3 styles of excellent coaching

3 styles of excellent coaching - Johan Cruyff Institute

Over time, three main coaching styles have been discerned. In this post I’ll explain which style, in my opinion, is the most crucial to becoming an excellent coach

The first and most traditional style is experience-based coaching, or ‘coach based coaching’. These coaches have a technical and tactical focus built on their own experience (“in my day….”). They often use the ‘be like me’ principle. Many top coaches already have proven this style to be outdated, because of the need to be open-minded for insights and knowledge of others such as nutrition experts, sport psychologists, coaches in other sport disciplines etc. However, a lot of ‘old school’ coaches are still reluctant to let others help them. Modern experience-based coaches at least know what expertise they personally miss and gather the right staff around them. The main disadvantage of this style is that it creates athletes who try to copy or live up to the coach’s standards instead of finding out what works best for them.

A second style is evidence-based coaching or ’technology-based coaching’. Innovation is a necessity in the current rat race for success. Some examples include Omega Wave, Local Position Measurement, video analysis etc. However, a huge risk in this style is that the urge to innovate becomes more important than the athlete’s development. Not all athletes are willing and/or capable of being permanently subject to (technological) experiments. Innovative coaches often forget that it takes time for changes to have a positive effect. If you implement too much change too fast, chances are you create restlessness and frustration with your athletes instead of the necessary focus and fun.

The third up-and-coming coaching style is athlete-based coaching. Where other styles often result in a ‘one size fits all’ approach, the secret here lies in differentiating according to the athletes’ mental and physical needs and capabilities. These coaches can stimulate individual athletes in ‘their own language’ and are aware that authenticity is crucial in gaining the respect of current, younger generation athletes. They never put themselves before their athletes and are willing to quit and/or give the athlete space if necessary. They use open communication lines and involve athletes in decisions, thereby creating trust. In teams and intercultural settings it is even more important to be able to level with different athletes. Several theories are available around this style: Peter Murphy’s Action types, situational leadership and generation theory, LTAD and Geert Hofstede’s insights on intercultural differences.

In conclusion, experience-based coaching can be useful at most to gather and share relevant experience and a technical/tactical vision. Some understanding of evidence-based coaching is a necessity to keep up with others. However, athlete-based coaching is the only way that both previous styles can be successfully presented to and adopted by individual athletes.


Joyce van Kooten: Her first experience in coaching was as an 18-year-old youth trainer/coach at the regional volleyball club Oberon in Weesp. After her studies in Social Cultural Sciences  (2001) she started her professional career in talent and management development at KPN and TNO. She has been working as a trainer/coach at JCU Amsterdam since 2007.

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