A new study shows that some coaches are better than others in securing victories in professional and college sports.

At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, researchers from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy presented their study on how much coaches actually do matter. They found that coaches play an integral role in success in sports, especially at professional and collegiate levels.

The effect that coaches have on sports success has been hotly debated over the years in sports analytics. They are often credited or blamed for the success or failures of their teams, and they are compensated for bearing such responsibility. Coaches are quick to acknowledge that the quality of athletes is what matter most, but talent must still be physically and mentally trained, developed, supported, and guided.

To analyze the effects of coaches, the academic researchers utilized the Randomization Inference for Leaders Effects (RIFLE) method. This model was initially created to examine the effects of political leaders on outcomes of policy and economy. The researchers then applied the RIFLE method to historic data, including wins, losses, scores, and other statistics, from hundreds of seasons of Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NHL), and the National Football League (NFL), as well as college basketball and American football. The RIFLE model accounted for player quality and strength of schedule. Their findings suggest that coaches can influence team success by as much as 20-30%.

In addition, MLB managers were found to affect runs scored, runs allowed, run differentials, and victories. NFL coaches affect points allowed, margin of victory, errors, and penalties. The study also suggests that coaches play a greater role in collegiate American football than in professional levels. In the NHL, coaches matter more in goals allowed than goals scored. Baseball managers make more impact on runs allowed than runs scored. When it comes to basketball, coaches are very important in both professional and collegiate levels—significantly affecting points scored, points allowed, point differentials, and victories.

This study entitled “How Much Do Coaches Matter?” was co-authored by professor Christopher Berry and assistant professor Anthony Fowler. “We find that coaches do, in fact, matter — and suggestions that coaches are interchangeable, which has been the dominant view in the sports analytics community, are not true. In every sport we studied, we found that coaches impact variables that contribute to a higher winning percentage,” said Berry. “Although virtually every aspect of player performance has been examined since the recent emergence of sports analytics, we wanted to bring the same level of rigor to coaches as there is for everyone else on the field at a major sporting event,” added Fowler.

In addition, a study in 2009 analyzed NFL data from the years 1980 to 2000 to see whether sports managers can create value and competitive advantage for their organizations using available resources. The authors recognized how coaches make vital decisions based on the specific skills of individual athletes in reallocating and positioning players. Team success also depends on the ability of a coach to strategically utilize and deploy resources, including players and budgets. When a team’s resources are perceived as limited, the coach’s importance grows and his or her effects are more pronounced.

There is a wealth of research on the topic of effective leadership and management, especially in business. Coaches will benefit from taking sports management courses, studying general leadership theories, and brushing up on some psychology. Unfortunately, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) reported in 2017 that only 36% of youth coaches, 31.5% of basketball coaches, and 28.1% of soccer or football coaches in the USA trained in motivational techniques in the past five years. More coaches receive training in sports skills and tactics. Like any good leader, a coach must create an environment of encouragement, open communication, fairness, and cooperation. A positive relationship should be formed between every coach and individual athlete, which can often extend outside of sports. Athletes have to feel that their coaches care about them as people, not as mere tools. This type of thinking may be even more essential in youth sports, wherein coaches are being urged to focus more on character development over winning.

“You have to remember it is not just about playing sports, but assisting with building character and growth in order for them to succeed in life. My overall goal is to build a player’s confidence level, thought process, skill set, and integrity. There are varying ways for me to accomplish these tasks and they are built around each athlete and how they process information. This allows me to show that I know who they are and I am interested in their success on and off the court. These factors build an unbreakable relationship between the coach and athlete,” said Dr. Tara M. Collins, PdH in Sports Management.

Visit the E-Sports International newsroom for more informative articles on sports, athletics, and more.

Photo Credits:

Images are from A League of Their Own (1992), The Mighty Ducks (1992), Cool Runnings (1993), Any Given Sunday (1999), and The Waterboy (1998).

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