Encouraging Athletes to Engage in More Balanced Self-Evaluation – david royle

Course Director Phil Kearney:  The first cohort of coaches on the MSc Applied Sports Coaching at UL completed their studies in August and I am very much looking forward to the graduation ceremony in January. While we are no longer in regular contact, I am looking forward to staying in touch and continuing our conversations on coaching. On the back of one such email conversation, David Royle has put together this short blog on an important issue within his coaching in karate and how the MSc has influenced his practice.



Encouraging Athletes to Engage in More Balanced Self-Evaluation

The reflective article you sent reminded me of a challenge we face in karate; karateka are so focused on the execution of technique that they fail to reinforce their improvements during and after training and often neglect to reward themselves, which is essential for their personal development. 

When I ask a karateka what they did well, I find it interesting that they genuinely struggle with the question for several reasons:

  1. They are often shocked that a Sensei coach asked them that question in the first place.
  2. Their confidence and self-esteem are low, and they are beating themselves up and cannot find the answer.
  3. They are fearful of overly praising themselves as others may perceive this as cocky, yet the same karateka is perfectly happy to openly say what they are not doing so well and how bad they are performing.  

I believe the issue stems from karate coaches developing a culture predicated from the hierarchy structure involved in karate, meaning that Sensei (coach) who holds the highest rank creates a disciplined environment of obedience and respect similar to the military; for example, all karateka line up in a ranking system and follow their Sensei’s every instruction.

While there are many benefits of creating a disciplined environment like this, Senseis often rely on instruction and physical demonstrations as their primary coach behaviours.  Given the complexity of karate movements, levels of instructional behaviours are necessary. However, excessive instruction creates over-dependence from the athlete on the coach, consequently reducing the athlete’s ability to make decisions independently, increasing the likelihood of error, and compromising skill optimisation. Furthermore, athletes tend to listen less when instructions are predominately centred on errors, potentially demotivating athletes and leaving them feeling disconnected from the coach. Consequently, karate coaches are often unintentionally causing more harm than good as they don’t pay enough attention to affirming what the athlete is doing well.  In my earlier days of coaching, I would have been part of the problem rather than the solution; thankfully, that has changed.


To encourage athletes to engage in a more balanced self-evaluation, I address the need to consider what was done well and what needs improvement openly and honestly. I use examples to the group, reminding them of some of the negative thoughts they may have during training. I suggest they highlight what they have done well first and dispense with any self-ridicule; this is followed with open questions in conjunction with meaningful affirmations that connects and rewards with the karateka effort as a person as well as skill; this approach enhances a trustful relationship while providing constructive meaningful feedback using the reflective process. Indeed, this creates a better learning environment and I have seen improvements in karateka’s self-confidence and their ability to embrace many challenges as a result.

Since I began the MSc, I have acquired an abundance of reflective skills that I have consistently applied. These reflective methods also capture my thoughts and emotions in life. I have come to realize that I also beat myself up at times, failing to recognize my life improvements; consequently, this has held me back, just like the karateka. Engaging in deeper reflective practice has helped me to  practice what I preach and bring the same philosophy that I have within the dojo into my life experiences.

Dr. Phil Kearney is the Course Director of the MSc Applied Sports Coaching in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Education and Health Sciences,  University of Limerick. View Phil’s profile:  https://www.ul.ie/pess/iframe-staff/dr-philip-kearney

Contact: philip.kearney@ul.ie. Research Profiles: Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Phil-Kearney, ORCID: http://orcid.org/0000-0003-3425-663X, Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.co.uk/citations?user=ZFggoBgAAAAJ&hl=en Twitter @kearney_phil

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