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How Power Dynamics Associated with Coaching Affect Athletes

Madeline Bond, Spencer Graf, Karl Cassel

Wheaton College

Project Proposal

We are interested in how the power dynamics and authority that comes with a coaching position
affect athletes during their time playing for specific coaches. During the spring semester of the
2015-16 school year, we took Sports Communication with Dr. Langan, and are curious to explore
more about this topic of the coaching power dynamic. Additionally, all three of us are currently
athletes, and have been for the majority of our lives. We have all had positive and negative
experiences with coaches due to different factors. However, power is a crucial factor that all
coaches encounter, and have to learn how to navigate.

During our research, we will be using an empirical paradigm, as well as an interpretive

paradigm. Interviews and surveys will both be utilized to gain a wide understanding through
different perspectives. The survey will be given to current and former athletes, as well as current
and former coaches. The age range will be 18 and older.


Playing Time/Player Status (Cranmer & Goodboy, 2015; Laios, A., Theodorakis, N., &

Gargalianos, D., 2003; Scales, P. C., 2016; Matosic, D., & Cox, A. E. 2014; Stirling & Kerr,

2009; Turman, 2006; Van Breukelen, van der Leeden, Wesselius, & Hoes, 2010)

Coaches tend to believe that expert power (i.e. knowledge of technical skills and

experiences) is the most effective in producing high achieving athletes and teams (Laios, A.,

Theodorakis, & Gargalianos, 2003). Because of this, coaches may develop better relationships

with those athletes who are considered starters or play at a higher level than the other athletes.

Additionally, coaches have the opportunity to increase or diminish players feelings of

competence through the use of rewards, such as collegiate scholarships and playing time

(Matosic & Cox, 2014). These rewards tend to be given to the players who play more often

and/or start due to a high level of athletic ability or a strong coach-athlete relationship. This may

lead to emotional abuse of the athletes, which affects the player-coach relationship (Stirling, A.E.

& Kerr, G.A. 2009). Turman (2006) found that starters perceived higher levels of reward power

use when compared to non-starters (pg. 273). Van Breukelen, van der Leeden, Wesselius, &

Hoes (2010) conclude that social differential treatment was negatively associated with team

atmosphere and unrelated to team performance (pg. 43).

RQ1: Does the status of a player affect the relationship that the coach has to that player?

Gender of Coach/Player (Theberge, 1990; Ruggiero & Lattin, 2008; Duquin & Schroeder-

Braun, 1996; Tomlinson & Yorganci, 2016; Lensky, 1990)

According to Theberge (1990), female coaches are less concerned with seeking to

contest male and masculine dominance, and instead with greater participation by women in the

athletic world (pg. 74). Tomlinson & Yorganci (2016) found that in a male coach/female athlete

relationship, from the athlete perspective, there is a nature of dependency rather than individual

responsibility. Duquin & Schroeder-Braun (1996) explain that female athletes are more likely to

view coach-athlete conflicts as more serious and are more likely to seek out social support.

Ruggiero & Lattin (2008) describe the phenomenon of female coaches interacting with female

athletes of a different race. Lensky (1990) found that young girls have a desire for male attention,

sometimes leading to abusive behavior by male coaches.

RQ2: Does the gender of either coach or player change how the interactions take place

during team functions?

Age of Athlete (Rezania & Gurney, 2014; Duquin & Schroeder-Braun, 1996; Smith, Zane,

Smoll, & Coppel, 1983; Weiss & Fretwell, (2005)

Athletes of all ages experience pressure to play well. Whether that comes from their coaches,

parents, or fellow athletes, it is a very real pressure that begins early. Duquin & Schroeder-Braun

(1996), show that as age increases in athletes, peer pressure increases as well. Similarly, as

athletes get younger and coaches interact with younger kids in youth sports the power dynamic

that coaches have is different than when the athletes are older and more mature, competitive, and

responsive to coach influence (Smith, Zane, Smoll, & Coppel, 1983). As the athletes get older,

the athlete-coach relationship can be either strengthened or weakened by the coachs interactions

with the athletes. Commitment to the coach can be further influenced by age and power

dynamics (Rezania & Gurney, 2014). Weiss & Fretwell (2005) look at the dynamics of sons

having their fathers as coaches within a U-12 soccer league and find that there are direct

correlations between feelings of perks, praise, technical instruction, understanding of ability

level, insider information, involvement in decision making, special attention, quality time, and

motivation (pg. 1).


