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Inspiring for Peak Performance

Dr Calum ArthurDr Calum ArthurBehind every successful Olympic athlete, he or she will have their coach supporting them every step of the way towards their goal of bringing home an Olympic medal. Coaches have a key role in the athlete’s Olympic journey, by helping them achieve their best possible performance. However, effective coaching is also vital in many other environments such as the military, education and in business.

Researchers from the Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance (IPEP) at Bangor University have been conducting research into the motivational effects of coaching and leadership in various settings so that they can better understand the factors that underpin effective coaching and leadership.

The importance of high quality coaching is vital to enable Olympic athletes to reach their full potential. Understanding the sorts of coaching behaviours that impact performance and performance related outcomes will help coaches to improve the quality of what they already do, and ultimately, should enable greater numbers of athletes to excel in Olympic competition.

Dr Calum Arthur, Co-director of IPEP, explains:

“The coach has an extremely difficult yet very important role in developing their athletes.”

“We’ve worked extensively with the military, sport, and businesses to understand what leadership is, and how to conceptualise it. We needed to answer key questions such as; what should I do as a leader? How do I motivate my followers? How can I help to empower my followers? We have conducted a number of studies that seek to identify and isolate the key coaching behaviours that are most influential in impacting athlete motivation and performance. Following this we developed behavioural interventions that helped leaders to display more of the most effective leader behaviours”.

“Our work has also led to the development of a new model of leadership effects that is the provision of vision, support and challenge. The basic principle that underpins this model, is that we believe that, all being equal, the person that works the hardest, trains smartest and works longer will be the most successful athlete. For example, a coach trying to inspire an athlete may have an Olympic medal as their vision. Vision would provide the athlete with the focus and the direction for all their efforts. For example, a swimmer getting up at 5am, makes many sacrifices to their social, personal and work life, their vision needs to be worthwhile and believable. Their coach’s job would be to help them make the vision believable and then provide a pathway through help and support”.

“The coach will provide support mechanisms as and when needed such as, nutritional advice, psychological help, emotional support or whatever the athlete needs to fulfil their vision. They do this by trying to understand the person as an individual and then work out what’s best for them, tailoring their coaching styles to the athletes’ individual needs”.

“The coach’s job then, is to challenge them to get there. A high level of challenge will be crucial to keep energy levels up and set high expectations which are required for high levels of performance. Support on its own will likely lead to boredom and challenge on its own likely lead to burnout. The coach needs to balance support and challenge for the athlete to achieve their Olympic vision”.

Dr Arthur has recently worked with the Army; watch the the Britsh Psychological Society’s public engagement video which highlights the impact of how research conducted through the Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance at Bangor University is being used in Army Master Coach Training.  

Publication date: 19 June 2012