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Mastery Approach to Coaching: An Educational Program for Youth Sport Coaches

Dr. Frank L. Smoll

Volunteer coaches are fairly well versed in the technical aspects of sport skills and strategies, but they rarely have any training in creating a healthy psychological environment for athletes. In response to this need, Drs. Frank L. Smoll and Ronald E. Smith have developed and tested a sport psychology training program for coaches. Known as the Mastery Approach to Coaching (MAC), this program is the only scientifically validated coaching-education workshop that has been shown to have the following effects:

  • Teaches coaches how to foster positive coach-athlete relations and greater mutual respect
  • Increases the amount of fun that athletes experience
  • Creates greater team cohesion and a more supportive athletic setting
  • Increases athletes' self-esteem and reduces performance-destroying anxiety and fear of failure
  • Significantly reduces dropout rates in youth sport programs
  • Promotes higher mastery-oriented achievement goals in school

What does the MAC program include?

During a workshop, coaching guidelines are presented verbally with the aid of animated PowerPoint slides. The principles are included in a workshop manual entitled Coaches Who Never Lose. They stress a "positive approach" to influencing athletes, which emphasizes the provision of reinforcement for effort as well as performance, the giving of encouragement after mistakes, and the desirability of giving technical instruction in an encouraging and supportive fashion. Coaches are urged to decrease punitive behaviors, which produce stress and decrease enjoyment of the sport experience. Instruction is given in how to (a) correct athlete mistakes, (b) increase communication skills, (c) develop a team-oriented approach to maintaining order and discipline, and (d) deal with violations of team rules. Behavioral feedback and self-monitoring techniques are taught as ways for improving coaches' self-awareness and compliance with the guidelines. In addition, group-learning exercises are used to cover other topics, such as keeping winning in a healthy perspective, combating fear of failure, and working cooperatively with parents. A MAC workshop lasts 75 minutes when offered on weeknights, and a 2-hour version is available for weekends.

How does MAC compare with other coaching-education programs?

In an article evaluating video-based programs (ACEP, NYSCA) and MAC, the authors (Drs. Brown and Butterfield) concluded that "The Mastery Approach to Coaching is the most convincingly documented program in theory and research-proven effectiveness. MAC guarantees quality instruction because the developers conduct each training session themselves" (American Journal of Diseases in Childhood).

Where have MAC workshops been presented?

The program has been applied widely in the United States and Canada. More than 24,000 youth sport coaches have participated in some 450 workshops to date. MAC has also been conducted in school districts as part of inservice training for PE teachers and coaches. Although optimal attendance is 50-150 coaches, workshops have been conducted with as few as 20 and as many as 1,200 coaches.

Do you want to know more about MAC?

In addition to information about the availability and financing of MAC, the following materials can be obtained by contacting Dr. Frank Smoll (smoll@u.washington.edu):

  • Overview of MAC and newspaper articles describing the program
  • Workshop outline
  • Sample flyers used to advertise the program in various communities