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UK Coaching Research Team
Organising and Planning

Perfectionism, Past and Empathy: Mastering Critical Reflection

Using a feedback-inspired critical reflection course, three coaches were able to move closer to their own idea of what makes a good coach

The three examples below show that, through critical reflection, coaches can change their behaviour and improve their coaching, with an added bonus of increasing the likelihood of their players changing their own behaviour.

1. The Perfectionist

This first coach on the critical reflection course wanted to change his perfectionism. He scrutinised his coaching through confessional practice and found his constant desire for things to be perfect – his coaching technique, policy documents etc – led to trouble.

He spent precious time redoing things that were already adequate. He also felt his perfectionism led to uncertainty. This was characterised by a situation where he froze and did not know how to respond when one of his players behaved strangely.

When thinking about how a good coach would behave in that situation, he referred to a colleague:

A good coach conveys calmness. When he works with his athletes, he stays calm and at the same time stimulates them to improve. I never see problematic situations arising when he is coaching. That is the coach I want to be.

The key is that his idea of a good coach behaves in the opposite way. He is calm throughout and never uncertain.

To become this type of coach, he used critical reflection to change his behaviour. He talked to his head coach if he felt tense or was too demanding of his players. He read up on perfectionism to understand the problem more fully. He also used a voice recorder to note his experiences, enabling him to revisit them later if he needed to think of other solutions.

Critically reflecting on his own behaviour in relation to his idea of a good coach enabled him to change his coaching behaviour and become a better coach.

2. The prisoner of the past

Through confessional practice, the second coach found he was a prisoner of his own sporting past. His youth coaches had been disciplinarians, and reflecting on his own behaviour, he discovered he was now the same.

His idea of a good coach was his stimulus for change. He thought there were similarities between himself and the Dutch junior men’s team coach, given their comparable approach to rules and discipline.

However, on another training course, he saw a video of this coach encouraging other coaches to communicate frequently with their players. It was then he realised his behaviour was not the same.

On reflection, he realised his approach caused friction between himself and the players. He admitted he was not a big talker and probably did not communicate with them enough.

He changed his behaviour by sitting down with players and discussing things with them when they stepped out of line. In the past, he admitted being quick to punish them if they did something wrong.

As well as changing his own behaviour, this coach increased the possibility of his players changing their behaviour through the coaches’ critical reflection, given they now enjoyed more positive relationships with him.

3. The empathiser 

The third coach confessed to being too empathic with her players, to the extent that she did not know what to do to ensure they gave 100% effort in her sessions. She noted how she would sometimes not substitute players as she knew how much they didn’t like it.

When reflecting on her own idea of a good coach, she felt it was important to empathise with players but at the same time have the ability to demand and receive 100% effort from them.

Her strategy to change included constantly thinking about how she acted with the players and suggesting alternative methods for future occurrences. She did this when driving, immediately after coaching sessions. She also watched how other coaches tried to bring about change in their players’ behaviour and analysed how the players responded.

Finally, she asked other coaches to work with her players while she observed, before asking the coach their opinion of the players and comparing that to her own judgements. She wanted to change her behaviour and drew on the behaviour of other (good, in her eyes) coaches to enact that change.

Related Content

  • Thanks Coach: A Decade of Self-Reflection on an Athlete's Critical Moments

  • Empathy (Part 1): Beyond Lip Service

  • Emotional Intelligence: The Secret Coaching Ingredient


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UK Coaching Research Team