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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate athlete selection procedures implemented by 25 provincial and national level coaches in New Zealand. One of the main focuses of the study was the degree to which workplace human resource management (HRM) selection practices were utilised, or could have been beneficial, for athlete selection. As many selection controversies have been caused by unclear or unspecified selection procedures, the study focused on discovering what processes coaches utilised when selecting athletes and, importantly, to what degree these processes were communicated to athletes. Design/methodology/approach The data were collected via semi‐structured interviews and interpreted using thematic analysis which enabled the extraction of the major recurring themes. Findings Although the majority of coaches supported the use of HRM selection processes, only six reported implementing HRM type practices. Overall, the study found that coaches on the whole did not fully utilise HRM selection practices. Furthermore, although there tended to be some degree of communication of these processes to athletes, this was not always done in a clear and precise way. Research limitations/implications Core HRM practices, procedures, and terminology are seemingly rarely utilised in the athlete selection processes of amateur team sport. It is argued that future research should focus on determining how best to implement workplace HRM selection processes for team athlete selection. Originality/value Somewhat surprisingly, very little past research has investigated current athlete selection processes in relation to workplace HRM selection practices. The present research increases the understanding of current team athlete selection and provides discussion of the results in relation to HRM selection best practice.
You’re in; you’re out: selection
practices of coaches
Trish Bradbury and Darryl Forsyth
School of Management, Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate athlete selection procedures implemented by 25
provincial and national level coaches in New Zealand. One of the main focuses of the study was the
degree to which workplace human resource management (HRM) selection practices were utilised, or
could have been beneficial, for athlete selection. As many selection controversies have been caused by
unclear or unspecified selection procedures, the study focused on discovering what processes coaches
utilised when selecting athletes and, importantly, to what degree these processes were communicated
to athletes.
Design/methodology/approach – The data were collected via semi-structured interviews and
interpreted using thematic analysis which enabled the extraction of the major recurring themes.
Findings – Although the majority of coaches supported the use of HRM selection processes, only six
reported implementing HRM type practices. Overall, the study found that coaches on the whole
did not fully utilise HRM selection practices. Furthermore, although there tended to be some degree of
communication of these processes to athletes, this was not always done in a clear and precise way.
Research limitations/implications – Core HRM practices, procedures, and terminology are
seemingly rarely utilised in the athlete selection processes of amateur team sport. It is argued that
future research should focus on determining how best to implement workplace HRM selection
processes for team athlete selection.
Originality/value – Somewhat surprisingly, very little past research has investigated current athlete
selection processes in relation to workplace HRM selection practices. The present research increases
the understanding of current team athlete selection and provides discussion of the results in relation to
HRM selection best practice.
Keywords New Zealand, Sports, Teams, Selection, Human resource management, Athlete selection,
Selection criteria, Team sports
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Not surprisingly, athlete selection is one of the most discussed and debated aspects of
sport in the media and amongst sport enthusiasts. Inherent in these discussions and
debates are the many views of athlete selection. The process is not clearly defined,
understood, or implemented. “Arm-chair” spectators may not have a clear vision of
what an athlete selection process is, or of what it involves, but coaches and athletes
cannot operate from this same fuzzy view.
In simple terms, athlete selection is the process that determines the basis for
selection decisions, and governs the athletes’ rights in relation to such decisions.
The Sports Tribunal of New Zealand (2009b) defines selection as “the nomination
and/or selection of a person to a team or squad” (p. 2). Given selection’s centrality to
sport performance, it seems self-evident that coaches will have a very clear, and
sophisticated, understanding of athlete selection and its components such as selection
policies and procedures; pre-selection preparation including selection criteria, athlete
position profiles, and position descriptions; and post-selection follow-up, as arguably
this is one of their main roles as coaches, although rarely stated as such in the
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Sport, Business and Management: An
International Journal
Vol. 2 No. 1, 2012
pp. 7-20
rEmerald Group PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/20426781211207638
practices of
Best practice in human resource management (HRM) suggests that organisations,
which in this context means sport organisations, should provide fair and equitable
selection procedures that new hires are informed of, and that provide the greatest
likelihood of success in the organisation; in this case, the success of the team. The
present study examines how and what coaches actually do to select athletes for the
teams they coach, and if there is a relationship between these processes and the ones
used in workplace HRM selection.
