Empowerment within coaching

Empowerment? What is it?


Many coaches say they are familiar with the term empowerment, or are aware of strategies to implement empowerment, but what is it?


In 2001 Lynn Kidman published literature on ‘developing decision makers: an empowerment approach’ empowerment was defined as an athlete-centred approach which promotes a sense of belonging, as well as giving athletes a role in decision making and a shared approach to learning.


The definition focuses on the involvement of the athlete…..whether this be in the physical planning of the sessions or within the session. By the athlete being empowered it gives them the sense of responsibility, the athletes can feel their opinions are valued and it allows them to take responsibility of their performance development which can in turn create a greater amount of motivation Kidman (2001) describes it giving the athlete a ‘voice’.


However, from coaches’ perspectives if we can clearly see the benefits, is it always that easy to implement empowerment into the athletes?  Traditionally the coaching environment has been very prescriptive or autocratic environment, this is where the input of athlete’s opinions are often limited and the coach has complete control. Kimdan (2001) implies learning will be minimal if coaches always present knowledge and answers to their players.


However, if athletes have never been given power because the coach has always presented knowledge and answers to them then, the athletes may have an unwillingness to take this responsibility of power.


But contradicting this, the coaches role is crucial within the implementation of empowerment as their unwillingness to let pass on their power, coaches may feel that by not taking responsibility and not directly giving the athletes knowledge they are not doing their job, and that the ‘power’ of the coaches role is taken away from them.


At what age and level is empowerment applicable to be implemented? Jones (2001) suggests empowerment is not something that is just used at the middle ground of coaching, it is something that can be used at the elite level and with the beginner stage also with younger children.


For coaches that are resentful to implement empowerment, due to the worry of loosing their power, Jones (2004) increases confidence by suggesting power is given to the athlete’s but never taken. Which means that the coaches have the ability to control the situation and the measurement to how much power is delegated, for example within top level coaching, the coaches would give an illusion of empowerment, just enough to ensure their ‘buy in’ to the coach’s pre-set agenda.


However is the implementation of empowerment just for the elite level of coaching? Throughout current literature it suggest that empowering younger athletes is something that can be implemented into practice, but how many coaches who coach younger athletes (primary school) would attempt to empower these athletes. Some coaches may respond with ‘the athletes cannot take the responsibility’ ‘they are too young, to acknowledge this power’.



Nevertheless Thorpe and Bunker developed ‘The Games for understanding’ concept, which involved the implementation of simple small-sided games that allowed younger children to attain an understanding of tactical knowledge through participation and empowerment. Thorpe And bunker discovered an increase in motivation with achieving and affiliation, continued participation (which may be seen as the most vital outcome), deep rooted learning and lastly a feeling of accomplishment.


So therefore we can acknowledge that empowerment can be implemented at both ends of the performance scale, the elite and the younger (beginner) athletes. But of course as Jones (2001) states a coach empowering athletes at both ends of the scale will encounter different barriers, which will impact on the fundamentals of empowerment such as speed, method and means will vary on which athlete the coach faces. Furthermore Jones (2001) suggests if the coach attempts to implement empowerment that are not at the appropriate level will firstly struggle, and then potentially decrease in performance and significantly motivation. But what exactly is the ‘appropriate level’?  instead of this involving around the age of the athlete it should perhaps centre around the experience and intelligence of the player.


For a coach processing the implementation of empowerment into their practices for the first time Aral (1997) suggests these four stages to support the athletes in this process . (1) Becoming self aware, (2) connecting and learning (3) taking action/responsibility and lastly (4) Contribute to their own learning. The coach needs to remember, what level they are looking at, do they always have to be in control of their environment, there is no right or wrong way to implement this but a ‘good’ coach will recognise when elements of empowerment can be implemented. 

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