The supportive coach

"The supportive coach" has to be able to deal with people who just want to have fun as well as more result-oriented figures. This is crucial both in terms of lifting the team and getting individuals to continue with the sport for as long as possible.

Screen shot from one of the videos from the training course "The Supportive Coach".
On 22 August, Hedda Berntsen will defend her doctoral thesis: Teaching and Understanding "Need Supportive" Coaching. Developing and implementing a coach development program. Experiences from her own sporting career and later through education inspired her to pass on her knowledge of the importance of interaction skills for the motivation, well-being and development of players to the coaches in the field. Foto: NIH

The overall goal of the PhD project has been to demonstrate how to increase coaches’ knowledge, in particular of interaction skills, to improve the experiences of active participants in sport.

The sports coach

An integrated view of sports coaching defines effective coaching as a result of the coach's knowledge and athlete's skills: Technical, tactical and performance skills, confidence in personal skills, positive self-esteem, ability to interact with others, show respect and be responsible.

In addition, it is crucial to assess the context, level and challenges when coaching a sport.

Important skills for coaches

A trainer has a complex job that requires a lot of different skills. In Norway, such sport-specific knowledge is well established and usually adapted to the level of the athletes.

The interaction skills of coaches have received less attention. This is why the training course "The supportive trainer" fills a gap within coaches’ training.

Another strength of the course is that it has been developed based on pedagogical theory, and takes into account how coaches teach.

Côté and Gilbert (2009), professors in sports sciences, define coaches’ knowledge as a combination of

  1. professional or specialist knowledge of the nature of the sport
  2. interaction skills so that the coach can interact effectively with coaches, players, parents, and the support apparatus,
  3. knowledge of their own practices in terms of reflection and awareness so they can continue to evolve as coaches.

Interaction skills are important

The thesis explains why it is so important to use the supportive trainer style. This is associated with "autonomous" motivation: Participants find that they play sport because it is fun or meaningful to them. This is again associated with positive emotions such as sporting pleasure, better learning, well-being and continuing with their sport for a longer time.

The coaching course: The supportive coach

Three basic psychological needs are essential to the autonomous motivation and well-being of the practitioners. The course teaches seven strategies aimed at supporting these three psychological needs.

  1. Autonomy

Everyone needs to feel ownership of their own sporting activity, to feel that this is their personal project. When someone else is in charge of the remote control, sport becomes less fun!

If, as a coach, you use your own disappointment, intimidation, or rewards to get your charges to train more, YOU have the remote control. Stop doing this if you want positive participation in the long term!

  1. Mastery

All participants need to feel that they are mastering exercises and activities during training. We know that a major reason for people dropping out is when participants no longer feel good. Do your participants feel good due on their own progress or because they are better than the others?

How you provide feedback on training influences participants' experience of their own improvement. Do you focus on effort, pleasure and improvement or are you more interested in comparison with the others in the competition? A competitive environment in which results define social status can adversely affect participants’ feelings of improvement.

  1. Belonging

A sense of belonging is also essential for high-quality motivation. The feeling of belonging is reduced if team spirit is sacrificed in favour of personal results.

When participants feel they are part of a gang, this covers the need for a sense of belonging. How you as a trainer treat everyone in the coaching group has an effect on the sense of belonging. Do you cheer on everyone in the group? If not, you contribute to making the sport less fun.

Seven strategies

The coach learns seven strategies, creating an environment where the athlete can develop and maintain self-motivation.

One of the strategies focuses on the importance of looking at the participants’ perspective of the sport. It defines two types of participant:

  • Those who take part in sports primarily to have fun
  • Those who primarily want to evolve and realise their potential

There are all kinds of nuance between these two positions.

If the coach just thinks about development, this could be a problem for participants who do it “for fun”. It is crucial to recognise that there are different ways of doing sport. If we want everyone to derive pleasure from sport, this is an important lesson.

The PhD project's contribution to sport

The coaching course “The supportive coach. How to facilitate motivation, well-being and sporting development" has been made available to the Norwegian Confederation of Sports, all federations, societies, universities and other bodies working with coach education.

The coaching course includes:

  1. The teaching programme. This document makes suggestions on how to carry out the course in a series of six lectures. The document also includes group tasks and one-to-one tasks.
  2. The digital training pack teaches knowledge of motivation and the supportive trainer style. Videos explain the supportive strategies. Exercise pack. Reflective exercises focus on the coach’s awareness of his/her own performance
  3. Presentations

(The course material can be ordered from The Norwegian Research Centre of Children and Youth Sports (FOBU).)


Hedda Berntsen will defend her thesis
"Teaching and understanding "need supportive" coaching: Developing and implementing a coach development program"
at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH) on 22 August (in Norwegian).

The thesis:
Teaching and understanding "need supportive" coaching: Developing and implementing a coach development program


More about developing coaches’ interaction skills
(the supportive coach style):

Berntsen, H. & Kristiansen, E. (2019). An incorrect view of what is good "coaching" leads to burnout, dropping out and unhappiness. Therefore, a coach’s interaction skills should be on an equivalent level to their expertise in the sport. (in Norwegian).

Berntsen, H. & Kristiansen, E. (2018). Why kids become sick of sport!  (in Norwegian). The most-read article on (the Norwegian version of in 2018.

Berntsen, H. (2017). How to kill your child’s love of sport! (in Norwegian).