A Marathon not a Sprint: Coaching Strategies to Support the Long Term Development of Athleticism


In our previous blog we explored the implications of nutrition on skeletal development during adolescence. We summarised by highlighting that all stakeholders (athletes, coaches, parents, teachers) be aware of the role of adequate energy availability in optimising the materials, builders and regulators for bone development. In this blog we delve back into the field of physical development to explore how fostering engagement can enhance the long-term process of athletic development.

The development of “athleticism” remains key to optimising sports performance, reducing injury risk, enhancing motor skill acquisition and promoting lifelong participation in sport for youth athletes. Please see our previous blog on the link below for an overview of the complexities of athleticism. Thus, to optimise the long-term athletic development of an individual, creating and sustaining a coaching environment that promotes engagement and a passion for the process may be key. There are a number of strategies that can be utilised to support our philosophy. It is important to acknowledge that this is not an exhaustive list and these strategies do not exclusively apply to athletic development settings.

The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Developing athleticism is the responsibility of the coach but their efforts will be wasted unless they develop a strong working relationship with their athlete. The coach-athlete relationship has been cited as one of the most influential factors in determining perceptions of enjoyment, personal satisfaction and continued participation. Where a mutually trusting and respectful relationship exists, each knows what to expect from the other, how the other communicates, the environment they work best in and how to maximize one another’s strengths. The 3Cs+1C model highlights how to enhance affective, cognitive and behavioural aspects of the coach-athlete relationship using 4 constructs: closeness, commitment, complementarity and co-orientation. The table below explains each construct and provides examples of how they may be implemented in practice.

Closeness – The emotional tone of the relationship and reflects the degree to which the coach and the athlete are connected or the depth of their emotional attachment. Be open/honest, involve them in the decision-making process, show interest in their lives outside of the working environment

Commitment – Reflects coaches and athletes’ intention or desire to maintain their athletic partnership over time. Regularly discuss & review long-term goals, involve them in the coaching process

Co-orientation – The perceptions the coach and athlete have of each other. Be empathetic, understanding the young athlete from their perspective

Complementarity – The interaction between the coach and the athlete that is perceived as cooperative and effective. Lead by example, clarify roles and rules at beginning of the relationship


8Providing variety another option in maintaining interest and engagement in athletic development. This variety need not be complicated or overthought – the only barrier here is our imagination. Below are some ways we make our sessions stimulating, varied and challenging whilst simultaneously developing athletic qualities.


Structuring sessions to include game elements is an option to provide variety to an athletic development session. Games are one option for developing athletic qualities whilst providing a stimulating experience, in short, “giving them what they want whilst getting what we need”. There is an array of games that we have at our disposal but ensuring there is a clear purpose and learning opportunities within the game is key. For example, in the context of a game of dodge ball; movement competency (e.g. squatting, jumping, landing, lunging to evade or collect the ball), change of direction ability (e.g. accelerating, deceleration, cutting to dodge the ball) and psycho-behavioural skills (e.g. focus, engagement, competitiveness with the context of the games).


Similar to gamification, adding elements of competition is also an easy way to boost short- and long-term effort and engagement. For example, using team relay races or challenging athletes to do as many reps as possible of a certain exercise in an allotted time are options to drive intent, provided they still lead to the athletic outcomes desired. Additionally, using exercises that are measurable and giving feedback is another great way to generate competition. For example, measuring broad jump distance and generating a leaderboard works well in our environment.

Inspiring Intrinsic Motivation

The want to engage within athletic development has to be present for long-term engagement to be sustained. To achieve this, it is important for youth athletes to become intrinsically motivated. Research by Calvo et al. (2010) has shown that those athletes who are intrinsically motivated (participate for internal reasons, particularly enjoyment and satisfaction and concentrate on skill improvement and personal growth) display greater levels of self-confidence, lower stress/anxiety and greater adherence to athletic development programs than those who are extrinsically motivated (external rewards such as trophies or praise driving participation in an activity). Our behaviours as a coach can influence the degree of intrinsic motivation within our athletes. According to the self-determination theory, autonomy, competence and relatedness can be developed to support this process:

Autonomy – Providing athletes with a sense of ownership over their athletic development. Examples: giving athlete’s responsibility (e.g. leading warm ups, peer coaching), regularly get their input/feedback, providing opportunities to design session content.

Competence – Providing athletes with a sense of achievement in their athletic development. Examples: monitor progress in skill execution/strength levels, provide regular feedback, give purposeful praise.

Relatedness – Providing athletes with a sense of integration and belonging within athletic development. Examples: investing time in getting to know your athletes (people first, athletes second), celebrate improvement/success as a team no matter how big or small.


Collectively, the development of athleticism is a long-term process which requires significant time and engagement from the athlete and coach to develop a range of physical and psychological qualities. It is important that to optimise athletic development over a number of years that we create a coaching environment that facilitates long-term engagement in the process. Ensuring a strong coach-athlete relationship, providing variety in our training and promoting intrinsic motivation are all key in unlocking the athletic potential of our pupils.

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