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How to gain the trust of players as a coach when you first join a team

How to gain the trust of players as a coach when you first join a team

5-minute read

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In this blog I will talk about how personality differences can create disagreement between a coach and a player. Using the Big 5 personality theory, I will help you identify your personality traits and explain why two people at opposite ends of a personality trait are likely to clash in opinions.

“We are free to criticise the values of other cultures, to condemn them, but we cannot pretend not to understand them at all” - Isaiah Berlin


Disagreement Between a Coach and Player

On the path to high performance, the relationship between a coach and player may not always be characterised by affection and harmony. The need to address weaknesses, hold each other accountable to high standards and objectively analyse performances can be touchy subjects that lead even the most well-developed coach-player relationships to experience tension. Often this tension arises because the coach and players bring different personalities, knowledge, and skill to their discussions which creates disagreement over what each interprets went wrong in the past and how they can become better in the future. If such instances of tension and disagreement were rare and harmless, then this blog would not need to be written. However, the research on disagreements between coaches and players in sport highlights their potential to dramatically reduce the quality of the coach-player relationship if poorly dealt with or left unresolved (1). On a brighter note, disagreements that are skilfully dealt with by the coach and player can provide the relationship with a renewed sense of resilience, laying the groundwork for greater cooperation in the future (2). Therefore, it is important for coaches and players to put effort into developing effective disagreement management strategies to protect and strengthen the quality of their relationship.

Disagreements can fall into two main categories: task and social (3). Task-based disagreements involve the coach and player having conflicting opinions on sport or esport-based matters like game strategy, training arrangements and opinions on performance. However, whilst these issues can be a source of tension in the relationship, their less personal and more concrete nature means the coach and player are more willing to address these issues through joint problem-solving (1). On the other hand, social disagreement is more personal and involves conflict arising from a clash of personalities. This social conflict is the most common form of disagreement between coaches and players (3), is most likely to degrade the coach-player relationship (1,3) yet is often left unaddressed by the coach or athlete, perhaps because personality is considered a difficult subject to discuss (3). However, from my professional experiences working with sport and esports teams, task and social conflict are often intertwined. That is, task-based disagreements can be rooted in personality differences. Hence, even when differences of opinion on the right tactics seems the source of the tension between the coach and athlete, it is often their fundamentally different worldviews that has created their differences of opinion.

What is Personality?

Personality is a broad term used to explain the consistency in a person’s character by identifying their “typical styles of thinking, feeling and behaviour” (4, pg 186). The fancy wording for how our personality influences us is to say it gives us ‘cross-situational consistency’ in how we think, feel and act. In layman's terms, this means that our personality gives us a set of typical behaviours that we will likely act out irrespective of the situation we find ourselves in. As an example, if you were high on the personality trait, agreeableness (to be caring and co-operative), then there is a high likelihood you will try to be caring and cooperative towards people in most situations. Our personality is said to have a strong biological basis, and therefore, remains relatively stable throughout our lifetime. Psychologists Robert McCrae and John Oliver have provided the most popular and scientifically supported understanding of personality, breaking it down into what they call the Big Five psychological traits [5]. The big five are a core set of psychological traits that all humans have to some higher or lesser degree (Figure 1):

Openness to Experience - Enjoys change and seeking out new experiences

Conscientiousness - Is Disciplined, achievement-focused and organised

Extraversion - Is talkative, sociable and seeks out social interactions

Agreeableness - Is caring, cooperative and values close relationships

Neuroticism - Feels negative emotions such as anxiety and low mood. 

Figure 1 — The Typical Behaviours of High and Low Scorers on the Big Five Personality Traits




Openness to Experience

The focus of this blog will be to highlight disagreement that arises from a difference between the coach and player on the personality trait, openness to experience (e.g., a coach is high in openness and the player is low in openness), so let’s explain this trait in more depth. If you are a person who scores high on openness to experience, then you will likely be open-minded, prefer to seek out new experiences and enjoy being creative with new and different ideas. In esports terms, this might mean you like to seek out the opinions of other players or coaches when making decisions, adapt to your opponents’ style of play or constantly learn new skills to be viewed as highly flexible by teammates. If you were to score low on openness to experience, then you would be more close-minded, prefer routine over change, and prefer to recycle tried and tested methods rather than experiment with something new. Again, in esport terms, you might see this in players who prefer to be more independent in their decision-making, stick to what strategies or setups have worked for them in the past, and repetitively train existing skills to master a core set of skills rather than learn new ones. In other words, a close-minded person would prefer to ‘sharpen their axe’; an open-minded person would prefer to ‘add more strings to their bow’. It's worth noting that being high or low on openness to experience has its strengths and weaknesses, so neither position is inherently better than the other but might be more helpful in certain situations. Next, we describe the research that has looked at personality differences in the coach-player relationship. 

