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The Key to Success in Sports and Life

The value of positive psychology in transforming the athletic arena

Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Coaching
Source: Ford Video/Mastery Approach to Coaching

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.” John Wooden, Basketball Hall of Fame player and coach

During a 12-year period from 1963 through 1975, John Wooden’s UCLA teams won 10 NCAA championships. To accomplish this legendary feat, you might think Coach Wooden and his Bruins had to be single-mindedly focused on winning games. And yet, where he was concerned, this was not the case. Rather, according to Wooden’s definition of success, he placed an emphasis on the process of striving for excellence.

What’s the difference between mastery and ego climates?

Coach Wooden’s perspective on success may be the most important reason he deserves the title “Wizard of Westwood.” His coaching approach stressed creation of what is now known as a mastery climate.

In a mastery-oriented motivational climate

  • The goal is to foster positive growth as an athlete and as a person.
  • The emphasis is on effort, learning, and personal improvementdoing what it takes to be your best.
  • Without a doubt, winning is highly valued, but well-informed coaches realize that winning takes care of itself if athletes are having fun, improving their skills, and giving maximum effort.
  • Mastery climates foster an atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement, and everyone, regardless of ability, is made to feel an important part of the team.

In an ego-oriented motivational climate

  • Coaches often focus their attention on the most talented athletes, who have the greatest influence on winning.
  • Effort and improvement are not emphasized as much as performance level.
  • Rivalry among teammates may be encouraged by comparing them openly with one another.
  • Inadequate performance or mistakes are often punished with criticism, teaching athletes that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs and thereby building fear of failure.
  • Coaches show the willingness to win at all costs, even if rule-breaking is required to gain a needed advantage.

Which approach is supported by youth sport research?

Studies conducted with my colleague, Dr. Ron Smith, have shown that a coach-created mastery climate

  • Promotes higher mastery-oriented achievement goals in sports and in school.
  • Fosters positive coach-athlete relations.
  • Increases the amount of fun that athletes experience.
  • Creates greater team cohesion and a more supportive athletic setting.
  • Increases athletes’ self-esteem.
  • Reduces performance-destroying anxiety and fear of failure.
  • Reduces dropout rates.
  • Produces equally positive effects on boys and girls teams.

Abstracts of our coaching-behavior research are posted on the RESEARCH page (top menu bar) of our Youth Enrichment in Sports website—

What prominent athletes and coaches endorse a mastery orientation?

  • “I have no control over results. All I can do is play to the best of my abilities. Success is me giving everything that I have” Ichiro Suzuki, Major League Baseball player
  • “Doing your best is more important than being the best.” Forest “Frosty” Westering, College Football Hall of Fame coach
  • “A winning desire should be stressed at all levels of sports, but it shouldn’t be a life-and-death situation. Simply give your best and have fun doing it.” Gordie Howe, National Hockey Hall of Fame player
  • “The bottom line in youth sports should not be based on pressure to win. Instead, it should be on the enjoyment of competing and the opportunity to develop positive attitudes toward other people through that competition.” Lute Olson, Basketball Hall of Fame coach
  • “The only successful youth sport program is the one with coaches who will accept losing along with winning, last place in the league along with first place, and still be able to congratulate their team for their efforts.” Roger Staubach, Pro Football Hall of Fame player
  • “We use the psychology of positive. We see things as they could become, and strive to make it happen. That's so empowering on a daily basis.” Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks coach

What’s the bottom line?

  • All athletes can achieve success, because this relates to the effort put into realizing one’s personal potential.
  • Coaches who create a mastery climate never lose, regardless of the score!

How can you learn to create a mastery climate?

  • The Mastery Approach to Coaching and Mastery Approach to Parenting in Sports are research-based videos that emphasize skill development, achieving personal and team success, giving maximum effort, and having fun.
  • To access the videos, go to the Youth Enrichment in Sports website.