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The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes Within the Coach-Athlete Dyad

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Within the research literature there is little work that has examined how coaches (and coaching) can positively influence female athletes’ continued participation and development in performance sport. With this in mind, utilising a grounded theory approach, this study focused on what are the coaching preferences of female athletes within the elite coachathlete dyad. Through interviews with 27 current high performance female athletes, four major coaching needs were found. These were: to be supported as person as well a performer, coaching to be a joint endeavour, the need for positive communication and finally, recognition of the salience of gender within the coach-athlete dyad. The findings provide evidence that the relational expertise of coaches is at the forefront of these women’s coaching needs. This study also demonstrates that for the participants, the coach-athlete relationship is at the heart of improving athletic training and performance, and that gender is an important influence on this relationship. Furthermore, the research highlights the strength of using an interpretive-qualitative paradigmatic approach to athlete preferences through foregrounding the women’s voices and experiences.
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15
International Sport Coaching Journal, 2015, 2, 15-28
http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/iscj.2013-0037
© 2015 Human Kinetics, Inc.
Leanne Norman is a senior research fellow in the School of
Sport, Leeds Beckett University, UK. Her research utilises
critical feminist sociology to examine the culture of coach-
ing to address gendered inequality within the profession. Her
other research interests include understanding the inuence
of gender on the coach-athlete relationship, and analysing the
impact of equity training on coaching practices and relations.
She has written for a number of academic textbooks and has
published widely in academic journals. She has also worked
with a number of sporting organisations to improve gender
equality within their coaching and athletic workforce. Address
author correspondence to Leanne Norman at L.J.Norman@
leedsbeckett.ac.uk.
The Coaching Needs of High Performance
Female Athletes Within the Coach-Athlete Dyad
Leanne Norman
Leeds Beckett University
Within the research literature there is little work that has examined how coaches (and coaching) can positively
inuence female athletes’ continued participation and development in performance sport. One barrier that
has been recently cited that prevents more women from progressing in sport is the inability of coaches to
understand how to engage their female athletes. With this in mind, utilising a phenomenological approach,
the current study focused on the coaching preferences of female athletes within the elite coach-athlete dyad.
Through interviews with 27 current high performance female athletes, four major coaching needs were found.
These were: to be supported as a person as well a performer, coaching to be a joint endeavour, the need for
positive communication, and recognition of the salience of gender within the coach-athlete dyad. The nd-
ings highlight the complexities and contradictions that are inherent within such a relationship, but ultimately
provide evidence that the relational expertise of coaches is at the forefront of these women’s coaching needs.
The present study also demonstrates that gender is a salient inuence on the coach-athlete relationship. Such
ndings hold practical signicance through demonstrating the need for gender-responsive coaching practitioners.
Keywords: women; athlete preferences; coach-athlete relationship; qualitative
The coaching context is an intricate and multifaceted
setting involving a complex array of interactions between
the environment, athlete and coach (Jones, Armour, &
Potrac, 2004). Within this, the coach holds signicant
accountability for athlete physical and cognitive partici-
pation and development, tactics, techniques and results
(Becker, 2009). It has been claimed that coaching should
be viewed as an educational endeavour and is dependent
upon the relationship between a coach and their athlete(s)
(Jones, 2006a). There is a plethora of research demon-
strating a positive coach-athlete relationship can greatly
improve an athlete’s reported satisfaction, motivational
levels, stimulate positive moods, provide a sense of
support and reduce anxiety (e.g., Bortoli, Robazza, &
Giabardo, 1995; Kenow & Williams, 1999; Wrisberg,
1996). Whether this relationship is a successful one and
whether coaching behaviours and athlete outcomes are
positively linked has been argued to be founded upon the
athlete’s perception of their coach’s practices and behav-
iours (Horn, 2002). To achieve effective or improved
performance, coaches need to tailor their practices to the
individual needs of their athlete, and be exible to suit
their athletes’ different needs and expectations (Sherman,
Fuller, & Speed, 2000) Understanding athlete percep-
tions of their coach and the coaching process remains a
popular topic within the research literature. For example,
such ndings have been utilised to dene great coaching
(e.g., Becker, 2009), coaching efcacy (e.g., Kavussanu,
Boardley, Jutkiewicz, Vincent, & Ring, 2008; Myers,
Feltz, Maier, Wolfe, & Reckase, 2006), and coaching
competency (e.g., Phillips & Jubenville, 2009). Less
documented in the literature, is the connection between
athlete preferences, experiences and the gender of the
athlete and/or coach.
Given the understanding that sport has long been a
gendered institution, that is, meanings, identities, organ-
isational practices and processes of control and action
are distinguished between / for men and women (Acker,
1990), greater examination of and clarity regarding the
connection between how coaching is received and gender
is much needed. Even less explored is a qualitative
approach to athlete preferences and expectations with a
specic focus on the gender, as a social construction, of
the athlete (Antonini Philippe & Seiler, 2006) . Within the
present article, pertinent and recent research that makes
up the existing understanding of how gender relates to
www.ISCJ-Journal.com
ORIGINAL RESEARCH
16 The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes
athletes’ preferred coaching behaviours is reviewed.