Evidence points to a growth in selection disputes in New Zealand and overseas.
Whether these disputes are due to the lack of clearly defined selection procedures and
criteria, or anomalies and ambiguous wording in selection procedural documents
(or potentially even due to a more litigative environment), these disputes are becoming
more common. In New Zealand, for example, opportunities for athletes to vent their
frustrations are increasingly available and utilised through services such as the
Sports Disputes Tribunal. In 2003, Sport and Recreation New Zealand set up this
eight-member independent body with the objective of diverting potential cases away
from the civil courts and providing athletes with a quality, consistent, cost-effective
avenue to present disputes. One of the four types of disputes heard by the Tribunal
concerns appeals against athlete selection decisions (Sports Tribunal of New Zealand,
2009a, b). In spite of the fundamental impact of athlete selection on successful national
and international level sporting accomplishments, a relatively high number (14) of
selection appeals have been presented to the Tribunal between 2005 and mid-2010
Poor selection decisions may affect not only athletes’ current sporting involvement
and lifelong dreams, but also their future sporting careers in terms of endorsement,
sponsorship and income opportunities, employment and education opportunities, and
travel. When discussing the awarding of the final 12-15 contracts of the 145 awarded
for the New Zealand 2002 Super 12 Rugby Competition, the then Chief Executive
Officer of the North Harbour Rugby Union stated: “Often it’s just the nod of the head
over who gets the contract, but it makes all the difference to their careers [y]” (Rattue,
2002, p. B4). Graeme Miller, one of New Zealand’s finest cyclists, met all the criteria
for the 2000 Olympics but some of his outspoken comments about management of
the sport caused the selection panel to strike him off the list, ending Miller’s career
and depriving him of financial and travel opportunities. With regard to Miller’s
non-selection, Still (2002) wrote, “[y] New Zealand Cycling [y] should take a more
serious look at itself when it comes to selection issues [y] Miller should have
been a shoo-in [y] after winning virtually every race that selectors had stipulated”
(p. 18). Recently retired swimmer Moss Burmester, an Olympian and Commonwealth
Games gold medallist, when discussing his frustrations with the governance of
his sport’s national body stated that other swimmers held common views but did
not “want to rock the boat [y] They would be threatened if they did. They wouldn’t
be picked in teams [y]” (The New Zealand Herald, 2010). These selection decisions
did not seem to have any relevance to a selection process or with the athletes’
Many major selection controversies have been caused by unclear or unspecified
selection procedures (Ash, 2004a, b; Cleaver, 2010; Gilhooly, 2009; Gray, 2003; Kilgallon,
2009; Maddaford, 2004a, b; The New Zealand Herald, 2006; Sunday Star Times, 2003;
The New Zealand Herald, 2004; Sanders, 2002; Still, 2002; Sports Tribunal of New
Zealand, 2006, 2008, 2010b; Wallace, 2003). Prominent New Zealand national sport
organisations, athletics, swimming, rowing, and yachting, have had selection issues
highlighted in the media over the past decade, especially in the lead up to a
Commonwealth or Olympic Games.
Kidd and Eberts (1982) wrote about athletes’ rights in Canada and introduced what
they termed the rule of law with regard to athlete selection. They suggested selection
criteria be written in concise, clear language so that athletes could understand exactly
what they must do for selection. In order of priority, the rules state the requisite criteria
on which coaches should base their selection. The Australian Sports Commission
and the Australian and New Zealand Sports Law Association (2007) supports Kidd and
Eberts’ suggestions and also strongly recommends that athlete selection policies
and processes should provide certainty and consistency, and be unambiguous and
administered fairly. The authors suggest that the rule of law could assist in reducing
the number of athletes taking grievances to a disputes Tribunal over selection issues.
