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Douglas McGregor was a professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management who conducted research on motivation. His classification of management approaches as Theory X and Theory Y provided a structure around which management's approach to employee motivation could be organized and studied to improve productivity, product quality and competitiveness. See: McGregor, D. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise, New York, McGrawHill.

Parents and coaches are managers in as much as they are guiding and managing the student's progress toward their goals. One of the most important keys to success is understanding motivation. In this regard, there is significant research available to inform coaches and parents about various motivation approaches and their value.

Theory X

Theory X managers (i.e. coaches and parents) assume students are inherently lazy and will not do the necessary work to achieve their (parents and coaches usually) goals. Theory X coaches and parents are convinced that the student or child must be micromanaged, constantly supervised, cross examined and threatened to assure their performance.

For a student to reach stated goals, Theory X coaches and parents rely heavily on threat and coercion to motivate the student. In brief, the coach or parent is a dictator making usually unreasonable demands of the student and with the threat of taking away the student or child's most cherished possession, whether physical, opportunity or psychological.

This approach leads to mistrust, low morale, and a constant state of fear in the student, thus significantly compromising their development. This can often be seen in tournament play when the parent shows up in the middle of a match and the child beings to falter when before they were performing well. A student develops a sense of fear of the Theory X adult based on the punishment the will receive if they do not achieve the goals imposed on them and this is the most common reason the student does not perform well.

The theory X adult sets up a vicious circle in which the student spirals ever downward to lower levels of performance often leading to the student abandoning tennis for a group sport where the parents threats are diluted.

The Theory X adult typically resorts to blaming the student if the student does not meet their expectations; and, it is inconceivable to the Theory X adult that they have any responsibility in the short comings of the student's performance by creating a fearful state of mind in the student that limits their performance.

In short, the Theory X adult exerts a destructive influence on the student while being incapable of accepting responsibility for their role in diminishing the students opportunities or development through threats and negative criticism.

Theory Y

Theory Y states that work is a natural state of self realization and self fulfillment in every human and that it is coaches and parents role to facilitate the student's development through creating an environment in which the natural desire for self realization and self fulfilment can be embraced by the student.

In Theory Y, threats and intimidation that are essential in Theory X are expressly excluded as methods of motivation. theory Y recognizes that the student naturally possess the ability for creative problem solving, but their talents may be under used or under developed when they arrive at the tennis training venue. Given the proper conditions, Theory Y coaches and parents know that the student will learn to seek out and accept responsibility and to exercise self-control and self-direction in accomplishing objectives to which they are committed. A Theory Y coach or parent knows that, given the right conditions, students will want to do well at tennis. They know that the satisfaction of doing well is a strong motivation for any student and that it is the job of the parent and coach to facilitate the student by eliminating negative threats and eliminating fear as a barrier to achievement. .

A theory Y coach and parent will create an environment of trust and cooperation rather than an environment of mistrust an suspicion that will be created by the Theory X coach and parent. It's the job of the coach and parent to create an environment and atmosphere where the student can explore and experiment as a natural part of learning without fear of being criticized or punished for not doing exactly as they are told. This requires that coaches and parents communicate openly with the student in a positive manner.

Theory Z

Theory Z (Japanese Management Theory) supplemented Theory Y by adding the responsibility of showing the student how their achievements will benefit their future education, personal development and professional life.


Coach-Parent pairings are crucial for player success. In Table 1 below we summarize the compatibility relationships between various coaches and parents:

  Theory X Coach Theory Y Coach Theory Z Coach
Theory X Parent Compatible/ Inefficient Incompatible Incompatible
Theory Y Parent Incompatible Compatible/ Efficient Compatible/ Efficient
Theory Z Parent Incompatible Compatible/ Efficient Compatible/ Maximally Efficiency and Effectiveness
Table 1

The term "incompatible" in Table 1 above means just that: there is no way this paring can lead to the student realizing their maximum potential. Further it will likely produce continuing conflicts concerning training "philosophy" in addition the parent routinely countermanding the coaches instructions. In general Theory X parents or coaches are inefficient because their use of threats and fear that undermine the student's self confidence and thus their performance. This is well know in the scientific literature.

On the other hand, creating a positive learning environment with an eye to the student's well being and future creates the most productive and successful working environment.

For reference, The EASI Academy is a Theory Z coaching environment