Handling Concerns or Criticisms About Your Coaching

  • February 03, 2015


Excerpted from the Coaching Association of Canada Coaching Resources

6 Ways to Deal with Concerns about Your Coaching Conduct

A concern about coaching conduct should not be interpreted as a criticism of you as a person. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn, reflect, and improve as a coach! What matters is how you receive the feedback and incorporate any lessons learned into your coaching practices. With that in mind, what do you do if another person expresses concerns about your coaching conduct?

  1. Listen carefully. It is important that you listen to the concerned individual’s comments. Your stance should be “Help me understand your perspective.” It is important to listen to what is being said, respond to feelings, ask open-ended questions for verification, seek confirmation from the speaker about what you think you have heard, and try to give the speaker the feeling that he/she is being heard.
  2. Understand. You should try to learn why the individual feels you have harmed them. Even if you don’t agree with the concern being expressed, it is important to understand the concern to prevent it from escalating or continuing in the future. Although you may not intend to use harmful behaviours, athletes may perceive the messages you send differently than you meant them to. As well, a variety of personal factors such as age, gender, cultural/ethnic background, and history of harm, may influence the way your coaching behaviours are viewed. Even if you did not intend to harm the athlete, it is important to correct your behaviour so that you do not continue to harm the athlete.
  3. Self-reflect. Use this as an opportunity to reflect on your coaching conduct as a whole.
  4. Seek advice. It is often helpful to seek advice from a third party about your own conduct and potential avenues for change and reconciliation. Depending on the severity of the concern expressed, you may want to seek advice from another coach, formal advice from the sports organization, or legal advice from a legal expert.
  5. Problem-solve. Given what you have learned from your conversation with the concerned individual and the advice received, what would improve the situation going forward? Try to implement the identified changes to the best of your abilities and seek support or further advice or education as needed.
  6. Follow Up. It may help you to follow up with the concerned individual at a later date to ensure that he or she is satisfied with your present coaching conduct and that the previous situation, which was the basis of the concern, no longer applies.

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Coach Responses

How do you handle criticism about your own coaching?

Share your tips and best practices!

Martin Cavanagh ChPc – Curling – Montreal – 20+ years

“…in addition to these 6 great tips on dealing with coaching conduct, and perhaps a subsection of all of them is “Coaching Style”. Your coaching style is the manner, method or pathway that a coach uses to empower their intended recipient(s). This is not a “one style fits all” philosophy, as not everyone shares the same learning or skill acquisition system. A coach requires intuition, diverse communications and critical thinking to know if they have chosen the proper style for their audience. Conflicts, concerns or criticism may be mitigated if you appropriately use these 3 coaching styles towards your coaching success.

  • “Laissez-faire” or Casual coaching, involves making very few decisions by delegating ownership and decision making to athletes or others. The Coach is a resource, but not a strong influencer.
  • “Democratic” or Coaching by shared visions and decisions. The Coach guides the learning process towards success with a positive influence.
  • “Autocratic” or more Instructing than Coaching. The Coach leads all processes and makes all decisions towards established program goals. The Coach must have the skills and resources for success.

A successful Coach will know what, when, where, why, how and with whom use these styles, or a “Blended Approach” selecting the best style at any given opportunity to reach out and empower!”

Pam Coburn – Equestrian – Richmond Hill – 10 years

“…Understand that people learn in different ways. From adults to children, and across cultures your goal as a coach is to help your athlete learn and progress – whatever their goals are. If it’s not working for the athlete, you have an opportunity to learn and grow as a coach.

I heard a while ago a quote about successful Olympic Athletes – that one of the strongest common attributes was optimism. For me, this translates into turning challenges into opportunities to learn and grow.”

Darren Thompson – Ringette – Waterloo – 1 year

“…I try to listen to the person (player/parent) and provide them feedback on why I acted how I did or why we were instructed as we were.”

Lynne Jobe – Multi-Sport – Calgary

“…One tip that works in coaching and in many settings is to think of the criticism as “purposeful” rather than “personal”. With this approach, the emotion subsides and it’s easier to use the opportunity as a teachable moment.

Many parents that comment is seeking understanding so provide the background LTAD related info (or other) to help them to support your coaching philosophy.”

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