One established and significantly researched and validated framework which is
potentially useful for athlete selection is the workplace HRM selection process
(Evers et al., 2005; Schmitt et al., 2003; Nel et al., 2008; Rudman, 2010b). The
components of the HRM process are job analysis, job description, person specifications,
job selection, and performance appraisal (although not typically seen as part of
the “selection process”, the concept of performance management is important for the
present discussion). Each component plays a complementary role with regard to the
overall process, and each potentially has its parallels in athlete selection as depicted
in Figure 1. Next, each of the components of the HRM process is described and
translated for use in the athlete selection process.
In HRM practice, job analysis is the first step in the selection process. Rudman
(2010a) defines this as “[y] a process of gathering, assessing, and recording
information” (p. 89) related to the position to be filled. In a sport context, this could
be termed athlete/position analysis and relates to the analysis of the abilities and
qualities needed by an athlete to fill a particular position within the team. It also
would detail the activities that the athlete would be responsible for within that
position, and the team environment. Performance criteria, expectations, organisational
relationships, and training needs would also be identified.
Job analysis leads to the creation of job descriptions and person specifications. A job
description, or in the sporting sense a position description, identifies the position roles
and responsibilities, as well as competencies (knowledge, skills, and abilities known as
KSAs) an individual needs to fulfil these roles and responsibilities. The associated
document tells what people in that position are expected to do and their expected
Job analysis
Job description
Person specifications
Job selection
Performance appraisal
Athlete/position analysis
Athlete selection
Athlete debrief
Athlete profile
Position description
Figure 1.
HRM selection process
translated to a
sport context
practices of
contribution to the overall team. It is important to note that managers and employees
will often have significant differences in their understandings of responsibilities and
performance outcomes (Evers et al., 2005; Schmitt et al., 2003; Ployhart, 2006). It is
hypothesised that the situation is the same in a coach – athlete relationship.
Most coaches believe that athletes understand their position requirements, but that
opinion has not been verified by research. If parallels exist between the wider
work environment and sport, then written position descriptions can potentially
provide concrete and clear guidelines, and clarify expectations of the athletes’ roles
and responsibilities within the team and their particular positions. Within the era
of athlete-centred coaching (Kidman, 2001, 2005; Kidman and Hanrahan, 2004; Lyle,
2002), position descriptions would not be meant to limit athletes’ creativity and
innovative flare on the field, but rather to provide guidelines of roles they are
expected to fulfil.
A person specification, also known as a person profile or job specification, is an
account of the competencies (KSAs) and attributes needed to fulfil the job description,
or position description, satisfactorily. The term competency implies the presence
of certain characteristics, capabilities, knowledge, or skills for an individual to be
regarded as adequately qualified to perform satisfactorily (Evers et al., 2005;
Schmitt et al., 2003; Rudman, 2010b; also see Draganidis and Mentzas, 2006 for a
review of competency-based approaches). In the sporting context, the person
specification is the athlete profile. It presents an account of the competencies and
attributes required by the athlete for the particular vacant position. The position
description in turn determines the selection criteria and selection decisions. Some of
the attributes required of an athlete, such as attitude, leadership, and mental
toughness, cannot always easily be objectively measured, although the use of validated
psychometric scales go a long way to providing the desired “objectivity” (see Carless,
2009), inclusion of these attributes in an athlete profile makes the athlete aware that
they are sought.
Selection is distinguished from the previous categories, because selection involves
choice making. Selection is a prediction that one person will perform better than
another (Van Iddekinge and Ployhart, 2008; Evers et al., 2005; Schmitt et al., 2003). It
involves identifying the best people from the available pool to fulfil the position
description and person specifications. Put simply, this process is all about the
degree of “fit” between the candidate and the position description/person specification
(Ployhart, 2006; Van Iddekinge and Ployhart, 2008; Konig et al., 2010). Selection
procedures in this study are defined as a framework or series of processes for
action and/or decision making, based on the pre-determined selection criteria.
Selection is therefore dependent on a prediction of athlete performance and/or
team fit (Covell et al., 2007; also see Munyon et al., 2011 for a discussion of team or
“cluster” hiring approaches). Selection also implies a pool of candidates from which
to select.
