Why it is important to coach towards mastery rather than outcome

Increased performance. Increased self-efficacy and self-confidence. Greater resiliency in the face of setbacks or obstacles. Decreased anxiety.  What coach doesn’t want to see these characteristics in their athletes?  But how exactly do they help facilitate them?  There is ample research and evidence that a focus on mastery will help athletes to experience these positive effective and it is the focus on a mastery approach that will enable a coach to help his or her team perform at or near their potential and ultimately achieve greater success (Thompson, 2003; Jaakkola, Ntoumanis, 2015).

A coach can promote mastery by creating a climate that reinforces mastery and then tailors that reinforcement to the individual athlete.  Coaches will have the opportunity to work with a variety of individuals who will have just as many reasons that they participate in sport.  One athlete may play for the pure love the game while another may be pressured to play by their parents while others may enjoy the public recognition they receive for winning.  Understanding the reasons behind why the athletes participate, or their motivation, will be critical to affecting change within a player and helping them to perform optimally (Nicholls, 1984).

The first step is for the coach(es) to take the time to get to know their athletes and understand their reasons for playing and what they hope to get out of the experience of participating on that team.  Secondly, they need to know what is reinforcing to that individual. For example, one athlete may be reinforced by social praise but that may be punishing to another athlete who is uncomfortable being recognized publicly. Understanding these nuances can have a significantly different impact on a player. A coach who understands and can effectively implement a reinforcement program can promote “effective and efficient acquisition of new skills for improved performance and endurance of established skills.” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 255).

A significant challenge for a coach can be the creation of a mastery-oriented culture with athletes who are ego-oriented and view success as their ability compared to others (Stith & Baghurst, 2016).  Stith and Baghurst (2016) propose three ways to alter an ego-orientation. The first is through the use of modeling.  Research has shown that athletes are more influenced by their coach than any other individual in the development of their behavior, thoughts and feelings (Duda & Guivernau, 2002).  A coach can model a task, or mastery, orientation through their behaviors, the communication they provide and the types of behavior they reinforce.  The second way is to create a mastery focused motivational environment where improvement, effort, and contribution to the team is positively reinforced (Stith & Baghurst, 2016).  Lastly, the coach can foster collective efficacy within the team.  According to the Bandura, collective efficacy refers to “a group that shares beliefs in themselves, their abilities, and are capable of executing the necessary actions to achieve the team’s goals” (Stith & Baghurst, 2016, p. 60).  It is this collective efficacy that will result in a team’s expectations and goals to guide their behaviors such as effort and persistence (Chow & Feltz, 2008).

It is through the understanding of the athlete’s motivations, what they are reinforced by and then through the creation of an environment that facilitates mastery through positive modeling and a collective team efficacy that a coach can ensure their team is performing optimally and close to their full potential.



Chow, G.M. & Feltz, D.L. (2008). Exploring the relationships between collective efficacy, perceptions of success and team attributions. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26(11), 1179-1189.

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied behavior analysis (2nd ed.). Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.

Duda, M. & Guivernau, J.L. (2002). Moral atmosphere and athletic aggressive tendencies in young soccer players. Journal of Moral Education, 31(1), 67-85.

Jaakkola, T., Ntoumanis, N., & Liukkonen, J. (2015). Motivational climate, goal orientation, perceived sport ability, and enjoyment within Finnish junior ice hockey players. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports,26(1), 109-115. doi:10.1111/sms.12410

Nicholls, J. (1984). Conceptions of ability and achievement motivation. Research on Motivation in Education: Student Motivation, 91(3), 39-73.

Stith, C. R., & Baghurst, T. (2016). Best Practices for Coaching the Ego-Oriented Athlete. Oklahoma AHPERD,53(3), 56-62.

Thompson, J. (2003). The double-goal coach: positive coaching tools for parents and coaches to honor the game and develop winners in sports and life. New York: Quill.

By |2018-09-30T11:21:22+00:00July 2nd, 2015|Coaching|0 Comments

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