Following this, possible knowledge gaps that remain in
relation to understanding what athletes need from the
coaching process are explored. Thirdly, an outline of
the methodology used in the current study is provided
and from this the four themes that arose from the study
are presented. Alongside this, is a discussion of the key
messages for coaching researchers, practitioners and
policy makers. The paper concludes with future possible
directions for this area of study.
Understanding Athlete Preferences:
Privileging the Voices of Women
Athlete experiences take place in a sporting context that
historically has favoured men and masculinity (Fasting
& Pster, 2000). For example, men dominate coaching
and participant ranks, and enjoy greater media attention
and cultural norms and values that are skewed in their
favour. Previous work into what athletes prefer and need
from their coaches has tended to, erroneously, regard
sport as a neutral sphere in which gender equality exists
(Hargreaves, 1994) and yet sport participation should
be placed within the context of its culture if it is to be
properly understood (Bale & Sang, 1996). In the UK,
of the 1,399 athletes registered on the UK World Class
Programme, 43.5% are women (UK Sport, 2010) and yet
in organised sport (dened as participation in a sport at
least three times a week) women’s participation is on the
decline (Sport England, 2011). As a further example, evi-
dence suggests the coaching process may be heard, seen
and received differently between men and women due to
the socialisation of gender (LaVoi, 2007). Interpersonal
relationships may also be constructed in different ways
due to the ways in which gender is socially constructed
(LaVoi, 2007). However, most work on athlete prefer-
ences have either not utilised a gender perspective or have
not problematised gendered experiences, instead merely
arguing that gender (or interchangeably called sex) is
a factor in the style and function of the coach-athlete
relationship (Horn, 2002; LaVoi, 2007). Therefore, the
experiences of men and women have been treated in the
same way and the role of power within this dyad as shaped
by gender has too been neglected. However, there is a
small evidence base that suggests that how male coaches
understand social constructions of gender is hindering
their professional practices with female athletes by, for
example, not setting more challenging training goals,
having lower expectations of their athletic ability or not
investing sufcient effort into furthering their develop-
ment (author, 2013). In the UK, while sporting participa-
tion is gradually becoming more evenly balanced between
men and women since the London 2012 Olympic Games,
one barrier that has been recently cited that prevents
more women from progressing in sport, is the inability
of coaches to understand how to engage their female
athletes (Sport England, 2013). A subjective perspective
of viewing the coach-athlete dyad offers a more in-depth
understanding of this relationship. This is because athlete
needs and expectations of their coach are seen as a prod-
uct of negotiation between these social actors, dependent
upon the context around them. While there are studies
describing the differences between male and female
athlete preferences, this focus has superseded examining
what are the experiences of these athletes. Much of the
research compares these preferences according to gender
of the athlete unproblematically. This is a simpler task
and is one of classication, rather than engaging with
the meaning and signicance of gender (Alvesson &
Due Billing, 1997). Further work is needed to explore
how gendered relations, linked to how gender is socially
constructed and how the notion of power, underpin and
inuence athlete needs within the coach-athlete dyad.
There remains little consideration of women as a minority
group in sport with a specic research focus upon women
(Fasting, Scraton, Pster, & Bunuel, 1999). This formed
the impetus for the current study.
Taking into consideration athletes’ preferences with
their coach becomes an even greater concern within high
performance sport. For a coach to be effective in such
a domain the need to manage these needs and expecta-
tions is even greater (Chan & Mallett, 2011). To lead and
supervise the coaching process with high performing
athletes requires a coach to not just be tactically and tech-
nically knowledgeable but also possess a high degree of
emotional intelligence (Chan & Mallett, 2011). Accurate
perceptions and management of an athlete’s needs can
lead to effective management of behaviours and outcomes
(Chan & Mallett, 2011). It is also at the elite levels of sport
and coaching that several studies have demonstrated the
signicance of gender in relation to athlete preferences,
coach-athlete relationships and impact upon performance.
It was for such reasons that the current study focused
specically on high performance female athletes. How-
ever, while research has demonstrated that the gender of
the athlete is an important factor in determining athlete
preferences, there remains little consensus between stud-
ies; much of the corpus of literature has produced mixed
results of what the coaching preferences are of elite male
and female athletes. Within this literature, preferences
are largely operationalised as coaching behaviours. For
example, early research by Terry (1984) revealed male
elite athletes preferred a more autocratic coaching style
than their female peers, a nding congruent with the
earlier work of Erle (1981). His research reported that
the male athletes sampled wanted to be coached more
autocratically, receive more training and instruction and
more social support than the female athletes surveyed.
