Poor Teaching by the Coach: A Phenomenological Description From Athletes' Experience of Poor Coaching

Document Type


Publication Date



Human Performance and Recreation


Background: Winning and losing have consistently been used as one criterion upon which to evaluate coaches. Since winning coaches have long been thought of as knowledgeable and effective at providing instruction, researchers have often studied coaches who have obtained a high winning percentage. While researchers know some about the behaviors and thought processes of winning and losing coaches, this research has often failed to account for how the coach's behavior affects athletes. That is, how do athletes perceive their coach and their coach's instruction? The sole criterion of winning may not sufficiently differentiate which behaviors are instructionally effective versus those that are ineffective, especially from the athlete's perspective. Furthermore, existing research tends to focus solely on winning coaches and coaches in general. In order to better understand coaching effectiveness from the perspective of athletes, research has examined the coaching behaviors athletes prefer and their satisfaction with the coach. While this research consistently suggests athletes prefer coaches to exhibit behaviors related to training and instruction, it is unknown as to when and how coaches should provide instruction, as well as how athletes perceive this instruction. Purpose: In order to further understanding of effective coaching from the athlete's perspective, a study was conducted to determine athletes' lived experiences of poor coaching. The purpose of this paper is to present the findings related to athletes' experiences of poor teaching by the coach. Method: Participants in this study were limited to a convenience sample of 16 current or former athletes who played team sports (e.g. baseball, basketball, football, softball, soccer) at the collegiate, professional, or semi-professional level. Existential phenomenology was the research design chosen for the conduct of the study because it allowed athletes to describe, in detail, what it meant for them to have been poorly coached. Findings: Athletes identified a total of 33 poor coaches, but some of the athletes described the same coach; therefore, only 26 different coaches were actually identified. Of the 26 poor coaches, 17 were head coaches, nine were assistant coaches, and these coaches were employed at a variety of competitive levels (e.g. youth to professional). Athletes reported that poor coaches were poor at teaching by not providing useful instruction, not individualizing their teaching to fit the unique needs of each athlete, and being unknowledgeable about the skills and qualities to teach effectively. Conclusions: The theme of the poor teaching by the coach represented the multiple ways athletes' perceived the coach to be poor at providing useful instruction, individualizing that instruction, managing game tactics, and being unknowledgeable about the skills and qualities to teach effectively. This failure to teach was directly associated with what the athletes talked about and described as not learning from their coaches. In general, the findings of this study were consistent with the findings of research on winning and expert coaches, albeit diametrically opposite. Athletes in this study perceived that they failed to receive instruction in many cases, and what they received was unhelpful, insubstantial, and was detrimental to successful athletic performance.

Publication Title

Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy





First Page


Last Page


Find in your library