Effective Coaching: Building Trust and Respect with your eSport Athletes

Honesty. Trust. Respect. Love. Good rule to follow in business and in life.

Think about a coach, teacher or boss in your life that you really enjoyed interacting with. Now remember one that you could not stand to be around. Can you identify the behaviors that individual had and how they affected your attitude, mood or performance?

Now ask yourself if you have considered how your behaviors are influencing the players you are looking to lead. Often times it is easier to note how others have affected us but it is not as easy to see how we affect others.

As a coach how do you balance your relationship with your players? When in a position of leadership being aware of how your relationship with your players impacts both you and their performance is important as it can dictate outcomes.

Three ways that you can can interact with your players are:

  • Being too nice
  • Being too harsh
  • Being balanced

Obviously a balanced coaching style is the most healthy way to address your team, but first, let’s look at the potential coaching style pitfalls so you know what to avoid.

Mr. Nice Guy

Do you find yourself trying to minimize any confrontation and look to make everyone happy even if it is at your own expense? If that sounds like you then your level of agreeableness is too high as you are focused on being nice in order to get along with everyone.

The first thing I was told when I began working at a county juvenile center was to have strong and consistent boundaries when working with the youth or I would be taken advantage of. This was hard for me as I naturally want to interact with people on a peer to peer basis, however I quickly learned that it was a necessary way to do my job.

As a coach it is imperative to have balance with your level of of agreeableness. If you have too much agreeableness in relationship to your players you have opened the gates to potential internal strife such as a lack of respect, frustration over perceived “favorites” and no clear leadership.

In order to establish that balance you need a set of player expectations that are adhered to. This is one of the best ways to limit problems arising around favoritism and the like as players will be able to see through your actions toward their fellow teammates what is expected of them.

By establishing boundaries through player expectations you are not only creating a healthy atmosphere within your team, you are teaching and practicing a life skill that will help you and your players in many facets of life.

“If you live for people’s acceptance, you will die from their rejection.” -Lecrae

Power vs Respect

Now I will address the opposite side of the coin, being too harsh towards your players. I am not referring to being critical of their gameplay, but rather the way in which you express your displeasure with it such as yelling, demeaning, name calling, and an overall lack of respect.

It is not unheard of for coaches to behave this way. There have been conversations regarding NFL coaches that unless you treat players with a harsh demeanor you will not be able to gain the players “respect.” It happens in other sports too with an example being Mike Rice who is a former Rutgers University basketball coach who was fired for his behavior towards his players.

Yelling may work for a time. One reason is because it can induce emotions such as anger or fear which can allow a player to be motivated to follow your directions. However, once your player grows tired of constantly being yelled at you can lose any power your voice had. This is because people want to have at least a basic level of respect from their leader, and when this is only accomplished through anger and fear it leads to frustration, mirroring of the unhealthy behavior, and distrust.

“The more I tried to exert power directly, the less powerful I became. I learned to dial back my ego and distribute power as widely as possible without surrendering final authority. Paradoxically, this approach strengthened my effectiveness because it freed me to focus on my job as keeper of the team’s vision.” – Phil Jackson

When leading your players choose a coaching style that will allow your interactions with your team to motivate and inspire rather than frustrate and silence.

Balanced ways to lead your team

Now I bring you to the style that will be best in working with your players, being balanced. This is where you will be able to take the healthy parts of being agreeable or strict with your players and looking at how to apply them in a way that is not extreme.

One of the reasons why balance is so important is because each of your players are unique as an individual and in his book “Leading with the Heart” Duke basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski states this as well:

“Each team I coach is different because each individual is different. That’s the beauty of coaching and it’s one of the things I love about each team.” – Coach K

Understanding when to apply the technique designed to move you and your players towards the desired outcome is crucial in having a healthy relationship with them. Below are ways to build a team atmosphere that are healthy and balanced when applied correctly.

Trust – healthy version of being nice

Developing trust early is necessary in order to lead your players. It allows players the freedom to make mistakes and then learn from them, which creates an atmosphere of growth.

To establish trust begin with honesty when interacting with the players both individually and as a team. Attached to honesty is letting your players know that you are available to them when needed which gives them a safety net to allow growth experiences to be less painful. Also remember to follow through with the things you tell your team you will do, and if changes are needed have a plan to provide as much understanding as possible for the reason needed for the change.

Showing your players how to trust will also be a model for them to use with teammates, thus allowing for gameplay that would not be accessible without the ingredient of trust.

“In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.” – Coach K

Communication – healthy version of being harsh

Having effective communication is both knowing what to say and how to say it. This goes hand in hand with knowing your players and how each will receive the message that you communicate.

Not only do you lead by communicating to your players, but also by teaching your team ways to effectively communicate with each other. Learning how to use “I” statements, developing empathy with each other, keeping emotions in check and understanding the importance of body language are ways to accomplish a healthy level of communication. If your players are not effective with talking to each other the team as a whole will suffer as they will not be able to reach their full potential.

Remember to lead both through teaching and by example. This applies when you are coaching but also when you interact with your team outside of the game. This will reinforce belief in the act as your players will see that it is something you apply as an expectation for yourself.

“Leaders have to remind people to talk to one another. They have to teach people to talk.” – Coach K

Respect – overall outcome from the trust and communication

If you develop trust and communication within your team respect will be the harvest of your labor. Your players will feel confident in your leadership even if they do not understand the direction you are going as you have a foundation of trust and communication.

The reminder here is to be patient with the length of time it takes to develop respect. Do not fall into the trap that you can take shortcuts or that the small choices needed to arrive to this outcome are not important. A helpful reminder is to think of all of the preparatory and maintenance work that goes into a seed long before it bears fruit. Just like a seed you know what will be the outcome from your hard work with your players, but the result is dependent on how you tended to their growth along the way.

“Every leader needs to remember that a healthy respect for authority takes time to develop. It’s like building trust. You don’t instantly have trust, it has to be earned.” – Coach K

Healthy Relationship

As a coach your relationship with your players is one of the most important ingredients to success. By learning how to develop a healthy one you will increase your ability to have the outcomes you desire.

By following the balanced approach in with your players you will be able to create healthy relationship that allows for both player and team growth and success!

What difficulties have you had with establishing healthy relationships with your players or your team as a whole? Contact me or comment below as I would be happy to assist with your individualized need.



Krzyzewski, M. (2001). Leading with the Heart Coach K’s Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life. Retrieved from http://books.google.com


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.