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The Star Mentality Post

  • Writer's pictureRifat Hussein

Empowering Athletes: Crafting a Self-Determined Coaching Philosophy

Coaching is not just about drawing up the right tactics or perfecting techniques, it’s about guiding athletes to become the best versions of themselves. In this pursuit, Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has emerged as a powerful framework for coaches looking to rejuvenate their practices and inspire their athletes.

Using SDT helps coaches build a culture of motivation and high performance. It develops the athletes’ love for their sport and imparts essential traits. These include discipline, leadership qualities and self-belief. Coaches bear the responsibility of shaping individuals who are not only adept at their sport but also equipped to face life’s challenges. This holistic approach paves the way to enhance the experiences of all those within the sporting environment.

Understanding Self-Determination Theory

SDT, pioneered by Deci and Ryan in the 1980s, is grounded in the belief that every individual has innate psychological needs that drive their actions. These needs are Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness. They serve as the compass for guiding our pursuit of fulfillment and motivation.

In the context of coaching, SDT suggests athletes are able to reach peak performances when they are in union with these key traits. Autonomy, the ability to be in charge of their own actions and decisions. Competence, the belief in their capability to handle the demands of their sport. Relatedness, the sense of belonging and connection to their team and coaches.

In essence, SDT provides a blueprint for the interplay between psychological needs and an athlete’s motivation levels. It’s a philosophy that helps transform coaching and also elevates the athlete’s journey toward excellence.

Start with Your Core Values

Crafting a strong coaching approach first starts with introspection. Begin by examining your core values within your sport and as a coach. Ask yourself:

  • What do I believe in?

  • What motivates me to coach?

  • How can I inspire my athletes?

  • What characteristics are important in my sport?

  • How can I prioritise athlete development?

Your philosophy should serve as a mirror reflecting these deeply held convictions. If you cherish the personal growth of your athletes, focus on that. When your ethos is firmly anchored in your belief system, you’re more likely to inspire and instill these values in your environment.

Foster Autonomy

As mentioned, Autonomy is one of the pillars of SDT. To integrate this element into your coaching strategy, actively engage your athletes in decision-making processes and allow them to make their own choices. This may involve:

  • What their training regimen could look like

  • What specific skills do they want to work on

  • What drills do they want to do

  • Setting their own goals

  • Having input in match strategies

By involving them in these areas, you give them a valuable opportunity to take ownership of their personal development and assume leadership. This method creates a strong coach-athlete relationship and provides individuals with a more positive attitude towards their sport.

Develop Competence

Athletes have a natural desire to feel they have the necessary skills to accomplish their goals. Who doesn’t? Everyone wants to be good at what they do and love. They want to enjoy their sport to the fullest.

As a coach, you hold the power to facilitate this sense of competence by setting realistic and attainable targets for your athletes. Providing them with constructive feedback and creating opportunities for skill refinement. It’s also essential to celebrate the small achievements. Such acknowledgments can significantly bolster athletes’ confidence and reinforce their commitment to improvement.

Nurture Relatedness

All individuals share a fundamental need for care and to closely identify with their group. The world of sports is no exception and no different in any specific sport. Athletes crave that feeling of belonging to their team and coach.

You play a vital role in molding connections and a culture of support within your group. Encouraging open communication, displaying empathy, and emphasising that each individual is valued are key steps. When athletes genuinely feel they are a part of a strong community, they become more motivated to work towards shared goals and purposes, often putting in extra effort to achieve them.

Empathise Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation, often the holy grail of coaching, is a substantial term in sports psychology. Athletes who are pushed by their inner desires and the need for personal fulfillment tend to perform better and stay committed over the long haul.

It’s crucial to understand how to cultivate intrinsic motivation within your athletes. Limit solely fixating on external rewards or outcomes like winning. Instead, encourage your athletes to focus on the joy and fun of training and competitions. Help them discover personal meaning and satisfaction in every aspect of their sporting career.

When athletes find genuine pleasure in their sport, their self-motivation becomes a powerful driving force that propels them to achieve their best and remain dedicated in the face of challenges.

Set Clear Expectations

Transparent communication is fundamental to any coaching strategy. It helps steer your athletes towards success and truly develop an environment that thrives on the SDT principles.

Within your coaching philosophy, explicitly define your expectations regarding commitment, effort, and standards. When athletes understand what is expected of them, they are more likely to make informed choices about their level of engagement. Again, you enable them to take charge of their own development. Athletes can align their energy with your expectations.

In this way, communication becomes the glue that holds your coaching ethos together and harmonises the SDT components.

Take Home Messages

An effective coaching philosophy, firmly rooted in the principles of SDT, has the potential to revolutionize your sporting culture. It empowers athletes to assume responsibility for their own growth, elevates their confidence levels, and creates a supportive team environment.

As you strive to ignite the fire within your athletes, remember it all starts with your core values. Your coaching journey begins with these fundamental beliefs and it’s through them you can transform your athletes’ experiences, both in their sport and in life.


Have a coaching success story to inspire others? Faced challenges in motivating your athletes? Or perhaps you’ve experienced the influence of a coach as an athlete.

Whatever your story share your insights in the comment section below!


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