January 6

The Coach-Athlete Relationship in Strength and Conditioning: Elite Athletes’ Perceptions. Part 3: Methods





Experimental Approach to the Problem

Using the 3+1C’s model (20) as a framework, and based on contemporary research on coach-athlete relationships and best practice of S&C coaches (i.e. 2, 15, 45), a semi-structured, open-ended interview guide was developed. Open-ended interviews allow the participants to identify a broad range of influential factors that promote both positive and negatively impacted coach-athlete relationships (36). A deductive thematic analysis was undertaken on the interview transcripts to illustrate portrayed character traits, effective behaviors that display these traits; and how relationships were fostered with athletes by S&C coaches. Specifically, a deductive approach was conducted to remove data not relevant to the pre-identified general dimensions of the 3+1C’s framework and test it’s transfer into the context of S&C.


Following institutional ethics approval, 12 elite athletes (6 females and 6 males; mean ± SD age, 29 ± 9 years), ranging from state level representatives to Olympic medalists, from a wide range of sports were interviewed. Participants were all over 18 years of age, spoke English as their primary language, were Australian citizens and reported having worked with a mean of 4 ± 2 professional S&C coaches. The profiles of the athletes are summarized in Table 1.


To obtain familiarity with the interview process and to ensure that the structure and flow of the interview guide was appropriate, two pilot interviews were conducted. These pilot interviews allowed for consolidating and modification of the interview protocol and provided considerations for conducting the interview (5) . After the pilot interviews, the interview guide was refined in both composition and structure. As a result, the final interview guide included 32 questions covering the following themes:

  1. Background demographic information;
  2. Playing/competitive history;
  3. Details of previous S&C coach/es;
  4. Perceptions of S&C coach attributes;
  5. Perceptions of how the S&C coach-athlete relationship was built and maintained;
  6. Perceptions of how S&C coach and athlete behaviors were complimentary;
  7. Perceptions of how alike S&C coach and athlete are/were thinking, feeling and behaving.

Interviews were conducted face-to-face and recorded verbatim using two hand-held voice recorders (WS-811, Olympus, Hamburg, Germany, 2012) with each interview lasting between 19 and 47 minutes (mean ± SD: 28:38 ±7:38min). Each audio recording was transcribed and then coded using NVivo software (QSR International, Melbourne, Australia, 2017). For confidentiality names of people, places, teams and organizations were removed from the transcript and replaced with pseudonyms where required. Participants were also given an opportunity to review the transcript to note any accidental errors of fact, and to remove anything that they did not want included in the final analysis.

Customary with qualitative analysis and following established guidelines (28), trustworthiness of the research was established by the following methods: 1) Credibility – the qualitative equivalent of internal validity was achieved via peer debriefing, negative case analysis, and member checking; 2) Transferability – the qualitative equivalent of external validity was attained by thick description of the procedure; 3) Conceivability – the qualitative equivalent to objectivity was established by developing an audit trail, triangulation of the data, and reflexivity to remove researcher bias; and 4) Dependability – the qualitative equivalent to reliability was enhanced using step-wise replication with the interview guide and an inquiry audit.

Statistical Analyses

All interviews were recorded in their entirety and transcribed verbatim accounting for a total of 188 pages of single-spaced data. Interview transcripts were deductively analyzed based on the “3+1C’s” framework (20) and thematically analyzed following guidelines suggested by Braun and Clarke (2).  The first phase involved familiarization with the data; this required the researcher to immerse themselves through repeated readings of the transcriptions, re-listening to the recordings and undertaking a continuous search for codes during analysis. The second phase was to develop an initial list of codes (Raw elements of data most relevant to the research and deeper than themes). Codes that could not be classified under the 3+1C themes were deductively removed. The third phase involved re-reading and reviewing the data collected at code level, with considerations made for coherent patterns within themes, before any codes missed during previous phases were added. The final phase was to produce the report, convincing the reader of the importance of the research, its analysis and essentially, what it said. Exploration beyond the data was conducted and an argument that relates to the research question was presented.

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