5 Tips for Building a Strong Relationship between a Coach and an Athlete

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Tennis coach with student athlete


The coach-athlete relationship is a key component of a successful team. Coaches often strive to establish strong relationships with each of their athletes. Doing this not only helps a coach to understand what motivates or drives each individual, but it also highlights that the coach cares about the athlete as a person—in other words, that the coach sees the player as more than just a ticket to victory. Creating a strong relationship with each athlete can help to improve overall team morale and help to ensure that the team will go on to accomplish its goals. There are different types of coaching styles that favor particular aspects of a relationship, but the relationship itself still stays vital to success.

A coach’s relationship with their athletes has major benefits. Athletes may find that they can communicate their frustrations or ideas with the coach, and, in turn, the coach can create better strategy through understanding their athletes. Creating relationships is a unique skill that coaches should maintain. It takes problem solving, patience, understanding, and trust on both sides in order to reap the most rewards. However, it is the coach who has to lead the way in creating these relationships. Through a few tips, coaches can develop strong ties with their athletes and help invigorate a successful team.


One of the most important aspects of a coach’s relationship with an athlete is communication. With clear communication, coaches can lead, direct, and manage their team better. In return, the team and individual athletes can vocalize their ideas and concerns to the benefit of everyone.

Coaches have to consider every situation and every athlete individually to decide the best form of communication. A democratic style of coaching is usually the best strategy for communication, but autocratic can also have its benefits.

Autocratic coaching is known for telling instead of listening, and can be advantageous when concrete trust is present. Democratic coaching is a style where the coach and individual athletes communicate openly and have discussions. Communication is a crucial point of a good coach-athlete relationship. It requires speaking and listening from both parties. Without communication, coaches may find that the athletes won’t listen as readily and find dissonance throughout the team.

Positive Reinforcement

Building an athlete up through positive support and encouragement can help them to accomplish their own personal goals as well as ensure that they continue to support the team constructively. Coaches who help their teams visualize a strong outcome can increase the team’s chances of achieving success.

Coaches don’t need to be positive about every aspect to accomplish their goals. They can acknowledge where their athletes are doing well along with showing them where they need improvement. It’s important to note that positive reinforcement involves how they communicate with the athletes. One of the coach’s responsibilities is to assist their players with growing as athletes, as well as helping them to gain confidence in their skills both on and off the field.

Coaches may find that with positive reinforcement, their players will find their own inner-motivation and continue to improve individually. A team that is self-motivated can rise above challenges and find success.

Genuine Interest

For a coach to garner respect from their athletes, they have to give respect in return. To create a strong relationship, coaches have to show interest that goes beyond immediate team-related concerns. People react positively when someone remembers what their passions are, or something they’ve said.

The difference between interest and genuine interest is the coach’s sincerity. It can be time-consuming and wearisome to listen to and retain information about each athlete. However, it comes as a benefit because it is similar to gathering data. A coach with genuine interest can gather information about players that may help strategy, practice, and general team-bonding.


Especially within interscholastic sports, a coach who is available is one that’s open to establishing interpersonal relationships. As the mentor and advisor, a coach needs to note to the entire team that he or she is available to talk whenever needed. Younger student-athletes often need advice and, at times, may be looking for someone to follow. By being available and engaged, coaches have the opportunity to help positively influence their athletes.

Coaches who offer availability to their athletes are paving the way towards strong relationships. Availability can be provided by offering extra time to meet outside of practice. Meeting outside of practice is a good way to establish the foundations needed to create lasting relationships.


The cornerstone of a strong bond is trust. Relationships are glued together by trust, and coaches who desire strong relationships with his or her athletes need to win the team’s collective trust.

When a coach clearly communicates, gives reinforcement, and shows genuine interest, the result will most likely be a trusting relationship. Once that is established, athletes usually listen closer, follow instruction without question, and generally enjoy the entire experience. These tips are to the benefit of the team, the gameplay, and can lead to positive results.

Coaches Are More Than Coaches

With these tips, coaches can become more than just a voice on the field; they can become advisors and mentors that athletes can rely on. Physical performance is linked with mental and emotional health. Coaches who take a holistic approach may find better performance as individuals and teams.

For those that want to be a coach, they should be prepared to get involved. For true success, they have to be engaged with their players and connect on a level beyond telling them what to do. Coaching can be a rewarding and satisfying career for people who bring effort and strong relationships to the table.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). For more information, contact an enrollment advisor at Ohio University.

Recommended Readings

3 Tips to Prepare Your Players for Game Day
What Skills Do Sports Coaches Need to be Successful
The Importance of Mental Toughness


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