Coach Development

Proactive and Reactive Coaching – influenced by relationships?

Who do you think of when asked to provide a ‘Proactive Coach’? What about a ‘reactive coach’?

It is (probably) easier to name more proactive, forward thinking coaches than reactive, maybe because of the elite status names on the tip of your tongue. Is this because of the expert/novice paradigm where better executions and decisions are carried out during games by experts (Abernethy, Thomas, & Thomas, 1993) making them more successful, longer lasting and ultimately more memorable?

Is being a reactive coach, at any level, always a bad thing? Is there a good time to be reactive? Reactive behaviours can be seen as having unclear goals (Wallace, 2018) which in a coaching context could be damaging to the long term processes as well as the immediate situations – an example being a coach scared to make a positive substitution but forced to after conceding a goal; now chasing the game.

Frese & Fay (2001) state that proactivity is goal focused towards a long-term aim acting on future challenges, not those presently faced. Coaches do this through session planning, game planning and ultimately season planning through their micro, meso and macro cycles – phase working towards various goals, structures and content of a planned training programme (The S&C Coach, 2018). 

Coaches at the elite level, especially those with the privilege of starting the season at their club, have a season and long term plan, dependent on their philosophy. Some will go with youth players for the future; some for ‘the now’ with the experience to win; others a mix of the two, but in any case, this is usually proactive.  It is those who take over mid season who can be reactive as the coach may be under pressures from above and below for results to turn, as well as in-game scenarios that can cause it.

Horn (2008) later concurred with Smoll & Smith (1989) by discussing the coaching behaviours that are influenced through a range of factors including behavioural, cognitive, and situational variables.  To me, this shows the link between a proactive coaches long term aim and the way in which they make decisions to steer their team towards that aim.  As well as the coach having decisions to make in those situations, players can also help the coach to achieve the proactive targets if a strong relationship is upheld with research suggesting that in-game behaviours influence coach/athlete relationships psychologically (Smith et al., 2007).

Some questions that I’ll ask to you:

  • Can positive relationships between coaches and players affect the coaches decision making? Why?
  • Can a coach become reactive to decisions and less forward thinking if they have a weaker bond with their squad?
  • What is your own style? Do you think you are proactive? Reactive? In what situations could this differ?


Abernethy, B., Thomas, J.R., & Thomas, K.T. (1993) Strategies for improving understanding of motor expertise.  In J. L. Starkes & F. Allard (Eds.), Cognitive issues in motor expertise. Amsterdam: Elservier Science. Pp. 317-356

Frese, M., & Fay, D. (2001). Personal initiative: An active performance concept for work in the 21st century. Research in Organizational Behavior,23, 133–187

Horn, T. (2008). “Coaching effectiveness in the sports domain,” in Advances in Sport Psychology, 3rd Edn, ed. T. Horn (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics).

Smoll, F. L., and Smith, R. E. (1989). Leadership behaviors in sport: a conceptual model and research paradigm. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 19, 1522–1551.

Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., and Cumming, S. (2007). Effects of a motivational climate intervention for coaches on young athletes’ sport performance anxiety. J. Sport Exerc. Psychol. 29, 39–59.

The S&C Coach, 2018, accessed on 15th November 2020.

Wallace, G.W, 2018 accessed on 15th November 2020.

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