Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

A Coach's Way: A Life-Affirming Organic Model Created in Sport

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

A Coach's Way: A Life-Affirming Organic Model Created in Sport

Article excerpt


This article explores a women's way of coaching and being in sport that existed prior to Title IX. It considers a shift from an organic to a mechanistic coaching approach. An alternative model based on the concept of organicism and underlying principles of relational power, life-affirming actions, and inclusiveness of all beings is presented. This model emerged from three sources: (a) personal experience; (b) dissertation research interviews with former athletes of Eleanor Snell, who coached at Ursinus College from 1931 to 1972; and (c) the literatures of systems theory, systemic thinking, and Chinese philosophy. The life-affirming organic model re-visions sport, where sport is an important site for transformation not only of our individual selves but also of our human cultures.


Genesis of this Article

This article is an abridged version of my doctoral dissertation, Miss Snell's Way: A life-affirming organic model created in sport (Cash, 2002). Because this is condensed, I have chosen to offer a more theoretical presentation. In doing so, the coach--Miss Snell--and the athlete voices are not as present as they are in the original source. In the dissertation research, I distilled the interview data into themes, which then helped shape the basis for sections of the study. "The Coach and Athletes" and "Creation-Emergence of a Team" are sections of this article where interviewee voices are explicitly present. In a three-way dialogue of the data, theory, and personal experience, a model emerged from the holistic process of my own knowing, understanding, and integration of being.


Both Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) have perpetuated the growth of and increased public attention to women's intercollegiate athletics. However, as Nelson (1991; 1998), Burstyn (1999), and Acosta and Carpenter (2000) have noted, women's sport has also been transformed in less positive ways, among them the commercial exploitation of athletes and the increase in male coaches of women's teams. This latter development led to the substitution of a male model for the female model of coaching, which had been present prior to these changes. For example, even though the participation of women in intercollegiate athletics is at an all-time high, the percentage of women coaches of women's teams is at its lowest representation in history (Acosta & Carpenter, 2000). Eisler (1987) has described similar cultural transformations as the conquest of partnership societies, originating out of shared power, by dominator societies that were created in a rigid hierarchy of power. (1) Eisler uses the symbolism of the chalice and the blade--the feminine and the masculine--to represent these two types of society.

So far, the scholarly literature has not paid detailed attention to a coaching form based on shared power. This form differs from the modern cultural norm of hierarchical power, where the highest power resides in the head coach. This alternative form emerges from shared power between the coach and team members and among the team members themselves in creating a team reality. Shared power or power with or power to is relational and represents a cultural system of community members who share power and influence. The power in a relational community is in the interconnection and respectfully responsive interaction that occurs among its members.

This article will describe an alternative model of coaching built from three different sources. One of these sources is the material from 18 interviews with former athletes of Eleanor Frost Snell who taught and coached at Ursinus College from 1931 to 1972. During her 41-year tenure, Miss Snell, as she was known, coached young women in field hockey, basketball, and softball using a style that emphasized the development of the whole person. The emphasis on individual development and personal growth occurred simultaneously with the emergence and creation of outstanding intercollegiate athletic teams and resulted in a legacy of women coaches, teachers, and umpires who carried on in her tradition. …

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