Selection criteria are defined as the standards by which the athletes’ attributes
are judged by the coach, or as the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand defines it, “the
criteria upon which persons are nominated and/or selected to teams or squads” (2009b,
p. 2). Macky and Johnson (2003) define selection criteria as measures of job
performance against which selection is predicted. Selection, then, is a complex
undertaking that presents challenges on a number of dimensions. The dimensions of
athlete selection for the purposes of this study have been characterised in terms of
selection procedures, selection criteria, selection methods, and post-selection issues
(e.g. effective communication with athletes in relation to the selection decision)
(Rudman, 2010b).
Not surprisingly, given the diversity of sporting performance, there is no single
“list” of appropriate selection criteria available in the sport literature. However, as
background preparation for the resulting data collection, a list of potential selection
criteria was drawn from a range of formal and informal sources, including those
mentioned in written accounts from prominent New Zealand coaches (see Gray, 2003).
For example, John Mitchell, coach of New Zealand’s rugby team the All Blacks from
2001 to 2003, identified ten selection criteria he used to choose players which are:
physical qualities, present form, past form (although not weighed greatly), set play
skills, second phase skills, versatility, team fit on and off the field, defensive skills,
mental strength, and special qualities (Gray, 2003, p. D1). However, as can be seen from
this description, many accounts of selection criteria are (rightly so) very specific to the
sport concerned. However, given the diverse sports included in the present study we
needed to “extract” more generic potential selection criteria to help prompt participants
where necessary. Table I lists these potential “generic” selection criteria. These criteria
were used as prompts where required during the coach interviews.
Post-selection, coaches need to monitor and review the athletes’ performances
continually. In HRM terms, this step is called performance appraisal. In a sporting
context, performance appraisal has a parallel in the athlete debrief. This is a common
feature of many sporting teams. However, the level of the formality may vary. The
athlete debrief involves an evaluation of the athletes’ performances and may involve
suggestions of specific activities that athletes can partake to enhance their
performances, or it may inform athletes of their on-going expectations and roles
within the team.
Ideally, all of the steps in the workplace HRM process are typically formalised
in a written format designed to communicate transparently to all key parties and is
often referred to as a “selection policy”. A selection policy guides and provides an
overview of the selection procedures in the context of a plan. The policy includes
the selection criteria detailing how the athletes will be assessed, who will decide the
selection, and the process by which selection will be decided. Selection policies
and procedures may be written or oral, formal or informal. HRM best practice
indicates that selection policies and procedures should be written and clearly explain
the skills, qualities, and performance standards sought by selectors, as well as the
decision-making process used to make this selection (Ployhart, 2006). In a sporting
context, as in any other, these policies and procedures are written and provided
to the athletes so that they are aware of what exactly is required of them to make the
team. This minimises the potential for misinterpretation or misunderstanding by any
of the parties involved.
Performance Mental toughness
Statistics Personal characteristics
Developmental potential Age
Playing career remaining Other coaches’ feedback
Attitude Potential to compete at the top level
Experience Style of player
Physical fitness Specialist position
Skills Gut feeling
Tabl e I.
Potential selection criteria
practices of
2. Methodology
The purpose of this study was to identify the selection procedures and criteria that
coaches use when selecting athletes for their team. Therefore the key question asked of
respondents was: “What are the current procedures and/or criteria used when selecting
athletes for the team you coach”? The key themes involved in the research were
selection procedures, selection criteria, selection methods, and post-selection issues.
Using a semi-structured interview format, questions were asked to ascertain the
relevance and importance of these themes in relation to their athlete selection process.
Sub-questions to the main theme sought to find out the extent to which their current
practices boor similarity to workplace HRM selection best practice. “Prompting”
questions included: Do you have a written selection policy? What selection procedures
do you follow? Do you have player profiles or position descriptions available for the
athletes’ review? Do you have selection criteria on which to base an athlete’s selection?
Which selection criteria do you rate the most important? How do you select athletes?
Do you complete post-selection interviews and follow-up appraisals?
Twenty-five amateur coaches (18 male, seven female) were interviewed for this
study. Fifteen were provincial team coaches from the North Island of New Zealand and
ten were national team coaches located throughout New Zealand. Table II below
provides detail on the sports included in the study.
