A Comparison of Athletes' Perceptions of the Coach-Athlete Relationship in Team and Individual Sports

By Rhind, D. J. A.; Jowett, S. et al. | Journal of Sport Behavior, December 2012 | Go to article overview

A Comparison of Athletes' Perceptions of the Coach-Athlete Relationship in Team and Individual Sports


Rhind, D. J. A., Jowett, S., Yang, S. X., Journal of Sport Behavior


Recent years have witnessed a growth in the body of evidence which demonstrates the importance of the role played by the coach-athlete relationship in sport (Jowett & Poczwardowski, 2007). Lyle (1999) explained that this relationship is at the very heart of coaching and that coaches who fail to acknowledge the importance of it risk not developing their athletes to their full potential. Jowett (2005) supported this view in arguing that "The coach-athlete relationship is not an add-on to, or by-product of, the coaching process ... instead it is the foundation of coaching" (p. 412). Related research thus far, however, has tended to focus on the content and correlates of relationship quality. There therefore remains a gap in the literature regarding the role of situational factors. The present study contributes to filling this gap in the literature through comparing the perceptions of athletes from team and individual sports regarding the quality of their relationship with the coach. The significance of this study lies largely in its practical implications as it can supply important information for sport managers (including coaches) and administrators, as well as performance directors to help them promote effective relationships.

The coach-athlete relationship has been defined as "... the situation in which coaches' and athletes' emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are mutually and causally inter-connected" (Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2004, p. 245). This definition highlights the bi-directional nature of such relationships in that the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of the coach are both affected by, and also affect, those of the athlete and vice versa. This definition also supports the belief that relationship quality is multi-dimensional and hence one needs to consider the affective (emotions), cognitive (thoughts), and behavioral interpersonal aspects of relationships.

Jowett (2007) developed the 3+lCs conceptualization of the coach-athlete relationship based on a series of qualitative studies (e.g., Jowett & Cockerill, 2003; Jowett & Meek, 2000). This conceptualization refers to four constructs: closeness, commitment, complementarity, and co-orientation. This model argues that the quality of the relationship between a coach and an athlete is formed through these four key constructs. Closeness was defined as the affective meanings that the coach and athlete assign to their relationship (e.g., respect, trust, liking). The cognitive aspect, operationalized as commitment, relates to the members' intentions to maintain the relationship now and in the future. The behavioral aspect, operationalized as complementarity, refers to the relationship members' co-operative and corresponding behaviors of affiliation (e.g., being responsive and friendly). Finally, the "+1" element of this conceptualization was co-orientation and reflects the congruence of perceptions between two relationship members, namely, the coach and the athlete (cf. Laing, Phillipson, & Lee, 1966). In effect, co-orientation highlights the degree to which relationship members' are perceptually interdependent. It was labeled the "+1" element because it runs through each of the other affective, cognitive, and behavioral elements. Co-orientation concerns the degree to which an athlete and coach are similar and accurate in their perceptions about one another in terms of the 3Cs (see Jowett, 2005, 2006, 2009).

The coach-athlete relationship has been linked with a number of intrapersonal outcomes. For example, qualitative evidence has suggested that the quality of the relationship can have a significant effect on performance accomplishments (Jowett & Cockerill, 2003). Relationship quality has also been found to be positively correlated with psychological outcomes such as athletes' perceptions of their physical self-concept (Jowett, 2008), their level of passion for sport (LafFraniere, Jowett, Vallerand, Donahue & Lorimer, 2008), and their level of satisfaction (Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2004). …

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