6 Ways to Build Stronger Relationships with your Athletes


Along the way of becoming a better coach and educator in sport, I’ve come across in both academia and in real life six traits that I hold to be true of quality coaches that build not only strong individuals not only in body but in mind and spirit as well. In turn the athletes in most cases will meet these approaches with a stronger investment back in you the coach, the program, and in their own personal value and ability to contribute to the team and group.

1. Acknowledge Them – This can take the form of simply a greeting or welcome at the beginning of practice and can go even further if coming back from an illness or injury. Take the time to converse with each individual member of the team goes a long way as well in acknowledging personal presence and value. I go out of my way to be sure each athlete I work with every session receive at least 1-2 rounds of personal, formal instruction… all 26 of them.

2. Value Them – This can be bled into from acknowledgment, but goes a step further by communicating high, realistic goals for individuals, showing interest in them as a person beyond athletics, and also being readily available to give your own time to them. Have you ever been blown off by a friend, teacher, counselor, or worse yet, a coach who couldn’t make time for you? That’s how the athlete will feel as well.

3. Respect Them – Specifically, you must in a sense, honor the athlete for the individual that they are. While in many cases athletes are parts of very large groups and there will be a multitude of needs surrounding that group. Allow for the expression of opinions (in a proper setting) without the fear of being judged or put down. Very importantly here, your word is your most powerful tool, if you say you’ll do something, you’ve got to do it when it comes to agreements and commitments. Do not betray the athlete’s trust.

4. Demonstrate Fairness – Unless athletes perceive a coach as being fair in making decisions that bear upon them, they cannot begin to like or respect him or her. Not worried about being liked or respected? Then don’t worry about your athletes going the extra mile in training, conditioning, and following through for you. It won’t happen. Success will only be at best cyclical.

5. Exhibit Realness – Being in the position of authority can easily distance the athlete from the coach as a person. Only when we reveal parts of ourselves can athletes begin to acknowledge us as fellow people whom they can have a stronger feeling of trust and respect towards. Sharing anecdotes and experiences from our own lives enable the athletes to see us more as real people, not figures.

6. Being Open to Humor and Having Fun – This one is almost self explanatory. Bear in mind for all of you out there screaming that this may lead into a gray area of loosing a small grasp of authority, it says be OPEN to humor and having fun. There are absolutely time and places for this to take place, and to be honest, the while there are inappropriate uses of humor on both the coaching and athlete side, it’s strength is based in it’s timing and it fitting into one’s own personality.

Reference:Saphier, Jon, Mary Ann. Haley-Speca, and Robert R. Gower. The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills. Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching, 2008. Print.

Gabe Sanders

Gabe Sanders

Track & Field Coach at Boston University
Gabe Sanders enters his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Boston University track and field programs in 2011-12 as the program's sprints, long hurdles and sprint relays coach and recruiting coordinator. Since joining the Terriers, Sanders' event areas have not only become a dominant force both at the America East and regional levels but at the national level as well. Sanders earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in kinesiology with a major in sport management and communication from the University of Michigan in December 2005. He is currently pursing a master's degree in physical education and coaching from BU and is a USA Track and Field Level I and II certified coach in the sprints, hurdles, relays and jumping events. Sanders is also certified to teach USATF Level I curriculum by the USATF ITC.
Gabe Sanders


Director of XC AND T&F - Boston University
RT @anthonyholler: Far from perfect, public schools might be the best thing our country offers. Free daycare age 4-18. Safe. Fair. Ran by c… - 1 day ago