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U.S. Coaching Styles-How Do You Match Up?

by Coach Chris Goodman

There are 3 distinct U.S. coaching styles-how do you match up? Matching up with the personality of a coach could be very important to not only your recruiting success-but also how you perceive your entire college experience. Some athletes may try to put on a good poker face for coaches--even when those coaches are clearly giving them signals that their interests do not align.

What's important is you find that coach who has the same goals and aspirations for you--as you have. That can help you enjoy the practices, games and social gatherings even more.

There are several different coaching styles. Which one matches up with what you want to experience?

My Way Or The Highway

It can be called bossy, autocratic, the command style or a dictatorship. The "my way or the highway" style may be a little old fashioned for some. More young kids are leaning toward coaches who let their kids freelance a bit. The old fashioned coaches are still out there. Many disciples of other old fashioned coaches are doing well in this era. That's because they run a very tight ship. You do what is asked or you hit the bench. It's that simple. Most college coaches have some element of the "my way or the highway" approach to their personality. It is their team. They are the ones who will lose their coaching job if they don't do well--or the team looks like it isn't coached well. For this reason, you can always expect coaches to want things done their way. These kinds of coach "to a certain degree fit the persona of the standard drill instructor in the military," Elliott Holstrom says. You won't have much or any say in a "my way or the highway" scenario. You'll just have to listen, pay attention to details, and execute. You'll most likely face punishment if you don't.

The Democratic

Also called a personal, cooperative, "laissez-faire", or the guider approach, these coaches will recruit talented athletes and give them more constructive feedback and a little more room to breathe. This coaching style is used more often in this era. Kids might say they just don't want to be bossed around in a "my way or the highway" type setting. They might choose someone they believe is easier to deal with. Less yelling always sounds a bit better. "By exhibiting effective listening skills and practicing what some may call an "open door policy," Elliott Holstrom says. "Players are more likely to voice their opinion when under the tutelage of the democratic coach."

It's important to note that "guiders" also have a job at stake. They can certainly push harder if need be. Still, there's a noticeable difference in coaching styles and allowing individuals to provide input. It might be less yelling and more positive reinforcement. Make no mistake-the guider is still in control when the situation calls for it. You might get more instruction instead of punishment. While this sounds like the scenario most kids want, you might also get upset at a lack of direction in this situation. Am I getting coached up enough? Are we doing the things we should be doing to win?

Casual Coach

Also known as the "submissive" style, it's going to be less intense than the other two approaches. A casual coach might believe he/she recruited you because of your talent and you don't need as much coaching. He might want to allow you to roam a bit before giving you more feedback. This means they'll let the team make some big decisions and provide feedback when needed. You'll see more of these types on the high school and smaller levels. You might also see it more in sports like track, tennis and golf. There aren't many casual coaches in college sports because jobs are at stake. Maybe you'll see these guys at smaller institutions where coaches wear multiple hats (coach two sports or teach and coach).

Mix of Philosophies

You might also see a mix of these coaching styles within a staff. That trend is certainly gaining traction. Why? Because some coaches realize every single athlete is different. "How does each player tick? Not every kid learns, is coached or can handle coaching the same way," says Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell. "That’s what we do. I think that’s what every high school teacher in America is trying to do: engage and understand how their student learns and allows them to be the best learner they can in the classroom.”

Maybe the head coach is the good guy and guider. Maybe the assistant coaches play the role of the bad guy and "my way or the highway." Maybe it's the opposite. Maybe every coach is flexible on how she/he coaches depending on the individual they talk to.

Coaches want to make sure their athletes respond in one way or the other. They might use different techniques with different personalities. Some coaches may be like a chameleon and change to suit the needs of certain individuals or situations.

A Kansas University course study sums it up this way. "Coaching can sometimes feel like trying to push a cloud through a doorway: If you push too hard, the cloud dissipates, but if you don’t push hard enough, you lose control of the direction you’re moving."

Figuring out which coach style a potential coach uses won't be an easy task. You can ask questions about what practices are like. You might even get to do an official school visit and see what practice actually looks like in person. You can possibly ask other players what the coaching style is like. Maybe alumni can give you some extra insight. Either way, it's important to try to figure out any details you can about what you are signing up for.

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