Most coaches are fairly-well versed in the technical aspects of their sport, but they rarely have had any formal training in creating a healthy psychological environment for athletes. Consequently, there’s a need for providing educational programs that positively affect coaching behaviors and thereby increase the likelihood that athletes will have desirable experiences. 

Why is there a need for evidence-based training?


Coach training has become a large-scale enterprise, the most notable being the American Sport Education Program (ASEP), the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA), and the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). These organizations have good intentions and deserve credit for increasing awareness of the importance of coaching education. However, virtually nothing is known about what effects their programs have on coaches and athletes and how well they achieve their objectives.

Although ASEP, NYSCA, and PCA have achieved widespread distribution, there is absolutely no evidence to support their claims of producing beneficial effects. Furthermore, they have rejected the need for program evaluation by stating, “We don’t need to test it, because we know it works from our own experience.” History well illustrates the folly that can result from this way of “knowing.” For example, in the field of medicine, experiential knowledge served as the basis for procedures that physicians “knew” were effective from their clinical experience. This included purging, blood-letting, blistering, and lobotomies. Such treatments were later shown through empirical research not only to be ineffective, but also dangerous and sometimes fatal.

Today, all major medical and psychological organizations champion evidence-based practice. This means that all interventions (whether medical or behavioral) should be founded on firm empirical evidence and should have demonstrated efficacy supported by outcome research.

What has research shown about the effectiveness of the Mastery Approach to Coaching (MAC)?

The MAC intervention has been evaluated numerous times in carefully controlled research studies. These studies have assessed the effects of the intervention on a host of behavioral, attitudinal, social, motivational, and personality variables. A summary is now presented of the results of MAC field experiments conducted by the YESports team in the sports of baseball and basketball, and by other investigators in basketball, soccer, swimming, and volleyball.

The coach-training intervention resulted in observed and athlete-perceived behavioral differences between trained and untrained coaches that were consistent with the MAC principles and behavioral guidelines. Thus, the training program was successful in promoting a more desirable pattern of coaching behaviors (Cruz, Mora, Sousa, & Alcaraz, 2016; Lewis, Groom, & Roberts, 2014; Smith, Smoll, & Curtis, 1979; Smoll, Smith, & Cumming, 2007; Sousa, Cruz, Torreggosa, Vilches, & Viladrich, 2006; Sousa, Smith, & Cruz, 2008).

Athletes’ reports of their team’s coach-initiated motivational climate clearly supported the efficacy of the intervention (Smoll et al., 2007). More exactly, compared with untrained coaches, trained coaches received significantly higher mastery-climate scores and lower ego-climate scores on the Motivational Climate Scale for Youth Sports (Smith, Cumming, & Smoll, 2008).

Trained coaches were better liked and rated as better teachers; and their athletes reported more fun playing the sport, and a higher level of attraction among teammates (Smith et al., 1979). Increases in athletes’ perceptions of both task-related and social group cohesion have also been reported for youngsters who played for trained versus untrained coaches (McLaren, Eys, & Murray, 2015).

Differential patterns of change occurred in achievement goal orientations over the course of the season. Male and female athletes who played for trained coaches exhibited increases in mastery goal orientation scores and significant decreased in ego orientation scores. In contract, athletes who played for control group coaches did not change in their goal orientations from preseason to late season (Smoll et al., 2007).

Paralleling a significant difference between intervention and control groups in sport-related mastery scores, a significant group difference was found on the mastery score of an academic achievement goal scale (Smoll et al., 2007). This result suggests the importance of assessing generalization effects of sport-related interventions on athletes’ functioning in other life domains.

Children low in self-esteem who played for trained coaches showed significant increases in feelings of self-worth. Youngsters with low self-esteem in the control group did not change (Akiyama, Gregorio, & Kobayashi, 2018; Coatsworth & Conroy, 2006; Smith et al., 1979; Smoll, Smith, Barnett, & Everett, 1993).

Young athletes who played for trained coaches showed significant decreases in sport performance anxiety over the course of the season (Conroy & Coatsworth, 2004; Smith, Smoll, & Barnett, 1995; Smith, Smoll, & Cumming, 2007).

Children who played for untrained coaches dropped out of sports at a higher rate than those who played for trained coaches (Barnett, Smoll, & Smith, 1992). In line with this, young athletes who played for trained coaches were more likely to stay engaged on a daily basis in the program (Smoll et al., 2007).

In conclusion, evidence for the efficacy of the MAC intervention has been provided by six different research groups. Outcome studies have shown that the empirically-derived behavioral principles can be readily applied by coaches, and that their application has beneficial effects on a range of psychosocial outcome variables in young athletes.


Akiyama, T., Gregorio, E. R., & Kobayashi, J. (2018). Youth sports activity and young people's well-being after a disaster: A trial with the Mastery Approach to Coaching (MAC) in the Philippines. BMC Research Notes, 11, 747.

Barnett, N. P., Smoll, F. L., & Smith, R. E. (1992). Effects of enhancing coach–athlete relationships on youth sport attrition. The Sport Psychologist, 6, 111–127.
Coatsworth, J. D., & Conroy, D. E. (2006). Enhancing the self-esteem of youth swimmers through coach training: Gender and age effects. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7, 173–192.

Conroy, D. E., & Coatsworth, J. D. (2004). The effects of coach training on fear of failure in youth swimmers: A latent growth curve analysis from a randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 193–214.

Cruz, J., Mora, A., Sousa, C., & Alcaraz, S. (2016). Effects of an individualized program on coaches’ observed and perceived behavior. Revista de Psicologia del Deporte, 25, 137-144.

Lewis, C. J., Groom, R., & Roberts, S. J. (2014). Exploring the value of a coach intervention process within women's youth soccer: A case study. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 12, 245-257.

McLaren, C. D., Eys, M. A., & Murray, R. A. (2015). A coach-initiated motivational climate intervention and athletes' perceptions of group cohesion in youth sport. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 4, 113-126.

Smith, R. E., Cumming, S. P., & Smoll, F. L., (2008). Development and validation of the Motivational Climate Scale for Youth Sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20, 116–136.

Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Barnett, N. P. (1995). Reduction of children’s sport performance anxiety through social support and stress-reduction training for coaches. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 16, 125–142.

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Smith, R. E., Smoll, F. L., & Curtis, B. (1979). Coach effectiveness training: A cognitive- behavioral approach to enhancing relationship skills in youth sport coaches. Journal of Sport Psychology, 1, 59–75.

Smoll, F. L., Smith, R. E., Barnett. N. P., & Everett, J. J. (1993). Enhancement of children’s self-esteem through social support training for youth sport coaches. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 602–610.

Smoll, F. L., Smith, R. E., & Cumming, S. P. (2007). Effects of a motivational climate intervention for coaches on changes in young athletes’ achievement goal orientations. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 1, 23–46.

Sousa, C., Cruz, J., Torregrosa, M., Vilches, D., & Viladrich, C. (2006). Behavioral assessment and individual counseling programme for coaches of young athletes. Revista de Psicologia del Deporte, 15, 263–278.

Sousa, C., Smith, R.E., & Cruz, J. (2008). An individualized behavioral goal-setting program for coaches: Impact on observed, athlete-perceived, and coach-perceived behaviors. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 2, 258–277.