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An exploration of the coach-athlete relationship in women’s semi-professional football

Ward, Hannah Louisa (2016) An exploration of the coach-athlete relationship in women’s semi-professional football. Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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From a conceptual and theoretical basis, the relationship between coaches and athletes is often represented in a cognitive manner focusing upon the internal thoughts of an individual rather than from a relational perspective (Smith, 2013). This is important, as Smith (2013) has criticised this work for remaining cursorily individualized and asocial. Therefore, the aim of the research project is to explore the relational, temporal nuances and complexities of the coach-athlete relationship within a team environment. This work specifically aims to explore how relationships are built and sustained and change over time because of the interactions of a number of people coming together in a relational manner within a specific coaching context. In building upon the work of Poczwardowski et al. (2002a) who conceptualised the coach-athlete relationship in a dynamic, interactive and interpretive manner, Blumer’s (1969) version of symbolic interactionism provides a theoretical framework to guide enquiry within the present thesis. Such an understanding is underpinned by a social relational view (as opposed to a cognitive or behavioural theoretical focus) about what relationships are and how they are formed and maintained in and through interaction, rather than something possessed within the individual (Smith, 2013). An ethnographic methodology was employed within the thesis, drawing upon a combination of semi-structured interviews guided by observations and field notes. Six participants – two head coaches and four players – were selected from a semi-professional women’s football club, Athletic United Women’s Football Club (pseudonym), to explore the relationships and interactions that occurred within the team over the course of a full playing season (10 months). The findings from the thesis highlighted that the main factors that influenced the coach-athlete relationship over time were the nature of the interactions between the coach and athletes during the season and how each individual interpreted these interactions. Specifically, they were how the coach and athletes spoke to each other, how they interpreted the level of closeness within the relationship, conflicts and disagreements between the coaches and players during the season, the athletes’ satisfaction with performance in training and matches, and finally the results of the team. Moreover, following these results, it is suggested that the topic of the coach-athlete relationship should be integrated more explicitly into coach education courses; that is, courses should include information regarding how to build and manage relationships and the different factors that coaches might face that influence the coach-athlete relations (i.e. internal politics within football clubs, pressures to meet club targets, results, and context within which coach-athlete relationships are initiated). This would better equip coaches with the knowledge and skills to understand the many ways that their interactions and decisions might influence their relationship with the athletes that they work with.

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