November 24, 2004

Athletic success may hinge on coachability, prof says

Coaches who tout clichés like “team player” and “knows how to win” to brag about their players are revealing more than you might think. They may actually value those traits as more important to success than physical ability, says kinesiology and health science professor Gloria Solomon.

Her Solomon Expectancy Sources Scale illustrates that college head coaches look at psychological factors such as coachability over athleticism when determining if a player will be successful.

By the time an athlete gets to the college level, Solomon acknowledges, they have to be pretty good physically. “So instead coaches look at factors like their ability to handle pressure. Are they confident? Can they handle anxiety? Are they honest? Are they willing to listen?”

Solomon’s scale, which identifies the sources coaches use to assess ability, arose from an extensive survey of Division I coaches around the country. Once the data were analyzed, she sent the refined questionnaire to every coach in Northern California—Sac State, Cal, Stanford, UOP, Fresno State, etc.

Based on the data the coaches provided, the resulting questionnaire identifies 30 aspects of player ability in four categories: coachability, being a team player, physical ability and maturity. Of the four, only one factor is overwhelmingly used to judge athletic prowess: coachability.

“What we learned debunks the assumption that coaches use physical ability to assess success. Coachability may be more useful to a coach than physical ability,” Solomon says.

The new scale is an expanded version of Solomon’s view on expectancy theory, which says that coaches give significantly better feedback to athletes they see as highly confident or “high expectancy” players based on the coach’s perception of the athlete’s ability. Those findings were published in several professional journals, including the International Journal of Sport Psychology.

Solomon’s next step will be to use the Solomon Expectancy Sources Scale to determine which factors successful coaches rely on. “We want to know: Are the coaches who are winning using different sources than those who aren’t?” Solomon says.

She also wants to compare across sports to see if fencing coaches are using different sources than football coaches or are female coaches using different sources than male coaches.

In the long run, Solomon will use her findings to help coaches revaluate the way they are assessing ability. “The physical is obvious while psychology is abstract, hard to measure, intangible,” she says.

“There is obviously something the winning coaches are doing that is working. And, ultimately, the losing coaches would want to know why others are winning,” she says. “Coaches need coaching too.”

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