To be eligible to participate in this study the sport had to operate in a team
environment. Each potential participant was posted or e-mailed an overview of
the study including an invitation to take part in the study, along with explanations
Sport/athlete gender Level
American football – male Provincial
Badminton – female Provincial
Basketball – male Provincial
Cricket – male Provincial
Field hockey – female Provincial
Field hockey – male Provincial
Golf – female Provincial
Gymnastics – female Provincial
Netball – female Provincial
Sevens rugby – male Provincial
Soccer – male Provincial
Softball – male Provincial
Rugby union – male Provincial
Volleyball – female Provincial
Waterpolo – male Provincial
Field hockey – female National
Golf – female National
Netball – female National
Rugby league – male National
Rugby union – male National
Sevens rugby – male National
Soccer – male National
Softball – female National
Softball – male National
Volleyball – female National
Table II.
Sports and team level
of the rights to anonymity, confidentiality, and the ability to withdraw from the study
at any time. Ethics approval was gained and all coaches who agreed to participate
signed a consent form. The interviews took place at the participants’ preferred place
and time and were audio taped with notes taken. Tapes were transcribed by an
experienced transcriber and the participants were given the opportunity to check the
accuracy of the transcript.
The provincial coaches were interviewed face-to-face in semi-structured interviews.
The national coaches also participated in semi-structured interviews, but by telephone,
due to distance and the time constraints of very demanding schedules – the majority of
these national coaches were preparing, departing for, or returning from a world cup or
world championship event. The interviews spread over a three-month period and
averaged 35-45 minutes. The average timeframes for the interviews appear to be
compact due to the fact that national coaches were pressured for time and therefore the
interviews remained tightly focused on the topic of interest to this study.
The results were analysed and coded using a content analysis procedure (Boyatzis,
1998). The study used thematic analysis of interview material following a protocol of
text examination for major and recurring themes, which emerged from, and related
back to, the sport and HRM literature. This analysis broadly followed the main steps
outlined by Aronson (1994) and Braun and Clarke (2006) by first familiarising
ourselves with data, then generating initial codes and generating themes (and in some
cases “sub-themes”), and lastly reviewing those themes in relation to the coded
extracts. In addition many of the questions/prompts within this study resulted in initial
dichotomous responses. Table III below collates these dichotomous findings.
3. Findings and discussion
This section starts with a summary table of the results provided in Table III below. The
results of the main research themes, the use of job analysis and job design leading to
athlete profiles and position descriptions, selection criteria and selection methods
employed, and post-selection communications, are then presented and discussed.
Content analysis of the transcribed recorded interviews revealed that only six of the
25 coaches had experience of applying the HRM processes of job analysis or job design
leading to athlete profiles or position descriptions for preparation of athlete selection
documents. But overall the majority of coaches (23) supported the application of some
version of HRM processes. Interestingly, two of the 25 coaches (C18 and C23) felt that
stringent selection processes and selection criteria should not be created and
Item No. of participants responding “yes” (%)
Use of job analysis 6/25 24
Use of job design 6/25 24
Use of written selection criteria 7/25 28
Selection criteria but not formally written down 9/25 36
No formal selection criteria 9/25 36
Selection based on formal “selection trials” 21/25 84
Selection solely based on past performance/results 4/25 16
Conducted post-selection communications
With successful athletes 14/25 56
With non-successful athletes 20/25 80
Table III.
Summary of results
practices of
implemented. One coach (C18) was conscious of the possibility of affording a basis
for legal action being taken if criteria were too explicit, and the other (C23) did not want
to hinder the flair, flexibility, and ability of the players to make decisions on the field of
play by having “stiff” guidelines.
When asked about the value of selection criteria to assist the choice of team
members, seven coaches stated that their sport had written selection criteria, nine
coaches had it “in their heads” and orally communicated the criteria to their athletes,
and nine did not have any prepared selection criteria. Four (C1, C4, C17, and C21)
of the 18 who did not use written selection criteria were in the process of creating
selection criteria documents. Most coaches felt that selection criteria would be
beneficial but felt that they did not have the time to develop any, did not realise the
necessity for them, or had not considered them at all. One coach (C22) who highly
supported providing selection criteria to the athletes categorically stated, “If you are
judging players on certain criteria, then the players must know what it [sic] is”. Overall,
the coaches made limited use of formalised selection procedures or criteria.
