to quit their sport because of negative coaching experiences. Fortunately, I’ve been able to give them the skills of self-control, independence, reasoning, letting go and provide them with the necessary empathy to turn their negative experiences around and continue playing their sport.

It only takes one incident of yelling or benching for a coach to start eroding a young athlete’s self-esteem. Is that the kind of coach you want to be? If not, learn to become a conscious coach and aware of gender, age, and other elements have on different athletes.

More on perceptions on coaching tennis.


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