Sportopedia Glossary

Autonomy-Supportive Coaching

Autonomy-Supportive Coaching

Autonomy-Supportive Coaching: Autonomy Supportive strategies are those that provide people with choice, opportunities for initiative taking, rationale for decisions, and constructive feedback. Mageau and Vallerand (2003) identified seven types of coach autonomy supportive behaviors: (1) providing athletes with choice, (2) opportunities for initiativetaking, (3) using a democratic leadership style, (4) providing rationale for actions, (5) showing concern for athlete both on and off the field, (6) providing constructive feedback, and (7) fostering a task-oriented sport environment.

Additionally, autonomy-supportive coaches avoid controlling behaviors (e.g., criticism, rewards for interesting tasks) and attempt to prevent
athletes from becoming overly ego-oriented. The Motivational Model of the Coach-Athlete Relationship proposed by Mageau and Vallerand (2003)
describes how coach behavior influences athlete motivation. Based on Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory, the model suggests a motivational sequence whereby coach behavior is influenced by three factors: coaching context (situation-specific unstable variables aside from the athlete or the coach, such as working conditions), personal orientation (conveyed through actions, attitudes, and interpersonal style), and perceptions of athlete motivation (intrinsic vs extrinsic). The three antecedents directly influence a coach’s use of autonomy-supportive behaviors. These behaviors, in turn, have a direct influence on athlete perceptions of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and, by extension, their motivation. As well, the structure instilled by the coach influences athletes’ perceived competence, and a coach’s level of involvement with the team influences perceived have consistently demonstrated that athletes who perceive coach behavior to be autonomy supportive experience more self-determined forms of motivation, as well as increased enjoyment, performance, persistence, and concentration. Additionally, this approach has been associated with athlete perceptions of competence and connectedness. One of the most often cited studies on this topic came from Mallett (2005), who demonstrated the positive impact of autonomy-supportive coaching on the performance of Olympic athletes. Since then, numerous studies have confirmed the value of autonomy-supportive coaching across various coaching contexts (e.g., Banack, Sabiston, & Bloom, 2011; Occhino, Mallett, Rynne, & Carlisle, 2014).


Banack, H. R., Sabiston, C. M., & Bloom, G. A. (2011). Coach autonomy support, basic need satisfaction, and intrinsic motivation of Paralympic athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 722 730.

Mageau, G., & Vallerand, R. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: A motivational model. Journal of Sport Sciences, 21, 883 904.

Mallett, C. J. (2005). Self-determination theory: A case study of evidence-based coaching. The Sport Psychologist, 19, 417 429.

Occhino, J. L., Mallett, C. J., Rynne, S. B., & Carlisle, K. N. (2014). Autonomy-supportive pedagogical approach to sports coaching: Research, challenges and opportunities. International Journal of Sport Science and Coaching, 9, 401 415.

***Contributed by Gordon A. Bloom & Wade D. Gilbert for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.