Furthermore, “transparency” in general was not a common feature of the reported
selection processes. One coach (C18), for example, responded that there were not any
selection criteria available for the trialists of the particular sport. The reason offered
for this was pragmatic rather than performance orientated. The reason was a response
to the threat of litigation. If, for example, a roster of 15 athletes was required, but
17 trialists perceived that they met or fitted the criteria, grounds might exist for a legal
case against the coach, the sport, and/or the selection process. The two athletes omitted
could say that they met all the provided selection criteria and therefore should have
been selected.
Transparency is a key aspect in HRM practice (Macky and Johnson, 2003). It is
important as it allows fairness and personal satisfaction for athletes when they know
that a comprehensive selection process is in place. Craig Ross, Chief Executive of
Rowing New Zealand from 2003 to 2007, supported the use of selection criteria stating:
“The criteria is [sic] wide ranging. The selectors have used information [y] objectively
and determined what combinations make the boats move the fastest” (Leggat, 2004,
p. D4). Not only does this comment support transparency, but it communicates a view
that there is no room for sentiment in the selection debate.
During the interview coaches were asked (with prompting using the items identified
in Table I where required) which selection criteria they used when selecting their
athletes. Additionally, they were asked to rank the top three criteria they regularly
utilised for athlete selection. Overall, the selection criteria, which were seen as being
most important were “performance” followed by “attitude”, and “physical fitness”.
Sub-themes identified within “performance” included “form”, “skill”, “capability”,
“technical ability”, and “tactical ability”, while “attitude” sub-themes included
“character”, “dedication”, “spirit”, and “team fit”. Other selection criteria that many
coaches in this study mentioned include “specialist position” (e.g. a “setter” in
volleyball) and “mental toughness”. Interestingly, only three of these five most
commonly mentioned criteria, performance, physical fitness, and specialised
position, could be readily assessed using objective measures. The others (attitude
and mental toughness) are more subjective categories requiring validated
psychometric scales for effective measurement (Carless, 2009). It is worth noting
that a number of criteria not listed in Table I was mentioned by some coaches
including: “player being coachable”, “player history”, “consideration of the opposition”,
“age”, and “player tradition”.
Somewhat interestingly, the majority of coaches (19 of the 25) indicated the use of a
selection criterion characterised as “gut feel”. However, it needs to be pointed out that
despite its frequent mention, when coaches were asked to rank their top-three selection
criteria, not one mentioned it! Gut feel is probably best described as a judgement made
in a situation of uncertainty. Coaches in this study referred to it as intuition, instinct,
experience, maturity, or just knowing. When asked if gut feel was utilised in the
selection process, 13 of the 25 coaches said they used gut feel, six said it only came into
play on a 50-50 call, and the remaining six said they did not. The 50-50 call usually
occurred in the final one or two selections for the team. As 19 coaches admitted to
using gut feel but did not state so when asked about selection criteria, perhaps they did
not want to acknowledge openly that gut feel was used in selection situations as it
would harm their credibility.
The place that gut feel occupies in the reflection process is conveyed in the following
extracts from the coach interviews:
C6: That’s a tough one. Ha, ha, ha – you can just get a feel where a player will fit into the team,
what they can bring, and how they will develop but you’ve got to be careful [y] you’ve got to
be seen to be fair [y] often you can get challenged on your selection.
C10: Yeah [y] you can’t explain sometimes why you think a player’s going to come through
[y] you’ve got to have gut instinct. It’s something you get from experience. Yeah, I think it is
more experience than instinct.
C4: A lot of coaches decide who to go with and sometimes when it works you look like a hero
but other times you ask, why did you use your gut? What was wrong with your head feel?
[y] that’s a hard one [y].
C25: If my gut tells me I can turn this player into something special, I go for it.
C18: If it comes to a 50-50 gut feel decision, then I’d go with the athlete who would benefit the
programme the most. Always go with the athlete with the most potential.
