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  • Jody Langdon

Missed Opportunities and Learning a Better Way to Coach - Jody Langdon: Professor & Coach Developer

I am a coach developer. Anyone who knew me growing up would laugh at that thought. I was the last to be picked on teams, given the oddest combination of events to swim, forced to play right field in softball when the only left-handed batter was on my team…ignored. So, how did I go from all that to where I am now?

After many years of sitting on the sideline and watching, I was able to observe movement and recreate it. In most cases, I taught myself. I spent time working as an athletic trainer, which required my eyes to be on the field at all times. One thing I noticed both in my career as a youth sport participant and an athletic trainer, was that the most talented athletes got all the attention, while less talented athletes were ignored. I knew there had to be a better way.

Fast forward about 20 years and I have realized that my experiences were a culmination of factors that included coaches who were not adequately trained to work with ALL athletes and not just the ones who showed innate talent. It was fairly common as a kid to see the more “athletic kids” getting the attention. The general practice of only seeing innate talent does not come from “bad” coaches, but from those who lack the training in how to coach EVERYONE. That’s why I’ve made a major focus of my career on training coaches.

Across the span of my career, I’ve focused heavily on the use of motivational theory to inform how leaders communicate with those they serve. This includes coaches and teachers. What I have found is that people are capable of changing their patterns of communication with proper training. This communication is athlete-centered, focused on working with athletes as complete people with diverse needs and goals. Grounded in Self-Determination Theory, it is possible for coaches to impact the motivation of their athletes through the satisfaction of three basic needs: autonomy (giving athletes a sense of choice and ownership of their experience), competence (giving athletes the confidence to complete tasks associated with being an athlete), and relatedness (giving athletes the opportunity to connect with others).

Consideration of these basic needs goes beyond just providing fun drills and activities for athletes. It requires coaches to really think about their athletes FIRST. To design experiences that teach athletes skills in a DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE way. To LISTEN to what the athletes are saying and feeling. To explain WHY athletes might benefit from specific activities or drills. To CONNECT with everyone. I’ve seen firsthand the benefits that athletes receive when their coaches provide this.

As just one aspect of the athlete-centered approach, understanding how a coach can support the basic needs of their athletes can lead to more than just improved motivation. It impacts self-esteem, enjoyment, well-being, and sport performance. Athletes are far more willing to work hard when they know their coach supports them unconditionally.

Coaches have a profound effect on how people choose to move throughout the lifespan. Understanding that helps us to see the importance of sending positive and supported messages to athletes. In light of this, I’d like us to consider the following questions:

1. As a coach, what do I do on a daily basis to support my athletes?

2. As a coach, do I communicate in a positive manner, where I explain myself so my athletes know why I’ve made the decisions I’ve made?

3. As a coach, do I listen to and acknowledge what my athletes are saying, both positive and negative?

4. As a coach, do I develop practice plans in a way that involves athlete choice or perspective?

5. As a coach, am I giving equal attention to all athletes on my team?

Answering these questions may help you in starting or continuing your journey to becoming a more athlete-centered coach. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to be a positive influence in an athlete’s life. Try to take those less talented athletes under your wing. You never know what they might be able to do because of the attention you pay them.

About Jody:

I am an associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Kinesiology at Georgia Southern University. There I teach a variety of courses in Research Methods, Technology in Sport, and Psychology of Coaching. I am also an adjunct instructor for Lebanon Valley College, where I teach courses in Health Psychology and Sport Psychology. Most of my coaching experience is with ages 3-13, having coached soccer, basketball, and swimming. I am also a former physical education teacher and middle school track and field coach.

I am a wife to Paul and a mother of two daughters, Kenzie and Alessa. When I'm not working, I enjoy watching my kids participate in Irish Dance, working out at OrangeTheory, practicing yoga, and reading.

**Jody has also recently been invited by the Center for Self-Determination Theory to be an international scholar for the organization because of her contributions to research and applied work in the field of motivation and human development. Check out more of her work here!

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