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Exploring sport coaching and psychology
Exploring sport coaching and psychology

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2 Comparing top coaches

Those coaching international teams will be more successful if they can support athletes in meeting their needs, such as those described previously. Good coaches are also likely to be consistent, as their work is underpinned by a clear set of beliefs and values and what some might call a ‘coaching philosophy’. You start your comparison by looking at two coaches working in the most popular team sport in the world, football.

Activity 2 Pia Sundhage (Team USA and Sweden)

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

First listen to some fascinating insights from Pia Sundhage. Sundhage is one of the world’s top women’s football coaches, having led Team USA to two consecutive Olympic gold medals. She then coached the team of her own nation of birth, Sweden, to a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

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Interview with Pia Sundhage
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She talks about how she managed the severe discord in the US team when she took over and the way she develops and uses ‘team goals’. Note, that when she mentions ‘the role’ and respect for it, she is talking about individual roles as part of the team jigsaw.

If you had to describe the characteristics of her approach to coaching, how would you do this? Your summary of her approach will be invaluable when you come to compare it to other coaches in a moment. You may find the transcript (under the audio’s play-bar) useful.


Listening and open communication, which together lead towards trust, might be one way of summarising part of her philosophy. She also talked about how shared team goals need to be discussed and often act as a reference point. When talking about her ‘coach healthy’ approach, it seemed to be mainly about inspiring players to reach towards being better rather than overemphasis on what mistakes they made. The research evidence supports her observation that creating an environment that players want to belong to, and one in which everyone can improve, is a valuable approach

Now that you have some insight into Pia’s coaching, let’s start to compare this with another top football coach, Jürgen Klinsmann.

Activity 3 Jürgen Klinsmann (Germany and USA)

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

Listen to a short clip from Jürgen Klinsmann (coach for Germany and the USA at successive World Cups).

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Klinsmann makes comparisons between football and American team sports such as baseball, basketball and the NFL. Interestingly, like Sundhage, he also mentions conflicts within teams.

What similarities and differences can you detect in his approach compared to Sundhage’s?


Klinsmann makes some interesting observations about players being the main decision makers on the pitch and that coaches in football have limited opportunities to direct play, which contrasts with the American team sports that have numerous time-outs. So, one key similarity is that both Klinsmann and Sundhage are trying to encourage players to take responsibility on the field, which is supported by academic research. They also want players to take responsibility for their own learning and improvement.

Klinsmann describes how there is no perfect coaching tone or approach since every coach and player is different. Like Sundhage, he talks about trying resolve conflict through talking, but he also mentions the situation of sometimes using the ultimate sanction of removing one party from a group if a conflict is too deep-seated.

In neither of these interviews did these coaches present themselves as a coach who directs and tells players what they should do. They suggested that they guide the group of players and try to create a team environment that encourages self-motivation and responsibility to keep on learning.