How to build strong relationships with your athletes

Trying to build strong relationships with athletes lies at the very core of endurance coaching. And, although it does not come naturally to many coaches, all of them need to develop the soft skill of creating meaningful ties with their athletes. 

However, this is not an easy task. It requires patience, understanding, commitment, and trust — among other things. Notwithstanding, if you’re one of those coaches who find the relationship-building part of coaching hard, don’t get worked up. In this article, we’ll show you 15+1 ways to get there, without tears!

15+1 ways to build strong relationships with your athletes 

Truth be told, a strong bond between coach and athlete is critical for the athlete’s growth, and overall performance. But, to build one, first, you need to develop several other skills that will help you pull this off. 

One thing to keep in mind, along this journey, is that the greatest challenge you’re probably going to face is balancing logic and emotion. To put it another way, blending the strictly professional coaching rationale with the human aspect that relationship-building demands; that of emotional awareness and empathy.

So, are you ready to find out how to build strong relationships with your athletes? Read on!

1. Communicate with your athletes, always

Communication is going to play an essential part in your efforts to build strong relationships with your athletes. Without it, your athletes won’t know where they stand with you; they won’t be able to trust you. Open, clear and honest communication will help you guide your athletes effectively. Also, your athletes will feel free to express their concerns or ideas to you.

2. Offer positive reinforcement

Since we’re talking about communication, adding some positive feedback to the mix can go a long way in creating strong ties with your athletes. Encouraging them and helping them visualize the desirable outcome can increase their chances of improving their performance. What’s more, offering positive reinforcement will help your athletes become self-motivated; and, self-motivated athletes eat challenges for breakfast. 💪

Nonetheless, (remembering what we’ve said about balance earlier) we should also note that you shouldn’t be positive about everything. Indeed, encouraging them is a good practice, but you should also point out where they need to improve; while also explaining the “whys”, and “hows”. You can use the ‘sandwiched feedback’ tactic to make this less painful for them. 

3. Display genuine interest and commitment

It’s pretty evident that you can’t possibly help your athletes become better, if you don’t have a genuine interest in their progress. In fact, you can’t help them if you can’t commit to them, either. To build strong relationships with your athletes, you need to show them that you sincerely care; and that you’re always going to be there to talk strategy, tactics, performance, but also hopes, expectations, fears — the whole package!

4. Describe roles and set rules and expectations

A lack of clearly described roles, rules and expectations can undermine your athletes’ engagement and performance. For this reason, you have to explain who does what — while promoting accountability — and set clear rules and expectations, as early as possible. At any rate, that’s the only way for your athletes to focus on the work they need to perform and achieve the best possible results.

5. Demonstrate availability, to build strong relationships with athletes

Making clear that you’re available for your athletes, whenever they need you, makes a world of a difference when you’re trying to build strong relationships with them. As it happens, athletes — regardless of level and experience — often need advice. Sometimes, even elite athletes need guidance or motivation from the person they see as their mentor, their coach. 

If you think about it, by demonstrating availability and engagement to your athletes, you get to positively influence their athletic journey; and, maybe, even their lives. This is how you pave the way toward building and nurturing strong relationships.

6. Be prepared ahead of time

Honest question: Are you prepared, dear coach, for what’s ahead? You probably already know that preparation is the key to success. You just can’t leave things to luck, you need to make plans for your athletes; especially before the start of every season. That goes to say, each athlete needs to follow a training plan; ideally, one that is tailored to their needs and goals. Therefore, if you’re intending for your athletes to succeed, you better have an effective plan prepared for them. 

7. Be protective of your athletes

That’s an obvious one, right? You see, athletes often overexert themselves during training — and during races. They get carried away by their hopes and ambitions; and, driven individuals as they are, they tend to overdo it. That’s when you need to step in, and remind them that their well-being is above everything else. Hence, protecting your athletes by making sure they avoid overtraining syndromes and injuries should be one of your top priorities. 

8. Promote openness; it’s reciprocated

You can’t build strong relationships with your athletes, if you’re not open and approachable. Your athletes must feel that they can come to you, at any time, to discuss their concerns and hopes. You don’t have to be their buddy — you shouldn’t be their buddy — but you’re part of their lives. So, they should feel that they can confide in you during a crisis; and celebrate their joyful moments with you. That’s how strong bonds are made.

9. Be reliable and consistent

You are an authority figure, and, as such, you should be able to display reliability and consistency. If your athletes can’t rely on you, who on earth should they rely on? You are their role model and their rock! Just ponder on this: One cannot build a strong edifice upon a shaky foundation; it would crumble, like a deck of cards. Yes, you are the foundation upon which your athletes are going to rise. 🥇

10. Be respectful of their needs and goals

Coaching is not about you. It’s about helping your athletes reach their full potential. So, above all, you need to listen to them when they’re talking to you about their needs and goals. Then, take it from there; tend to their needs and help them achieve their goals. 

