Scholarly articles aren't written for the casual audience. Most of them include 15-word titles littered with intense jargon, but also overflowing with valuable information.
With that in mind, I've decided to take an article from a recent Journal of Applied Sport Psychology
and share/apply some of its findings. This one comes from authors Siv Gjesdal, Ellen M. Haug and Yngvar Ommundsen (2019).
Keep in mind that I read the study, rather than speaking to the authors, but I will represent their work as I interpret it.
This study included 1,119 Norwegian youth soccer players. This is important, because the majority of my audience is American and we can't be sure that Norwegian youth soccer players react to coaching the same way that American high school baseball players (or any other sport) would. Nonetheless, the study provides interesting information. It looked at how coaches attempted to instill "task" values – similar to growth mindset.
These values include self-comparison – rather than comparing one's self to others – and an emphasis on improvement in a youth sports team. The coaches in the study were all trying to establish a culture where good performance, high self-esteem and belief in self thrived.
In my experience, some coaches enter a season without a strong gameplan, but many try to create a system that brings out peak performance in their players. They do so by emphasizing personal achievement, establishing a culture of winning, building team unity or investing in physical or mental training.
As noted above, the coaches in the study attempted to develop a specific culture – called "mastery culture" – that would emphasize performance, self-esteem and self-belief. The researchers frame their study through the lens that players will adopt the values of that culture through exposure to it. However, they wondered how the strategies a coach uses affect whether a player picks up the aspects of this mastery culture.
The authors determined that players with controlling coaches didn't learn the values of mastery culture as well as players with less controlling coaches. In this study, controlling meant intimidation, showing negative, conditional regard for players, controlling use of rewards and more. Though these coaches tried to instill mastery culture into their players, they had difficulty compared to less controlling coaches. Coaches who didn't use these tactics had an easier time passing on the lessons to their athletes.
What are the lessons here? If you want players to buy into your culture, you will have to let them do it on their own accord, to some extent. Particularly in this type of culture, players must put the "self" in self-esteem and self-belief.
Additionally, let the culture speak for itself; players will learn from the culture itself. As always, different players will respond to different environments, and like I mentioned initially, Norwegian youth soccer isn't American high school basketball.
Regardless, building the right type of culture will be a crucial aspect of any team. If you aren't already intentional about culture building, I would recommend you sit down with your coaches, captains, trainers, mental skills professionals, athletic director, parents or whoever else moves and shakes your program, and discuss the culture you'd like to create. It is then up to the coaches to reduce the controlling tactics they use, as appropriate, to make that culture a reality.
The authors present one specific type of culture and if your program is only about winning, you can do so without adhering to mastery culture or avoiding controlling tactics. However, most programs have greater ambitions than just winning at the youth level.