The final general dimension of the 3+1C’s model is co-orientation, defined as the degree to which an athlete and coach are able to accurately infer how his/her coach/athlete is feeling, thinking, and behaving (Jowett and Poczwardowski, 2007). This encompasses the three higher-order themes of teamwork, personality traits and effective communication identified from 11 raw data themes.
Teamwork: The higher order theme of teamwork was identified from shared purpose, how the coach acts on athletes’ suggestions and accountability (reciprocal). Athlete 4 described how they felt about a shared purpose as:
“the biggest thing is that you have a shared passion, a shared purpose, and… if those two are in alignment, then it’s a pretty easy thing… to have connection and to support one another.”
Athlete 5 described how their whole department reacted together after missing session:
“they’re in it as much as you are. It’s like a team thing… [COACH] said “Hey guys… we put a lot of effort into this program. We want to see you do well… I don’t want to miss something ever again, because I don’t want to feel that guilty… they do work hard”
Athlete 7 described their shared purpose as:
“we do a lot of work on… team values but individually I’d say we all have… the same sort of goal of winning at the Olympic Games and that’s sort of the main… common ground I’d say for all of us.”
Athletes 5, 8 and 11 articulated similar feelings of the team working towards the same goal.
The second raw data theme under teamwork is how the coach acts on athletes’ suggestions. Athlete 3 depicted how their S&C acted:
“my favourite is very willing to listen and then take that approach… I think there’s a massive difference between listening to understand and listening to responding; like, my favourite coach has always listened to try and help me figure out a situation, rather than be, I have a problem. You have to come up with a solution, or, you’re the problem… it’s not – it’s us working together”
Athletes 5 also expressed how their S&C coach was open their suggestions because:
“at the end of the day, they do recognise it’s… our career and we’re the ones that have to do it. They can provide the program. We’re the ones that have to [SPORT]… they do take that seriously”.
Athlete 10 stated “hard work” characterised their relationship while Athlete 12 shared an experience of how accountability was reciprocal:
“[COACH] was the one who was basically like you need to eat better, you need to like lose weight and you need to like actually focus on what the hell you are doing, otherwise why are you doing this?”
Personality Traits: Humour/banter, passion, morals, holistic view to health and competitiveness were recognised as preferred personality traits of S&C coaches. Athlete 1 shared occasionally their S&C coach displayed “humour, which I’m open to that. I think that makes the whole environment a bit more enjoyable” while Athlete 2 said “being able to laugh at yourself” was a commonality between them and their S&C coach. Athlete 5 also depicted “general banter” as a common in-session coach behaviour, with Athlete 6 similarly stating “there’s always a bit of humour” and Athlete 8 described their ideal coach-athlete relationship to have “lots of banter”. Athlete 5 also stated the importance of a coach being “passionate”.
Good morals was a trait Athlete 1 described as ideal, while having a holistic view to health was also a preferred trait. Athlete 2 said their S&C coach and they shared:
“a core belief of health and wellness above fitness because a lot of people are fit but they are not healthy… I think an important aspect is… focus on mental health as well.”
Athlete 10 said “the last sort of three years have been much greater in terms of my overall mental health” while Athlete 11’s S&C coach provided a social worker, sharing it “was their coach really him showing them that there is… help out there if you open up your horizons”. Lastly Athlete 12 spoke of their post-athletic career with a “they would like to transition me out of being an elite athlete into just being a healthy, functional human… we are focusing mainly on long term.”
Finally, competitiveness was a preferred personality trait, with Athlete 6 stating their S&C coach brings in a “competitive side”, such as introducing a live display of athletes lifts during a training session and Athlete 8 stating “competitiveness” was a commonality between them and their S&C coach.
Effective Communication: Effective communication between the athlete and S&C coach was developed from the higher order themes of direct feedback, openness and individualising coaching style. Athlete 6 gave preference for direct feedback saying:
“I like a [COACH] who’s just straight down the line most of the time, without sugar coating and that, and tells, oh, you’re going good and that when I’d rather just, this is what you’re doing bad so you can fix it straight away”
Athlete 11 further said “I prefer when a coach is direct with me and just tells me, okay you need to work on this, you need to do this better”.
Athlete 2 spoke of openness between the coach and athlete being effective; saying “I could say anything about the training and be totally open” and further adding “… good communication… able to communicate freely… if you think something is not right, being able to express that.”
Athlete 3 shared how they’d evolved over their career:
“I never used to think like this as a younger athlete but I definitely do now – being very open… how you want the relationship to work, because they’re not all just going form naturally. I think it is actually really important to discuss how you want it to look like, like that’s an aim as well, like that; that should be a goal.”
Athlete 7 further spoke on the athletes’ role of openness:
I found a lot actually relies on the athlete um, letting the coach know ah, how you’re travelling, ’cause obviously they don’t know how you’re feeling and they can ask you but you might not give them… the best answer so I’d say my role as the athlete is… to make sure that they’re aware of everything that’s going and how I’m travelling.”
Athlete 3 gave importance to their coach to individualising communication saying “main one for [COACH] would definitely be communication over everything; the way that [COACH] is able to alter the way [COACH] communicates to individuals” with Athlete 11 sharing a similar observation:
“some [ATHLETES] feel that that’s overwhelming, just being told directly what they want. So it’s important that the coach understands the player and how they respond to criticism and feedback as well”.
Steve “Coach” Foulds is an applied researcher and teacher at universities in Melbourne, Australia. He holds an MHPS, GHCE, BExSS (Hons) and a BSpSc(SS) and outside of academia worked with athletes from 20+ sports up to the international level.