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Posted 06/20/2022 in Category 1

What is the power of empathy for you and your athletes?

What is the power of empathy for you and your athletes?

What is the power of empathy? What does it mean to be empathetic? How can empathy change your life and the lives of those around you? Empathy is a critical component of success in life because it helps you to relate, understand, accept and understand the lives of people around you and your own life. As a coach, athletes challenge your empathy every day. Whether you are coach in the mould of John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jurgen Klopp or Vince Lombardi; the one thing you will have in common as a coach or manager is that you are sharing in the lives of other people. 

In therapy, therapeutic empathy is one of the most vital components to establish a therapeutic alliance and to predict therapy outcomes. Empathy is our ability to sense the athlete’s world and share the experience of the athlete’s world with the athlete. Imagine an athlete comes to your door because of her anxiety about an upcoming competition saying “These players on our squad are not taking the game seriously and I can’t afford to play poorly and lose”. From an empathetic standpoint, the coach might say, “It seems like you’re feeling discouraged because of your team mates”. This response prominently deals with how the athlete is feeling – worried. In a positive-empathetic response, a coach might focus upon the hidden desire of the athlete “It seems like you have a deep desire to play well and know how to encourage your team mates”. 

This circumstance is commonplace in most sports and for most athletes that are part of a team. They have a strong, almost overpowering, desire to succeed. With this desire to succeed comes a frustration when they feel that others are not doing all they can to help them to achieve this goal. We are built differently with different desires and goals. In a team setting we will find all sorts of players to make up the team. Sometimes having a player that is calm is exactly what they need. This mix of personalities means a contribution that one player might not understand, but another might need. For example, a player to jokes might be just what is needed to break the tension that spreads in a changing room before a game. At other times, a forceful, committed player with a strong desire to set the tone for training might be just what we all need. What matters most here is that we respect the mix of personalities and the different ways of being that bring success. The good coach can see beyond the players complaining, fault-finding, and so on to see what is the best positive-empathetic response. 

When a player complains about another player or when a member of staff is finding fault with another member of staff; we need to see their hidden desire to do well and succeed. It might upset a member of the backroom team if another member of the back room team lacks clarity in his communication. The hidden desire here might be for the other member of staff to see everything in a black and white way. The coach can help the member of staff to realise that such a desire is unhelpful because it does not fit with the reality of many situations that are mostly shades of grey. 


Magyar-Moe, O. (2015). Positive psychological interventions in counseling: What every counseling psychologist should know. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(4), 508–557. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000015573776

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

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