Importance of the coach-athlete relationship5 Opinions
Sports performance is determined by many factors. According to Serpa (1999), and the trends from the literature, the coach-athlete relationship is an important factor affecting sport performance. Within the realms of the 3 C’s Conceptual Model, the coach-athlete relationship is defined by the interdependence and influence between coaches’ and athletes’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Jowett & Cockerill, 2002).
The three key constructs used to examine coach-athlete relationship are closeness, commitment and Complementarity and can be determined by the Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q) (Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2001). Research studies have found that high scores within these areas are associated with higher levels of performance and personal treatment (Jowett & Don Carolis, 2003); higher levels of team cohesion (Jowett & Chaundy, 2004), and lower levels of role ambiguity in team sports (Olympiou et al, 2005 In. Jowett, 2005); and motivation of athletes participating in team sports (Olympiou et al, 2008).
Research focuses mainly on coaches’ behaviours and the impact on athletes performance through the use of observation or questionnaires. There seems to be a wealth of research emphasising coaches positive behaviour, however, there is a gap in research on coach’s behaviours leading to athletes negative emotions. Not all coach-athlete relationships are positive and effective.
Inadequate relationships can develop and conflict can occur. Conflict is defined as the experience of incompatibility between people (Deutsch,1973 In. Jowett & Cockerill, 2002). The 3 C’s model can be used to identify problem areas and assess relationship issues between the coach and athlete. Having adequate conflict management skills allow for coaches and athletes to remain focused in high pressure competition, and training. Therefore, it is important that we have an understanding of effective relationships and ways to resolve conflicts.
An important concept of dealing with conflict is maintaining the relationship. Dindia and Canary (1993) described relationship maintenance as strategies used to keep a relationship in a specified state or condition. Ways to maintain relationships may include discussing an area of disagreement and coming to a joint decision of how it can be resolved (i.e., conflict management) or team building (i.e., socializing).
Although no sport psychology research has directly considered relationship maintenance within the coach-athlete relationship, some research appeared to address issues related to maintenance strategies. For example, Gould, Lauer, Collins, and Chung (2007) examined the coach-athlete relationship by interviewing ten American football coaches who all received awards for their abilities to facilitate their athletes‟ personal development.
In the interviews, these coaches emphasized the importance of communication (i.e., having open lines of communication with their athletes, possessing clear expectations, and holding their players accountable). These coaches also avoided using punishment or criticisms that were directed towards their players‟ characters or personalities, and showed that they cared, trusted, and respected their players as people. These ways of communicating paralleled the relationship maintenance strategies labelled as positivity, openness, and assurance (Stafford & Canary, 1991). Additionally, research examining coaches’ behaviours consistently has shown that supportive and encouraging coaches were likely to have a positive influence on their athletes development (Coatsworth & Conroy, 2006). This supportive coaching was particularly effective when their athletes were less confident about themselves (Smith & Smoll, 1990). Thus, the use of maintenance strategies in sport has been indirectly associated with positive outcomes.
Coatsworth, J.D., & Conroy, D.E. (2006). Enhancing the self-esteem of youth swimmers through coaching training: Gender and age effects. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 22 7, 173-192.
Dindia, K., & Canary, D. J. (1993). Definitions and theoretical perspectives on maintaining relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 163-173.
Gould, D., Collins, K. B., Louer, L. A., & Chung, Y. C. (2007). Coaching life skills through football: A study of award-winning high-school coaches. Journal of Applied Sport 10 Psychology, 19, 16-37.
Jowett, S. (2005). The Coach-Athlete Partnership. The Psychologist, 18 (7), 412-415.
Jowett, S., & Cockerill, I.M., (2002). Incompatibility in the Coach-Athlete Relationship. In. I.M. Cockerill (Ed.) Solutions in Sport Psychology, 16-31. London: Thomson Learning.
Olympiou, A., Jowett, S., & Duda, J.L. (2008). The Psychological Interface Between the Coach-Created Motivational Climate and the Coach-Athlete Relationship in Team Sports. The Sport Psychologist, 2008, 22, 423-438.
Serpa, S. (1999). Relationship Coach-Athlete: Outstanding Trends in European Research. Portuguese Journal of Human Performance Studies, 12, 1, 7-19.
Smith, R. E., & Smoll, F. L. (1990). Self-esteem and children‟s reactions to youth sport coaching behaviors: A field study of self-enhancement processes. Developmental 2 Psychology, 26, 987-993.
Stafford, L. & Canary, D. J. (1991). Maintenance strategies and romantic relationship type, gender and relational characteristics. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 8, 5 217-242.
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About Tracy Donachie
PhD candidate researching perfectionism in sport and performance psychology consultant.