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  • Cooper Kemnitz

Autonomy in Sport

It’s no surprise that youth-sport participation has an influence on self-perceptions, identity, and self-esteem in athletes but what are coaches doing to increase positive behavior outcomes? Today I want to introduce you all to a concept I use regularly in coaching, Autonomy. Autonomy is a fancy word for self-governance that’s becoming increasingly popular in youth sports. Let’s talk about a few ways I use autonomy in practice.


  1. The first and probably most common way I use Autonomy is by identifying goals with the athlete. I’m not here to tell them what I want them to accomplish, I want them to tell me and I’m just a resource for them to meet these goals. Yes, I regularly help with wording/language and I often explain why the words we use matter, but this does not diminish any autonomic benefits.

  2. Another way I use autonomy in practice is the “3-2-1” discussion. An athlete picks 3 things they did well, 2 things they can work on, and 1 thing they did poorly and will let go. This can be in the scope of a drill, practice, game, or tournament.

  3. A third way that I use autonomy is by combining this process with biofeedback (another topic that I’ll be discussing shortly). By asking athletes to self-evaluate and regulate they have increased control over their thoughts, feelings, and movements. Athletes have the ability to dictate their progress and become more independent in their development. An example of this type of conversation would be as follows:

  4. Coach: “How did that feel?”

  5. Athlete: “I felt as though I performed the skill pretty well but I still made in error.”

  6. Coach: “Do you have any ideas as to why that happened?”

  7. Athlete: “I think my platform contact was off.”

  8. Coach: “What would you suggest to correct that?”

  9. Athlete: “I’m going to following the ball to my platform with my eyes.”

  10. Coach: “Alright, let’s try it and see how that feels.”

  11. ***Sometimes the athlete may have a bad idea on how to correct their error. If you have the time, allow the athlete to try this out so they can confidently say that they were wrong and would like to try something else. If you don’t have the time, ask them to visualize it and see if leading them to another answer is more beneficial. Again, the point is to allow the athlete governance.

Below you can find a research article discussing Autonomy in Sports.

Thanks for reading,

Coach Cooper

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410092/

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