Golf's Mental Game - A Coaches (Role Part 2)

  • Author: Clara Swedlund
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What makes a good coach great? Autonomy-supportive behaviour!

In part1, I discussed the research that has shown what makes a good coach great. Sport psychologists have concluded that, based on self-determination theory, it is the behaviour of coaches who support player’s basic psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and relatedness – that make great coaches really stand out and directs golf's mental game in a positive direction. 

Given the existing evidence that highlights the importance of coaches satisfying players’ basic psychological needs, it’s important to communicate to coaches how they can go from being good to great. A set of practical steps, actions and behaviours that coaches can implement in their training sessions has been outlined to help them satisfy player’s needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. By implementing these coaching behaviours, coaches will create an environment that leads to greater player wellbeing, which has been demonstrated to lead to improved performance.

A coach who displays behaviours that support the satisfaction of a player’s three basic needs is known (by sport psychologists) as an “autonomy supportive coach”.Below I describe the behaviours that an autonomy supportive coach displays, alongside some practical tips or examples that can be applied in golf coaching sessions:

  1. Provide choice in training but with specific limits and rules
  • Providing choice has been shown to increase player’s inherent motivation to play and improve. Therefore, if you as a coach can provide a golf player with choices and options in their training sessions – by asking questions rather than directly instructing, for example – it will increase that player’s motivation by satisfying their need for autonomy.
  • It is however important to have a structure in place so that the player doesn’t simply decide that they want to go and hit 100 balls aimlessly with no specific goal in mind!


  1. Provide a rationale for tasks, limits and rules
  • When outlining the training session, be explicit about why you have designed it in a specific way and explain what you expect the player to get out of the session. This will help players not only remain focused during training, but also value to the time and thought that you have put into planning the player’s session.
  • Your rationale for the designed activities will convey to the players the message that you care. Focused practice will also ensure that an increased sense of competence is derived from the coaching session – players will work towards tangible goals that will reinforce their ability to play. Even on bad days, an explanation of tasks will ensure players stay motivated to keep trying to master golf and golf's mental game.


  1. Inquire about and acknowledge others’ feelings and perspectives
  • This might seem more obvious, but it’s extremely important to ask your players questions about their feelings and about other things going on in their life outside of golf, as well as asking them questions in training about their thought patterns throughout each round.
  • Getting to know the players that you coach will allow you to develop a stronger and more meaningful relationship with them; by acknowledging their perspectives during their game you’ll also get better at understanding their decision-making processes, which will facilitate your effectiveness as a coach. Together, this will help satisfy player’s needs for relatedness and connectedness.

For More on Golf's Mental Game Click Here

4 .Allow your players opportunities to take initiative and do independent work

  • Letting the players decide what clubs to use or letting them experiment with different clubs on the range are simple examples of creating opportunities for them to take initiative.
  • In the same way that providing choices during training satisfies a player’s need for autonomy, providing opportunities for leadership and independent work will also contribute to the satisfaction of this need.

5. Provide non-controlling competence feedback

  • As the coach, you should check that when you are providing feedback you are targeting behaviours that are under your player’s control. At the same time, you should also convey high but realistic expectations.
  • Research has indicated that controlling-type feedback has a negative impact on performance, motivation and feelings of competence as it increases perceived pressure on the player by conveying the coaches’ expectations (eg “well done, I’d like you to do even better on your next hole”).
  • Providing non-controlling type feedback will show the player you care about their mastery of golf and will reinforce their sense of competence. 

6. Avoid overt control, guilt-inducing criticisms, controlling statements and tangible rewards

  • As in point 5 above, as a coach you should avoid using negative language when providing players with feedback. Controlling-type behaviours negatively impact a player’s sense of autonomy which as a result, leads to in a decrease in motivation.
  • Research has suggested that statements including “you should…” or “you have to…” divert the player’s focus of attention, leading to negative emotions and poorer performance.
  • These types of statements are typically used when a player is making mistakes; as a coach, you can try replacing these statements with a question such as “how did that feel? What do you think happened there? Where was your attention?” as these will tap into the player’s autonomy

7. Prevent ego-involvement from taking place

  • “Ego-involvement” refers to situations in which a player is exclusively focused on performance outcomes rather than on mastery of the task. This can result from you as a coach placing more emphasis on performance (immediate results) rather than on mastery (long-term success)!

Ego-involvement” will ultimately lead to a decrease in feelings of competence on the part of the players if they perceive the outcome goals are not met. Furthermore, it could also result in players realising that their coaches' support is only contingent upon the success of their performance, which will influence their feelings of relatedness, and in turn, could lead to a reduction in overall motivation.

Check Out GLT's Podcast and hear EXPERTS discuss this very subject. CLICK HERE

In conclusion, displaying more autonomy-supportive behaviours as a coach will help satisfy your players’ needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Your coaching will help improve their psychological wellbeing, which will lead to improved golf performance too.