January 6

The Coach–Athlete Relationship in Strength and Conditioning: High Performance Athletes’ Perceptions. Part 2: Introduction




Previous research has shown sports coaches have the ability to significantly influence athletes through their behaviors, communicative actions and environments they create (12).  A positive coach-athlete relationship is acknowledged to promote participation, athlete satisfaction, self-esteem and improved performance (8, 34, 37). However, little research on coach-leadership has been conducted in the specific context of strength and conditioning (S&C) settings.

Leadership is the behavioral, psychological, and social process of influencing others to move towards specific objectives (40). To be effective, an adaptable leadership style must be developed, which will vary depending on the individual, the situation and the needs of followers (33). Leadership effectiveness is enhanced by applying consistent integration of professional, interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge with the intent to improve an individual’s competence, confidence, connection and character (10).

Within sport, leadership research has focused on the coach-athlete relationship (8, 18, 37). Jowett and Poczwardowski (24) defined the coach-athlete relationship as “a situation in which a coach’s and an athlete’s cognitions, feelings and behaviors are mutually and causally interrelated” (p.4). The importance and motivation for studying the coach-athlete interpersonal dynamic lies in its practical applications, providing opportunities for coaches to be more effective when managing their interpersonal exchanges (19).

Since the 1970’s three main models of leadership have been presented within sports coaching literature: 1) Multidimensional model of leadership (MDML) (6-8); 2) Mediational model of leadership (MML) (37); and 3) 3+1 C’s conceptual model (20). Chelladurai (6, 7, 9) developed the MDML as a framework for effective leadership behaviors in specific sports situations, with athlete performance and satisfaction being viewed as products of the interaction of leadership. The MDML identifies a successful coach-athlete relationship as one where there is a congruence between the coaching behavior preferred by the athlete, actual coaching behaviors displayed by the coach and the situational requirements. It was recommended that the closer the coach can align their behavior to these preferences, the greater the chance of athlete satisfaction and positive athletic outcomes.

The MML was created as a tool for assessing and developing coaches’ behavior and considers the relationship between coach behavior, athlete perception, and athlete response (37). It suggests that these behaviors, perceptions and responses are a result of individual coach, athlete, and situational factors, and the effectiveness of different communication styles is dependent on each individual. For example, if an athlete perceives coaching behavior as positive and supportive, then she/he is more likely to react in a positive and cooperative manner (or vice-versa).

The MDML and MML suggest that the coach-athlete relationship is uni-directional, with the coach leading the process. Jowett and Cockerill (21) postulated that the coach-athlete relationship is actually dyadic, with both the coach and athlete influencing it. Subsequently, Jowett (18) developed the “3C’s” model to measure this dyad. The “3C’s” included; (1) ‘closeness’; the depth of how the coach and athlete are connected and how trust, like,  respect and appreciation are expressed; (2) ‘commitment’; the desire to maintain the relationship over time and; (3) ‘complementarity’;the interaction between the coach and the athlete that is perceived to be cooperative and effective. Later, ‘co-orientation’ was added to assess how reciprocal the coach and athlete perceptions of the relationship were. The addition of ‘co-orientation’ resulted in the model being currently referred to as the “3+1C’s” model (20). The 3+1C’s model suggests the more an athlete and coach are satisfied with the relationship between them, the higher the quality of the relationship and the greater the athletic outcomes (22).  Further, research indicates when the coach-athlete relationship was close and positive, athletes showed a desire to perform better (34, 41). Commitment to a “shared purpose” instils belief success can be achieved together (26), while longer relationships have been shown to have higher member satisfaction (23). Complementarity from the coach can be developed by continuously analyzing athletes response to their behavior, ensuring it complements the athletes requirements and is adjusted accordingly to achieve the desired outcome (27), while co-orientation is 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 (24).

The primary aim of this project was to investigate elite athletes’ perceptions of S&C coaches, specifically, (1) their character traits (2) their effective behaviors that display these traits; and (3) how these relationships are fostered.  While  there is a wealth of research on coach-athlete relationships in general sports coaching, limited research has been conducted specific to S&C coaches (39). There are many important differences between the sports coach-athlete relationship, and the relationship between an S&C coach and their athlete. Commonly the S&C coach has greater opportunities to create small groups and one-on-one situations to mutual goal set, show progress and have conversation beyond sport, particularly during return-to-play from injury periods. In addition, it has been previously reported athletes appreciate the importance of S&C coaches in achieving athletic success (11), however, it is not currently known how these relationships are developed initially and sustained over time. This knowledge will provide insight that may assist with the development of transferable skills amongst S&C coaches to complement their technical skills.

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