4 ways to gain trust

Trust is very important between a player and their coach. But how is trust earned? Sports psychologist Dan Abrahams offers grassroots coaches four tips to help them gain the confidence of their players.

All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen talks to non-playing All Blacks Sam Whitelock (L) and Aaron Smith (R) before their Rugby Championship match.


It is a challenge for any leader in any sport to be both liked and respected. Popular psychology suggests that one trades off with the other – be their mate and they won’t respect you, demand intensity or performance and they won’t like you.

However, while it’s difficult to blend the two together, it’s surely possible. To bring players into your coaching culture you have to care for them and develop an interest in the person behind the player.

With young rugby players you learn about their challenges at school; with adult players, learn about their interests outside of rugby.

By knowing a little about each player you show you care – and you make it tougher for players to harm team spirit or destroy team unity and togetherness.  


There is no better way to win the hearts and minds of your players than to coach them – as individuals and as team-mates. Avoid judging their natural ability and focus your attention on the development process.

As a local coach, you can win plaudits for developing the best coaching process in your area. Have a firm eye on achieving this, more so than winning games.

Above anything else, players want to improve, develop and learn. They want to be taught and they want to be inspired through great coaching.

Trust is delivered through your expert eye and your guiding voice. A promise to players that they will develop their game under your tutelage will win their trust and loyalty more than anything.  


Your players and your team are merely a reflection of your coaching ability and your coaching culture.

Never blame players for a defeat – merely offer them correction. If they’ve made mistakes, red flag these as areas to coach and to improve upon in the future.

Mistakes happen, so avoid making a big deal of them. It’s fair to say that if your players aren’t making mistakes, they probably aren’t trying hard enough (or taking enough match-winning risks).

Make the mistake ‘we’ rather than ‘him’ or ‘her’ or ‘you’. Certainly, never blame the players in public. If there is a correction to be made, do so away from the match.

Do it on the training ground or in the changing room – and mark it as an area of challenge for the both of you to improve upon.  


Having worked in many different coaching cultures, I often find that the least successful ones are found where the communication is poor between coaching staff and players.

You will find that open lines of communication will always win player loyalty. It shows that you’re engaged with them as players and as people. It also shows you’re invested in their game.

Make sure your conversations with players are always specific to them – be specific with both your instructions and your feedback. You should never compare a player to a team-mate but always make your feedback target-oriented.

Research has shown that feedback is most effective when it addresses a learner’s advancement towards a goal, rather than less meaningful aspects of performance.

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