Sports journalist Dylan Cleaver noted in relation to gut feel or hunches that he
was not privy to the Black Caps’ (New Zealand’s national cricket team) selection
processes but said, “[y] one thing is for certain; this (selection) panel has no faith in
the domestic system to prepare players for national duty. Instead it seems happier to
rely on hunches, searching for the intangibles that can’t be read in [y] stats sheets”
(Cleaver, 2004, p. B3). He interpreted the hunches as gut feel, and searching for
intangibles as looking for suggestions that athletes had potential. Whereas gut
feel was a feature of many coaches’ selection repertoire, potential to compete at top
level did not rank highly among the selection criteria. Two coaches (C17 and C18)
did say that they made the last one or two selections on potential, especially if more
experienced players were retiring post-season. This affirms Cleaver’s (2004)
observations. Cleaver wrote of selection decisions in both cricket and rugby union
where athletes were being selected on potential. John Bracewell, the national coach
for cricket at the time, said, “Ignore his record [y] it is the potential that counts”
(Cleaver, 2004, p. B3). Bracewell continued to say, “We feel he (Craig Cumming)
has the tools to deal with it [y] his average might not suggest that [y] he could
step up [y] We recognize the characteristics the guy has and we’d like to investigate
those” (Cleaver, 2004, p. B3). While Cleaver’s observations do not eliminate the
practices of
possibility of a more formal set of selection criteria, he draws attention to the
fact that some selection processes in this instance seemed to be based on
Some respondents were more disposed to a structured approach than others. Indeed,
one coach (C9) who did not support the use of gut feel responded:
We try to stay away from that. We’ve got to do our homework [y] then you get to a certain
point [y] you’ve got to make a decision [y] get as much info as you can and you’re going to
come up with the right decision.
Because of its reliance on intuition, gut feel cannot be directly written into objective
selection criteria. According to the coaches interviewed, however, it remains an
important aspect of a coach’s selection practices. Gut feel may come into play as a way
of acknowledging the ultimate subjectivity of the process. A phrase sometimes
included in job descriptions, “and any other criteria which could assist to fulfil the
position requirements”, could be considered a similar recognition of this dimension.
Such a phrase does articulate the implication that subjectivity may figure in the
selection process.
When asked to describe the actual selection methods utilised, 21 coaches (84 per cent)
said they held trials or selection camps, while the remaining four based selection on
performance or results (times or scores). It is important to note that three (C2, C3, and
C24) of the four coaches who focused on times or scores coached sports that commonly
base selection on times or scores. The fourth coach (C23), who based selection
on performance, was satisfied that the athletes were physically fit, playing
in-season, high-calibre sport, and could therefore base selection on form
(performance), team fit (attitude), and specialist positions. This could be interpreted
as an on-going form of athlete performance appraisal or debrief.
Somewhat surprisingly, one consistent finding was that although all coaches
reported that athletes were notified of where and when the trials would take place, the
athletes tended not to be told about what exactly would happen during selection or
what their selection would be based on. This seems to be a shortcoming in the process,
as best practice (Ha
¨rtel and Fujimoto, 2010; Evers et al., 2005; Schmitt et al., 2003)
would suggest that such information would be of value to the candidates for their
mental and physical preparation.
The final area of questioning pertained to communication between the coach and
athlete post-selection and throughout the season. Coaches were asked if they discussed
athlete selection and performance with each individual athlete after the selection
process had been completed. Fourteen (56 per cent) of the 25 coaches claimed they
spoke with those who made the team, and 20 (80 per cent) of these also spoke with
athletes who did not. Most coaches felt it was a priority to explain to those athletes who
did not make the team the reasons for the decision. This was done in the spirit of
identifying areas for future improvement. Those who spoke with successful athletes
did so because they were convinced that these players needed to understand their roles
and expectations within the team. One coach stated that players were encouraged to
seek more feedback from the coach if they had any questions after the post-selection
debrief meeting. This coach (C25) continued:
In the first year, only one player came to see me. This player went on to win the most
valuable player at the end of season tourney. In the second year, eight players came to
see me for additional feedback and information. They realised the benefit of our
4. Conclusions
Sport management is now accepted as a legitimate field of study, and sport
organisations are overtly incorporating business practices, such as those from HRM,
into their practice. This research investigated what coaches did to select athletes for the
team they coached and considered whether or not they used selection procedures
similar to what the workplace HRM selection literature suggests. Overall, this study
found that, although many were aware of the concepts, the majority of coaches had not
formally implemented workplace HRM selection practices into their athlete selection
process. It is strongly argued that consideration of HRM practices could help ensure
that sport organisations and coaches provide a fair and equitable selection procedure
based on selection criteria in which the athletes are well versed.
