All coaches are not created equally. This is good - most of the time. So how do you choose the right coach for your child? This article will define two main types of coaches, what you can expect from each type, and how they might best suit your child’s sports needs.


Two Coaching Styles

Most coaches fall into one of two categories - a transactional coach or a transformational coach. The original definitions of transactional and transformational came from a business management perspective, and the two terms were later applied to sports coaches.


Transactional coaching can best be summarized by an individual exchange (or transaction) between a coach and an athlete to improve the immediate performance of the athlete. These types of coaches are primarily concerned with the competency, skills, and techniques of the player, as they pertain to winning the game.


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Transformational coaching strives to inspire and change (or transform) the whole athlete in order to improve not only the individual’s sports performance, but also to positively affect change in the athlete’s life. Taken further, by giving individual consideration to all aspects of an athlete’s performance - skills and techniques, motivation and behavior, work ethic and sportsmanship - the transformational coach has the ability to positively affect, and to positively produce, the optimal sports performance of the entire team.


What to Expect From a Transactional Coach

For the transactional coach, the bottom line is the win. All practices, drills, strategies, and techniques are focused on that end result. The means to achieve the win, however necessary, are secondary to winning.


A transactional coach manifests several basic characteristics:


  • Relives glory days through youth practices and games, which highlight the coach’s achievements
  • Participates in youth practices and drills as a means to show off, rather than playing to the skill level of the children
  • Blatant or subtle disregard for organizational rules and/or the safety and health of athletes
  • Shows disrespect to athletes, parents, other teams, other coaches, and officials
  • Identifies the team’s wins or losses with his or her own self worth
  • Punishes athletes when the team does not win or if the team makes mistakes
  • Rewards good performance with playing time, keeping the win in mind. In other words, the best player plays, whether or not he or she is a good sport, attends practices, is a team player, has integrity, etc.
  • Shows favoritism, while belittling other athletes
  • Does not speak to parents, does not seek help from team parents, or refuses help from team parents


Do you find yourself thinking, “I can’t imagine a youth coach behaving like this”? Or are you thinking, “I know exactly what you are talking about”? In truth, the transactional coach usually leaves casualties behind, in the form of the youth athlete hating the sport, losing his or her confidence in the sport, or worse yet losing his or her self-esteem.


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Let’s take, for example, the recent controversial decision of the Little League Baseball Organization to strip the U.S. championship title from Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League team. The team received national recognition, but it also received notoriety.


After numerous complaints about the team’s championship title, the Little League organization held an investigation. The investigation discovered the Jackie Robinson West team had knowingly used a false boundary map from which to draw its players. Instead of drawing from their own district, they broke the rules and pulled athletes from neighboring Little League districts to create a super team.


"For the transactional coach, the bottom line is the win."

As a result of the investigation findings, the coach, team manager, and district administrator were suspended. While the adults certainly had to pay for the consequences of their decisions and actions, they left a team of young athletes stripped of a title they worked hard for. Chances are the youth and parents had no idea they were involved in breaking Little League rules. The behavior on the part of the Jackie Robinson West coach, manager, and district administrator is absolutely indicative of transactional coaching. The end result is the win. The means to achieve the win is secondary.


What to Expect From a Transformational Coach

For the transformational coach, individual consideration is given to developing athletes, as a whole, while understanding that the team is only as strong as its weakest athlete.


A transformational coach manifests these basic characteristics:


  • Builds athletes through teamwork, pride, responsibility, hard work, respect, and sportsmanship
  • Teaches athletes sports and life lessons in wins and losses, as well as how to handle wins and losses with dignity and good sportsmanship
  • Builds individual and team skills to make the team stronger
  • Positive role model, with constructive corrections
  • Holds athletes accountable for actions and gives athletes appropriate responsibilities
  • Welcomes interactions with parents, as appropriate to situation
  • Understands, appreciates, and accepts the coaching responsibility in regard to shaping a young athlete’s athletic career, as well as his or her life


coaching youth, adolescent sports, childrens sports


While living in Japan, I had an opportunity to meet the most transformational coach I have ever come across. My son was fortunate to play baseball on a Japanese team under the mentorship and coaching of the Okinawan legend Kishabasan.


I was witness to Kishabasan driving around, finding young male teens cutting school and “hanging out.” He would hand them a mitt and tell them to meet him at the baseball field. Generally, the boys were intrigued enough to come. Some stayed to play ball and some didn’t. But that never stopped Kishabasan from trying to positively affect change in kids’ lives.


"The transformational coach has the ability to positively affect, and to positively produce, the optimal sports performance of the entire team."

Under his coaching, the individual consideration he gave to each boy, his belief in each boy (often bigger than their belief in themselves), and his ability to have the kids reach their potential led to many championships in his over-thirty-year coaching career. More importantly, the lessons he taught the boys carried over to their personal and professional lives, some of which included professional baseball careers.


At Kishabasan’s funeral, over 500 young men from all over Asia attended. Many shared stories about how his coaching, mentorship, and interest in them as a person transformed their personal lives so they could become the men they are today. What an incredible legacy, and what a tribute to a transformational coach.


coaching youth, adolescent sports, childrens sports


Putting It All Together

The difference between the transactional and transformational coaching styles is certainly drastic. But in reality, the distinction is not always so clear. Some coaches will utilize characteristics from both types of coaching as situations dictate.


Ultimately though, coaches tend to favor one type of coaching style over the other. We all want to win and so does our child. But before choosing your child’s coach and team, consider what you really want your child to learn.


More on youth sports:



1. news. Feb 12, 2105. Accessed March 9, 2015.

2. Fielden, Sandra Dr. “Literature Review: coaching effectiveness: a summary”. March 2005.

3. Giandonato, Joe, MS CSCS. “Leadership Style Discovery in Performance Coaching, Guest Blog”. Posted by Chris Merritt on April 29, 2011.

4. Hamilton, Molly. Online Journal of Workforce Education and Development Volume III, Issue 3 – Spring, 2010. The Interaction of Transactional and Transformational Leadership, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  Accessed March 9, 2015.

5. Tearse, Hal. “Your Child's Coach: Transactional or Transformational?”. Nov 5, 2015. Accessed 8 March 2015.

6. Wallace, Vernon. “Transformational Coaches vs. Transactional Coaches”.  iQathletes, Inc. March 10, 2014. Accessed March 9, 2015.


Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.