Personalities in the Coach-Player Relationship

Sport and exercise psychologist Dr Sophia Jowett has put together a model of the essential qualities that make up a positive coach-player relationship. In her 3Cs + 1C model (6) (Figure 2), Dr. Jowett states that a positive coach-player relationship involves both parties being strong in closeness (i.e., personal liking for each other), commitment (i.e., showing a dedication to each other), complementarity (i.e., being co-operative) and co-orientation (i.e., being on the same page). It is these final two C’s (complementarity and co-orientation) where personality can have its most positive or negative influence on the relationship. In a study by Jackson and colleagues, they found what they termed a matching effect of coach-player personality traits (7). That is, the more similar the coach and player were to each other on the personality traits of openness to experience, extraversion, and conscientiousness (e.g., both high or low scorers), the more positive a coach and player saw their relationship. In contrast, the more different the coach and player were across these traits (e.g., extraversion: coach high score/player low score), the more negative the relationship was viewed by the pair. For perspective, this means the coach and player were more likely to dislike each other, think their relationship won't last, argue more, and not understand each others perspective the more different they were from each other on either of the three personality traits mentioned – ouch !! 


This matching effect has also been replicated in other studies (7) and it’s not hard to imagine why. For instance, consider a coach and player who both score high on the personality trait extraversion. Extraverted people are more than likely to be outgoing, sociable, and talkative. In the context of the relationship, the coach and player's like-mindedness of being sociable and talkative with each other is going to make it easier for them to like each other (closeness), persevere with each other (commitment) get along (complementarity) and lead them to feel like they share similar perspectives (co-orientation). What this matching effect tells us is that we have a bias towards favouring people with similar behaviour to our own and disliking people whose behaviour feels too different from our own. However, the likelihood is that the closer you get to the professional level of esports, the less choice you are going to have over who you work with. Hence, if you aspire to make it to the very top of the esport ladder, it’s important you can develop a tolerance for coaches and players with different personality traits to have a range of positive relationships.

But don’t worry, I have got you covered! In the next blog I will help you understand how your use of empathy can prevent your relationships from suffering from the inevitable personality clashes. Before you move onto part 2 of the blog though, please take a few minutes to think about the following questions below to consider how your personality influences your relationships in sport or esports. Look at the behaviours in Figure 1 as a guide to answering the questions. If you find yourself particularly fascinated with how your and your teammates personalities might be influencing your relationship, why not get you and your friend to take a free Big Five personality test online and discuss the results with each other? You’ll certainly have a laugh at the least and find it very insightful at the most. Sharing each other’s results is bound to help you both understand each other better and know why your friend acts the way they do in the game. Just the simple fact of knowing why someone acts the way they do can make us more empathetic and tolerant of their behaviour (8) so what have you got to lose?

 With the coach/player, you have the strongest relationship with in esports...

  • How much similarity do you see in your and their personality traits?

  • Is there a specific personality trait that you two particularly connect on?

  • What behaviours do you and this player have most in common?

  • What are the benefits/problems of being similar in a particular trait? 

With the coach/player, you have the weakest relationship with in esports...

  • How much difference do you see in your's and their personality traits

  • Is there a specific personality trait that you two are particularly different on?

  • What behaviours do you and this player have least in common?

  • What are the benefits/problems of being different on a particular trait?


  • Disagreements that are most destructive and difficult to fix in the coach-player relationship are often caused by differences in personality traits. 

  • To understand personality clashes in your relationships you can see how you and the other person's conflicting behaviours come from being at opposite ends of a Big Five personality trait (e.g., extraversion/introversion). 

  • Differences between the coach and player on the big five personality traits of extraversion-introversion, open-mindedness-close-mindedness, and agreeableness-disagreeableness can lessen the quality of the their relationship because the coach and player will find it hard to interact in ways that goes again each others natural preferences.

  • To keep the quality of the coach-athlete relationship high, both need to develop a tolerance for each other's differences as we will discuss in the next blog. 



(1) Wachsmuth, S., Jowett, S., & Harwood, C. G. (2017). Conflict among athletes and their coaches: What is the theory and research so far? International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10(1), 84-107. doi:10.1080/1750984X.2016.1184698.

(2) Norcross, J. C., & Karpiak, C. P. (2017). Our best selves: Defining and actualizing expertise in psychotherapy. The Counseling Psychologist, 45(1), 66-75. doi:10.1177/0011000016655603.

(3) Paradis, K., Carron, A. V., & Martin, L. J. (2014). Athlete perceptions of intragroup conflict in sport teams. Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, 10(3), 4-18. 

(4) Allen, M. S., Greenlees, I., & Jones, M. (2013). Personality in sport: A comprehensive review. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6(1), 184-208. doi:10.1080/1750984X.2013.769614.

(6) McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five‐factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60(2), 175-215. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1992.tb00970.x.

(6) Jowett, S. (2017). Coaching effectiveness: The coach–athlete relationship at its heart. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 154-158. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.05.006.

(7) Jackson, B., Dimmock, J. A., Gucciardi, D. F., & Grove, J. R. (2011). Personality traits and relationship perceptions in coach–athlete dyads: Do opposites really attract? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12(3), 222-230.

(8) Beauchamp, M. R., Jackson, B., & Lavallee, D. (2014). Into the mix: Personality processes and group dynamics in sport teams. Group dynamics in exercise and sport psychology (pp. 21-37) Routledge.

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