Even though nine coaches (36 per cent) did not agree with the view that selection
criteria should be definitively written, 64 per cent believed that athletes should have a
degree of understanding as to what is required for selection. Of this 64 per cent, seven
coaches (28 per cent) had written criteria while nine coaches (36 per cent) had an idea of
their requirements in their minds. In the minority of cases where documentation about
the selection process was in place, the athlete position descriptions or athlete profiles
were skimpy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many coaches seemingly expect
athletes to understand intuitively what the selection criteria are, however, anecdotal
evidence also suggests that many athletes do not. Goal achievement targets
presumably could be much more clearly communicated if athlete profiles and position
descriptions denoting selection criteria were available to all athletes. It is vital that
selection procedures are clearly communicated and understood by the athletes and that
athletes are aware of exactly what is required to gain selection.
Nineteen (76 per cent) of the coaches claimed to rely on “gut feel” in their selection
activities. This reliance on gut feel and other intuitions, rather than objective criteria,
could potentially lead to idiosyncratic selections that are difficult to justify. However,
for reasons related to potential legal challenges, at least one coach in the study saw
benefit in vague or ill-defined criteria. For example, if an athlete were to make a legal
complaint, having vague or ill-defined criteria would not stand up in a court of law.
On the other hand, if well-developed and rational selection processes are not available,
those athletes who wish to make a career out of their sport may be disadvantaged.
The lack of a formal process may seem to some to be difficult to justify if the rationale
for lack of transparency is solely to protect the coach or the organisation from
potential litigation. It is also noted that it may be dangerous to base selection on
potential, which two coaches said they did for the final couple of selections.
As in any selection procedure, transparency in the selection of athletes for sport
teams is a necessity. Furthermore, with more and more selection processes ending in
legal action, clarity and transparency are required to protect all parties. We strongly
suggest that an adaptation of workplace HRM selection principles and practices may
aid this situation.
5. Recommendations
The following recommendations can be made from this study:
.Clear, precise selection policies and procedures should be developed and made
accessible in written format to athletes vying for a position on a team. These
should be developed with guidance from athletes and support from legal
practices of
.Athlete/position analysis, position descriptions, and athlete profiles should all be
considered and included in the written document.
.Selection criteria should be contained in the written document that, where
possible, clearly outline objective performance criteria/standards on which
athletes are being judged to gain a spot on the team.
.These selection criteria need to be solely derived from a valid up-to-date athlete/
position analysis (given the diversity of sports, no single “list” of selection
criteria can be identified).
.Post-selection issues are an important aspect of the overall selection process and
must be given attention.
Future research should further examine the role of, and how to best implement,
workplace HRM selection processes for sport team athlete selection. The use of gut feel
in the athlete selection process could also be examined.
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About the authors
Trish Bradbury is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Management within the School of Management
at Massey University, Albany Campus. She has extensive experience in managing sport
organisations and coaching sport teams. Her major research interests concer n a variety of
aspects of sport management related to coaching, events, organisational development, and
sport facilities. She gained her PhD from Massey University in the area of self-coaching of elite
athletes. Trish Bradbury is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:
Darryl Forsyth is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Management at Massey University,
Albany campus. He teaches in the area of Human Resource Management, and has research
interests in the areas of psychological wellbeing and performance in both occupational and sport
environments. He holds a PhD in Applied Industrial and Organisational Psychology from the
University of Canterbury.
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... However, this process can vary from a highly-regulated use of objective criteria to, what in this paper is termed as, a more intuitive process that uses more subjective criteria. When used as part of the athlete selection decision-making process, this intuitive process is often referred to as 'gut feel' by coaches (Bradbury & Forsyth, 2012). ...
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