11. Explain things, and give them tips

Everybody wants to know why they need to do something; especially for things that require effort. That’s why you should always explain why your athletes need to complete a task you asked. Being a coach means that you should also explain how to complete that task — that’s the ‘tips’ part.

12. Build trust with your athletes

How can you build trust with your athletes? Simply keep in mind everything we talked about so far, because they all come down to building trust:

  • Being open and communicating clearly
  • Offering positive reinforcement
  • Showing a genuine interest
  • Being open and approachable
  • Displaying consistency and reliability, etc.

Once you build trust with your athletes, you’ll see that they won’t be reactive, they’ll follow your instructions more readily; and, most of all, they’ll feel safe with you. Without a doubt, trust is necessary for a long-lasting and healthy coach-athlete relationship.

13. Be conscious of negative behaviors

An ongoing lack of interest, demotivation, remoteness, pessimism, irritability, or dishonesty are just some of the negative behaviors that you need to be conscious of. If your athletes are showing signs of such behavior, take them aside and talk to them. Try to understand what led them to this poor — and unsportsmanlike — conduct and help them snap out of it.

14. Honor your promises

We’ll give you two words that describe soft skills that we’ve analyzed earlier: Trust and reliability. You can’t inspire trust — or reliability — if you can’t honor your promises to your athletes. That’s not how you retain your athletes. And, that’s certainly not how you build strong relationships with them. 

You retain them by walking the talk. You build strong ties, by keeping your word and delivering what you promised. Having said that, you should always mind what you promise. Make sure that you can stand by your promises and deliver your side of the bargain.

15. Develop co-orientation

Remember what we said about describing roles, promoting openness, and streamlining communication? You need to tick all these boxes first, if you want to start setting goals with your athletes. Now, these goals are not only your athlete’s goals; they’re yours, too, right?  That’s what co-orientation is about; mutuality, having common goals and interests. So, if you want to establish strong ties with your athletes, you better start taking the co-orientation matter seriously. 

16. Build teams, if possible

In other words, build an athletic community; a support group of sorts. Sure, endurance sports are a solo endeavor on the days of the race; and, often, on training days. Yet, in reality, they’re far from that. It’s a team effort, starting from you and your coaching; ending with your athlete’s execution of the plan you agreed upon and their performance on their target race. 

But, how about creating a team of athletes that could get together to train; or connect with each other online, to share knowledge and experiences? Wouldn’t that be great? You know what they say: There’s strength in numbers.

Keep your eyes open for improvements

Looking out for further improvements, regarding your relationship with your athletes, goes a long way in strengthening the bond you share with them. Although relationship dynamics change with time, you can keep these steps in mind to build strong relationships with your athletes:

  • Measure the situation
  • Understand the circumstances
  • Control your variables
  • Improve your relationships

Analyze your results in athlete satisfaction

When it comes to finding ways to become a better coach — and thus, build stronger relationships with your athletes — analyzing your scores in athlete satisfaction plays a pivotal role. It’s not just about coming first in a race or breaking personal records (PRs); it’s mostly about the journey before a race or before breaking a PR. 

Why and how did they achieve their goals? What part did you play in it? You need to be able to analyze every single aspect of your coaching — and their training — that matters to your athletes. What matters to them, matters to you, after all.

TL;DR — Rinse and repeat

An endurance coach should not just be a commanding voice during training, or on the day of the race; they should be role models and authority figures, who guide and protect their athletes. In this respect, good coaching is a 24/7 job; a rinse and repeat situation. And, the coach-athlete relationship is a symbiotic and a mutually dependent one. 

This is why it’s crucial to build strong relationships with your athletes. And, how do you do that? Again, by establishing open communication, being available, offering reinforcement, and building trust — among other things. Yet, to achieve this painstaking task — apart from developing the soft skills we discussed here — you’ll need all the help you can get from external sources, too. 

This means utilizing technology and everything it has to offer that will help you become a better coach. And, perhaps, the most coach-empowering tool you can use right now — especially if you coach remotely — is a wholesome online coaching platform. 

For instance, through our coaching platform, Endogusto, you’ll get to:

  • Minimize the time you spend in managing daily tasks for all your athletes
  • Improve your customer service
  • Boost your coaching performance
  • Streamline communication with your athletes
  • Help your athletes maximize their performance, by designing tailored training plans for them
  • Protect your athletes from overtraining syndromes and injuries, by adding rest day events on their calendars, etc.

To find out more about Endogusto and how it can help you become the coach you’ve always wanted to become, book a demo with one of our experts, today!

How to build strong relationships with your athletes was last modified: August 12th, 2022 by Eleni Konstantinidou