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Developing Connection with Your Athletes

This article originally published on Water Polo Planet.

There is a sweet spot for player’s first coaches that are looking to find the most optimal level of connection with their players. It is usually comprised of a combination of:

  • Relatedness

  • Support

  • A Direction in Communication


Relatedness focuses on the social interaction between coaches and athletes and should be playful in nature. It is a balance between meeting them at their level in terms of common interests with an empathetic yet authoritative voice sharing life lessons and wisdom. Coaches need to be mindful of the age gap and act in sync with the expectations they communicate.


Support focuses on sport and personal empathy related to athlete’s developmental levels and the highs and lows they experience. Helping them understand what is expected of them as well as what they expect of themselves builds a connection with the sport and the staff. Coaches who support their athletes effectively develop an evolving practice of their own biases and self-awareness. They also need to develop active and reflective listening skills so that the athletes feel the coach hears them supports them.

A Direction in Communication

A direction in communication is the default skill most coaches know they need to effectively coach their sport. Effective communication is the most important skill coaches need to master in order to help their athletes thrive. In order to prevent confusion, the direction coaches communicate should be simple and systematic enough to help athletes make sense of technique and tactics. The direction also needs to be clear. It should meet the athletes where they are. One approach to communication may not be understood in the same way by all. The developmental level of the athlete to whom the coach speaks is based on their confidence and knowledge of the skill or task at hand. Coaches can check in with their athletes between directive communication situations to ask as well as observe signs that their athletes have the confidence and competence necessary to advance.

As coaches improve their connection with their athletes, they will help athletes improve their intrinsic self-determination. A connection is one of the basic psychological needs athletes desire to help them find the type of motivation which lasts. It helps them push through adversity and persevere toward long-term goals.

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