Main Article:

Becker, A. J., & Wrisberg, C. A. (2008). Effective coaching in action: Observations of legendary collegiate basketball coach Pat Summitt. Sport Psychologist, 22(2), 197.



Tharp, R. G., & Gallimore, R. (1976). What a coach can teach a teacher. Psychology Today, 9(8), 75-78.

by Rachel Webb

The purpose of this study was to systematically evaluate the nonverbal and verbal practice behaviors between Pat Summit, the winningest collegiate basketball coach in NCAA Division 1 history, and her athletes. Over the course of six practices in the 2004-05 season, Pat Summit’s behaviors and interactions were video recorded and coded in this study. When we look at the development of a team and the individual athletes, it is understood that coaches spend a considerable amount of time conveying information to athletes to each their goals (Becker & Wrisberg, 2008). This communication can consist of general knowledge, correcting mistakes, reinforcing behavior, or motivating efforts. The current literature and what this study aims to support is that the effectiveness of the coaches and reaching said goals is dependent upon their ability to convey this information. The Arizona State University Observation Instrument was used to assess Pat Summitt’s coaching behaviors and each verbal/nonverbal interaction was placed into 1 of the 13 categories.

Consistent with previous research done on successful coaches, Summitt provided instruction more frequently than any other coaching behavior, roughly 48% of her communication was instruction. The most common form of instruction was concurrent, meaning technical and tactical information that was provided during the task thus allowing the players to actively adjust their behavior in the flow of the plays. Nearly half of Summitt’s interactions were directed toward individual players. It is argued that this type of attention to the players can also increase their confidence as shown in previous studies with Coach John Wooden (Tharp & Gallimore, 1976). The second most frequent type of feedback was praise (15%), which focused mostly on positive reinforcement for the expected behavior. The final interaction that has ignificant in this study was the use of hustle statements, concluding that Summitt’s success could be contributed to by the intense, game like practices she conducted.

Contrary to the expectancy theory that suggests coaches provide different treatment to high verse low expectancy athletes’, Summitt’s coaching behavior and perceptions of players’ abilities remained stable (Becker & Wrisberg, 2008). There was not a greater quality or quantity of feedback given to the high expectancy players from coach Summit therefore it may be assumed that the success of her team could be due to the effort she puts into developing the abilities of each of the players. Practically speaking, from this study we acknowledge the need for coaches to successful assess athletes, but through deliberate efforts they must be aware of how they communicate these assessments. Interventions can consist of using a journal to highlight coach athlete interactions, reviewing practice film, or involving assistant coaches in assessment. This study and the previous literature continue to support the importance of providing athletes with instructional feedback that is both detailed and relevant to the individual. Monitoring each player’s level of improvement can also aid in the process of development and further expand the ability to assess the needs of the players to help them reach their optimal level of performance.