Commitment: Previously Jowett and Shanmugam (2016) stated success in a coach-athlete relationship was possible where they work together toward one goal i.e. a “shared purpose”. The athletes in the present study highly valued this, and the mutual goal setting process that defines them, helped foster the coach-athlete relationship. These help create a “common ground”, said to be the foundation for a relationship of common purpose (Jowett, 2017), which once in alignment, is more likely to instil belief that success will be achieved together (Jowett et al., 2012). Further, coaches have been shown to motivate athletes beyond the athletes own expectations by increasing goal targets (Jung and Sosik, 2002), and subsequent behaviours in relationships are driven by goals (Dryer and Horowitz, 1997; Jowett and Meek, 2000).
The athletes in the present study stated time together was the greatest influence on how their relationships with their coach were fostered. This is supported by Sandstrom et al. (2016) who reported the most effective relationships had lasted longer than two years and Jowett and Nezlek (2011) found longer relationships resulted in higher satisfaction of members. During this time period athletes go through positive and negative experiences, the athletes in the present study identified the S&C coach as a key person of support during this period. This is in line with Szedlak et al. (2015) who reported athletes positively perceived coaches who provided encouragement and support.
Complementarity: General sport coaching is a diverse, dynamic and complex process (Robinson, 2015) and the breadth of responses from athletes in this study indicate likeness within the specific context of S&C. It is within these environments coaches with adaptive traits thrive (Bowes and Jones, 2006). A coach should constantly analyse the athlete’s response to the coach’s behaviour, ensuring it aligns with the athlete’s preferences and requirements, enabling the coach to make changes necessary for the athlete to achieve the desired outcome (Light Shields et al., 1997). Yukl and Mahsud (2010) stated flexible and adaptive leaders were essential and identified key skills and behaviours required of leaders, such as anticipating problems, being able to quickly and accurately identify causes of problems, responding immediately when problems arise, planning ahead to avoid problems and having plans to minimise effects of unavoidable problems and confidently lead others through crises.
Co-orientation: Many participants stated they were motivated by an enjoyable and fun environment with preferences for a coach who was humorous. Previous research has also shown a positive link between a coach’s’ use of humour and how well they are liked (Burke et al., 1995; Grisaffe et al., 2003). Humour in communication is said to promote openness as well as enhance listening, understanding and acceptance of messages (Greatbatch and Clark, 2002). Høigaard et al. (2017) found coaches’ use of humour may contribute to a positive environment, promote bonding between team members and may counterbalance typical elite sports characteristics like a structured lifestyle, monotony and seriousness. Importantly, it has been documented that humour improves athlete satisfaction which may in turn improve performance (Sullivan, 2013).
Accurate and timely feedback is required to improve performance, but considerations need to be made for how it is delivered (Weinberg and Gould, 2007). As previously mentioned, athletes in the present study preferred concise, constructive feedback, that is rather than framing feedback positively or negatively, they preferred to be told what they needed to do improve, and this has been similarly reported by McMorris (2004). Further, as coaches expertise grows, they reportedly say less but what they do say is of higher quality (Winstein and Schmidt, 1990).
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.