The Craft of Coaching Logo

Establishing a Positive Coach-Athlete Relationship

For the coach-athlete relationship to be successful, it must be rooted in trust, and trust is earned or compromised from Day 1. Begin any new client relationship with the end in mind.

Graphic showing compatible relationships

It’s important that you build a close relationship with each of your athletes. This rapport starts developing from your first contact and extends throughout your coach-athlete relationship and beyond. I am still in contact with athletes I coached as many as 30 years ago. We became good friends. You should have that possibility in the back of your mind throughout your initial meeting with the athlete. In addition to getting to know each other, you are building a friendship. More than likely, he or she has reached out because someone said good things about you. If that’s the case, then your “brand” is working. Now it’s time for you to be the brand.  

For the initial session, meet with the athlete as “personally” as possible. Face-to-face is best, but in today’s world, you and the athlete may be several time zones or even continents apart. In this case, the next best way to personally meet is through a virtual meeting session. A phone call is a distant third option. Avoid making initial contact with the athlete through email or social websites. That’s not a good way for you and the athlete to get to know each other. 

Be honest and upfront with the athlete in order to build trust. The athlete more than likely has great respect for you. In fact, as a coach, you may already be a role model. That’s not unusual at all in sports. Athletes place coaches in high regard. It’s up to you to live up to the expectations. The athlete undoubtedly expects you to know everything about the sport and training. Make sure they know you don’t know it all. This is where honesty comes into play. If asked a question you don’t know the answer to, be frank. No one knows everything. 

Put your best foot forward by being friendly and courteous. Listen closely to what the athlete tells you, ask deeper questions, and take notes. This will help assure the athlete that you are here for them. By listening, minimizing interruptions, and taking notes you will communicate that you care, which is a reliable way to grow your business. 

One of the first things you must decide is whether you and the athlete are compatible. This is critical. It’s best to make this determination now before you start a working relationship. If you decide that the two of you are not compatible for some reason, be prepared to suggest an associate coach or colleague who is better suited to the athlete’s needs. Agree to arrange a meeting with the coach. 

There are three general topics you should be prepared to talk about with the athlete:  

  1. Find out the athlete’s expectations around worth with a coach.
  2. Get to know the athlete’s lifestyle outside of the sport.
  3. Gather information about the athlete’s history in the sport and approach to training. 

Draw from the questions that follow in your initial meeting with a prospective client. 

Pre-screening athletes

These questions will help you get to know the athlete and make a decision about whether you are likely to have a positive working relationship. I wouldn’t expect you to get through all these questions, and I encourage you to add some of your own. Use this time to learn as much as you can about the athlete, help the athlete learn more about you, and decide if you are compatible.  

Graphic showing how the ahtlete's perspective on coach, sport, and lifestyle need to align
As you talk with the athlete, you are listening to whether the athlete’s perspective of each of these areas will help or hinder your relationship and their goals.

COACH: What are the athlete’s expectations of a coach? 

  • Why did you contact me about coaching? 
  • How did you hear about me? 
  • Do you have any questions about my coaching? 
  • What are you looking for in a coach? 
  • Have you had a coach before? If so, why didn’t you continue working with your former coach?
  • Are you familiar with my coaching fee and services? 
  • Do you know anyone I’ve coached? 

LIFESTYLE: How will the athlete’s lifestyle impact their goals? 

  • What is your age? 
  • What do you do for a living? 
  • How long have you been doing that line of work? 
  • About how many hours per week do you work? 
  • What is your typical weekday like? How about weekends? 
  • How predictable is your work schedule? 
  • How much time do you have to train most weeks? 
  • Besides your family and career, what are the other time-consuming activities in your life?  
  • At what time do you typically go to bed and when do you usually get up? 
  • Are those sleep times consistent? 
  • Do your family and friends support your training and racing? 
  • Other than training and racing, what activities do you enjoy most in life? 
  • What foods do you avoid or not eat at all? 

SPORT: How does the athlete approach training? 

  • How long have you been in the sport? 
  • Have you done this goal event before and, if so, what was your result? 
  • What has been your greatest achievement in the sport? 
  • How often do you train with other athletes? 
  • Do you have regularly scheduled workouts with other athletes? 
  • What is your favorite workout? 
  • What is your least favorite workout? 
  • How often do you miss workouts? When that happens what do you do? 
  • Have you had sport-related injuries? What was the cause? Did you seek medical help? 
  • What sport-related devices do you use? How experienced are you with them? 
  • Do you closely observe your real-time data during a workout or mostly ignore it? 
  • Do you look at training data after a workout? If so, what do you usually look for? 
  • When will you be ready to start training with me? 
Graphic showing compatible relationships