RQ3: Do the ages of the athletes impact how the coach utilizes his/her power in regards

to the players?


Survey Questions

Playing Time/Player Status

First we can ask respondents to pick a particular season of a sport (i.e. Basketball season

during junior year of highschool). We can then ask respondents who are considered athletes what

percentage of the game/competition they play, as well as their role on the team (i.e. starter,

benchwarmer, waterboy etc.). Matosic & Cox asked respondents for their perceived competence

in their sport on a 1-7 Likert scale, in which 1=not competent and 7=extremely competent

(2014), which we will also ask to validate an athletes player status. We can follow up that

question by asking if their relationship with the coach was perceived as being weak or strong.

Respondents rated the strength on a five point Likert scale with 1=very weak, 3=neither weak

nor strong, and 5=very strong. We can ask respondents who are considered coaches if they

develop better relationships with those who play more or are starters, as compared to those with

less playing time who dont start. Respondents rated their relationships with each starters and

nonstarters on a five point Likert scale with 1=very weak, 3=neither weak nor strong, and 5=very


Gender of Coach/Athlete

We are currently still looking for sources that ask questions regarding this variable.

Questions may be along the lines of if they have had more positive/negative experiences with

male or female coaches. We can ask respondents who are athletes to consider the aforementioned

season of a sport, and ask the gender of the coach for that season (male or female). We can ask

the athletes the same category of questioning.

Age of Athlete

We are currently still looking for sources that ask questions regarding this variable. This

can be determined by a question that has age ranges from 18-25, 25-30, etc, that the survey taker

will mark their age range. We are looking for questions concerning if the effect that a coach has

on a player increases or decreases with age.


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communicative evaluations and responses. Western Journal Of Communication, 79(5),

614-633. doi:10.1080/10570314.2015.1069389

Duquin, M.E. & Schroeder-Braun, K. (1996). Power, empathy, and moral conflict in sport.


and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 2(4), 351-367. Retrieved from EbscoHost


Laios, A., Theodorakis, N., & Gargalianos, D. (2003). Leadership and power: two important

factors for effective coaching. International Sports Journal, 7(1), 150.

Lensky, H. (1990). Power and play: gender and sexuality issues in sport and physical activity.

International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 25(3).

Matosic, D., & Cox, A. E. (2014). Athletes motivation regulations and need satisfaction

across combinations of perceived coaching behaviors. Journal Of Applied Sport

Psychology, 26(3), 302-317. doi:10.1080/10413200.2013.879963

Rezania, D. & Gurney, R. (2014). Building successful student-athlete coach relationships:

examining coaching practices and commitment to the coach. SpringerPlus, 3(383). doi:


Ruggiero, T. E., & Lattin, K. S. (2008). Intercollegiate female coaches' use of verbally

aggressive communication toward African American female athletes. Howard Journal

Of Communications, 19(2), 105-124. doi:10.1080/10646170801990946

Scales, P. C. (2016). The crucial coaching relationship. Phi Delta Kappan, 97(8), 19-23.

Retrieved from EbscoHost database.

Smith, R.E., Zane, W.S., Smoll, F.L., & Coppel, D.B. (1983). Behavioral assessment in youth

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relationship. Sport in Society, 12(2), 227-239.

Theberge, N. (1990). Gender, work, and power: the case of women in coaching. The Canadian

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Jstor database.

Tomlinson, A., & Yorganci, I. (2016, August 15). Male coach/female athlete relations: gender

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between playing status and sport satisfaction. Communication Research Reports, 23(4),

273-282. Retrieved from ArticleFirst database.

Van Breukelen, W., van der Leeden, R., Wesselius, W. & Hoes, M. (2010). Differential treatment

within sports teams, leader-member (coach-player) exchange quality, team atmosphere,

and team performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(1), 43-63. Retrieved from

Wiley Online Library.

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