- Written by Ben Croucher
How do you get the most out of a coach-athlete relationship? Amanda Frost wanted to find out. By researching how strong relationships can positively influence performance, Amanda has begun applying her findings to her own practice - a true 'prac-ademic' approach!
It is one of the most widely researched areas of sports science, indeed human sciences. Getting the best out of individuals and getting results is the end goal. The journey has almost infinite routes.
Within sport, coaches need to be technically astute, great communicators and inspiring leaders.
But what about a coach that cares?
Can a coach that cares be detached enough to speak the truth? Can a coach that cares be ruthless enough to get results? Can a coach that cares develop an athlete that is tough enough to withstand the pressures of sport at any level?
It’s one of the lesser explored avenues of coaching and it’s one in which showjumping coach Mandy Frost is excelling in.
“If somebody isn’t truly happy or they’re struggling, you aren’t going to get their best performance,” she explains.
“There are times where caring enough to ask questions, listen and look for those signs goes together with medals.
“The coach has got to know what that athlete wants out of the relationship.”
In some cases that can be purely passing on information but in other, more challenging cases, it’s not about knowing the sportsperson but the person behind it.
Mandy’s passion for this area of coaching was triggered by a sliding doors moment.
She was teaching a pupil placed under her tutelage because they were deemed not to be riding in a safe manner. This individual presented many challenges to Mandy as a coach, challenges that may have led some to walk away.
Mandy continues: “To be given a 13-year-old who was told she had to be there was painful.
“It made me think ‘what else is going on?’
“I had what I thought was a spoilt, sulky child and drove home thinking ‘I don’t need that, I’ve got plenty of people who want to be there.’ I gave it one more go and just sat down and chatted.
“It turned out the child was very unhappy, they were bullied at school, and the parents had spent a lot of money. The pressures were intense.
“It turned into one of the best coach-athlete relationships.”
Asking questions, and allowing the mental capacity to consider this aspect of the relationship, is not simple.
Being empathetic (knowing how somebody is feeling) and caring (acting on that person’s best interests) is key to taking the coach-athlete relationship to the next level.
Undertaking her UKCC Level 4 qualification, Mandy studied a masters exploring the role of caring in coach education.
She concluded that improving a simple instructor-pupil relationship to a more successful one was an athlete having a coach ‘that cared and that knew they had their back.’
It changed her perspective on her own teaching.
"My take originally on caring would have been totally different to what it is now,” she continues. “If somebody was to say to me five years ago, I’d have felt it was a bit fluffy. How would that fit into our hardcore world of sport?
“The more I researched, care isn’t that nice, fluffy, everybody-being-nice-to each-other. It’s actually having the other person’s best interests at heart. That then brings out the best in their performance.
“It’s the feeling of going the extra mile, if somebody wants you to.”
Sharing her expertise on the coach-athlete relationship has taken her internationally to Sweden, where Mandy says they were naturally ‘tough in character.’
She’s also taken their sense of coaching community back to the UK, as part of a wider equestrian network, setup to share best practice.
With the spotlight on governing bodies’ practices and duty of care, especially to young sportspeople, intensifying, research in this area is likely to grow to include the parent-coach relationship and how coaches interact with and receive support and safeguarding from those running the sport.
“I’ve been completely changed since the research,” Mandy adds. “Before I felt I could have been very similar to the coach in the next arena.
“You almost lose that little bit of individuality.
“Now, I’m properly me. I’m authentic. I don’t try to be for everybody.”
If that means having difficult conversations with riders or parents, it’s a step Mandy feels is vital to both getting the best out of the individuals but also fulfilling her duty as a coach.
“Some people are not interested in a close relationship,” Mandy concludes. “That’s fine if that works for them.
“Others want more of your time so as much as it is about the rider, the coach has to know what the athlete wants out of the relationship.
“They come to you because of the sport but there’s an awful lot more about that person.
“It’s how it’s going within the sport, what’s happening at home, how they’re acting with their peers, money pressure, parent pressure.
“As a coach, that's a big part of what we should be aware of.”
Last updated December 2020.