Southeast Missouri State University student publication

How the coach to athlete relationship affects performance on and off the court

Wednesday, November 15, 2023
Men's basketball Coach Brad Korn conversing with team at the Show-Me Center on Oct. 23.
Photo by Beto Vaca-Diez

The influence of a coach on an athlete does not only affect their athletic performance, but their mental and emotional performance. Building a strong and trusting relationship with a coach can help to inspire and uplift the athlete.

“Good quality coach-athlete relationships matter not only because they drive better results, but also because they create a social environment within which both the coach and the athlete feel positive, happy, energized, determined and strong,” an article from Tandem Performance states.

Senior forward for the women’s basketball team Michaela Mayfield has been playing for SEMO for all four years of her college career, so she has been able to build a consistent and strong relationship with her head coach, Rekha Patterson.

“[Coach Patterson’s] the only black female head coach here, and so she's just big on black women empowerment. So she is just big on preparing us for the world as women,” Mayfield said. “She inspires me to be myself, become the best version of myself as I'm getting ready to head into the real world since I'm a senior.”

Mayfield said she feels her relationship with Patterson has helped her in preparation for life off the court, which helps her drive for success on the court.

“As players we're just trying to do the best we can for her and the team as well,” Mayfield said. “So it's just a matter of being my best self on and off the floor.”

Patterson also understands the importance of positive relationships with her athletes.

Women's basketball Coach Patterson working with her team during opening practice for the 2023 season.
Photo by Nathan Gladden

“I think it’s like any relationship you have. You have to be intentional on having a healthy relationship with them,” Patterson said. “Sometimes you have to be a cheerleader, sometimes you have to be a disciplinarian, and sometimes you just have to remind them of who they are and what they’re capable of.”

SEMO’s men’s basketball team has seen some high highs and low lows since the early 2000’s, undergoing four head coach changes since 2006. At the start of the 2021 season, Brad Korn took the reins as head coach after being an assistant coach at Kansas State. Since then, Korn has led the Redhawks to two conference tournament appearances, a conference championship and an NCAA tournament appearance in 2023.

Korn provided insight into his coaching strategy, and what kind of relationship he strives to have with his players to make the most successful team possible.

“It’s the golden rule of coaching. How would you want to be coached, right?” Korn said. “How would I want someone to coach my daughters?”

Athletes can have an impact on the coach just as much. Sometimes it’s not about what the relationship does for the coach and athletes during competition time, but outside of it. SEMO Gymnastics Head Coach Ashley Lawson knows this well.

“I think that they make me a better person. They make me a better mom. They make me want to just give my all to them,” Lawson said. “Whether it be a personal struggle or a family struggle, or just celebrating the great successes that they have, those are the moments that I get to share with them, and it's really special to kind of be their mom away from home.”

Lawson said being in college are some of the most important years of her athletes’ lives, and it truly fills her cup to be a part of that. She said her athletes stay in contact with her after they leave the program, and she loves that she still gets to celebrate their victories even after they’re gone.

Not only can a coach benefit an athletes performance, but they also can be responsible for molding perspectives of the sport. Senior kicker for the SEMO football team DC Pippen credits his coach for the appreciation he has for the relationships he's built through the team.

“My biggest takeaway that I've gotten from my coach will be how important relationships are. Being a Division 1 athlete, there are all kinds of things to handle mentally and physically,” Pippen said. “But what I've taken away from my time with my coach is that 30 years from now, what will matter is the relationships I've built with the people I care about.”

A coach has the ability to affect a player both on and off the field. Pippen expressed how influential his coach was to the betterment of himself as a player and as a member of society.

“My relationship with my coach has changed my perception of the sport in a number of ways. I had a very shallow, selfish view coming in. It was about me and my stats, and it really wasn't anything deeper than performance on the field,” Pippen said. “My coach, over the time I've been here, has taught me valuable life lessons that extend far past Saturdays.”

The relationship between coach and athlete can make or break a team’s success. Luckily for SEMO, its coaches have been effective in pushing their players to succeed on and off the field, winning a collective eight conference championships in the 2022-2023 campaign.

Graphic created by AJ Ivy