This is a recurrent theme within the literature, that female
elite athletes place greater value on positive feedback
and democratic coaching behaviours (Sherman et al.,
2000). Nevertheless, Sherman et al. (2000) argue that
more research is required into the preferences of athletes
along the lines of gender because their ndings contrasted
with earlier research in many ways, including the sug-
gestion that there are more similarities between men
and women elite athletes than differences. For example,
Norman 17
both elite male and female players within their study did
not express a desire for social support (Sherman et al.,
2000). Conversely, more elite male athletes preferred an
autocratic style of coaching than their female counterparts
(Sherman et al., 2000). Women’s greater need for demo-
cratic coaching styles and inclusive decision-making are a
common nding within the literature focusing upon high
performance sport (Cuka & Zhurda, 2006). One recom-
mendation for coaches of female teams is that they should
pay particular attention to situational characteristics such
as interpersonal relations among the team to enhance
their relationship with their elite female athletes (Chel-
ladurai & Arnott, 1985). More recently, Vargas and Short
(2011) concluded that within elite football teams, female
athletes disliked coaching communication that was criti-
cal and negatively focused with no instructional cues.
Such negative coaching styles can lead to athlete drop
out (Stewart & Taylor, 2000). Linking athlete drop out
to coaching using a gendered focus, Stewart and Taylor
(2000) found that of the women athletes they interviewed
who had quit their sport, issues with their coaches was
one of the most common reasons. The women who had
remained in their sport described coach-athlete relation-
ships that were built on encouragement, being listened
to, friendship, fairness and knowledge of the sport.
Continuing the work related to elite women athletes and
their relationship with their coach, Balague (1999) found
that within the context of high performance gymnastics,
women athletes cited a positive coach-athlete relationship
as their central concern. Yet, many coaches often did not
fully understand their female athletes or consider their
female athletes’ need for relatedness. Consequently, the
athletes included in the study described feeling underap-
preciated and trivialised.
From a review of the most prominent research on
understanding what athletes need from the coaching
process, it is evident the subject area is heavily reliant on
quantitative measures of interpersonal behaviours and the
use of qualitative methodologies has been under-utilised
in the area of athlete preferences and the coach-athlete
relationship (Poczwardowski, Barott, & Jowett, 2006).
The social and cultural context of coaching is often
absent and therefore the use of quantitative measures of
coaching behaviours is limited to describing instructional
styles (Potrac, Jones, & Armour, 2002). Linked to this is
the over-reliance on models to understand the coaching
process and athlete preferences. Attempting to reduce
and ‘t’ what athletes need from their coach into a model
ignores the idea that coaching is about improvisation and
interpersonal awareness with many possible outcomes
rather than just prescribed and structured actions (Côté
& Gilbert, 2009; Jones & Wallace, 2005; Vella, Oades,
& Crowe, 2010). Consequently, models fail to capture
the pedagogical processes involved within the coach-
athlete dyad and do not adequately describe the signi-
cant contextual factors surrounding these relationships.
For the athletes themselves, the coaching practices they
are surveyed on as to which factors they prefer, are not
necessarily problematised. The implications of using
research evidence based on models is therefore restricted
to recruitment criteria of coaches for athletes or telling
coaches what to or what not to do (Poczwardowski et al.,
2006). Instead, Poczwardowski, Barott, and Henschen
(2002) argue that the relationships within coaching are
so individualistic that the interactions within it require a
qualitative, interpretive methodology.
The aim of the current study was to understand
the coaching preferences of high performance female
athletes within the coach-athlete dyad. To meet this aim,
the following research question that drove the study was:
What are the coaching needs of high performance female
athletes within the coach-athlete dyad? The research
was based upon the premise that women are an under-
represented group in sport and that their experiences and
needs in relation to their coaching preferences are often
overlooked (MacKinnon, 2011). While there is evidence
of qualitative research of men’s expectations (e.g., Anto-
nini Philippe & Seiler, 2006; Purdy & Jones, 2011), more
knowledge is needed to develop recommendations and
strategies to improve the experiences of female athletes
as well as educate coaches so that they can tailor their
coaching and potentially increase the proportion of
women progressing through the performance pathways.
Meeting the expectations of athletes comprises effective
coaching and managing these expectations is crucial to
maintain a good coach-athlete relationship (Potrac et al.,
2002; Purdy & Jones, 2011). Yet, the research was not an
attempt to treat women as ‘special cases’ or to argue that
their coaching needs may be entirely different to men.
Instead, the research endeavoured to understand athlete
needs on a more individual basis along the lines of gender
and to privilege the voices of female athletes on the basis
that sport is a gendered institution in favour of men and
masculinity. Moreover, within the literature, it has been
argued that research on relationships needs to take on a
more dyadic approach (Berscheid, 1999) and specically
in the sporting research context, there is a need for greater
understanding of the reciprocal nature of coach-athlete
relationships (Jowett, 2006; Poczwardowski et al., 2002).
There is growing recognition within the eld that this
relationship and indeed, coaching itself, is more about
social competencies, social relations, sensitive engage-
ment, athlete empowerment and caring for the athlete’s
wellbeing (d’Arripe-Longueville, Fournier, & Dubois,
1998; Denison, 2007; Jones, 2006a, 2007; Purdy &
Jones, 2011). Coupled with the criticism that the research
literature within this eld is still greatly focused upon the
thoughts and experiences of the coach and in recogni-
tion that athletes do possess a degree of power (Purdy
& Jones, 2011); the (gendered) athlete voice within the
coach-athlete dyad forms the basis of the current study.
Methodology
The research on which this paper is based is part of a
larger study that aimed to explore high performance
women athletes’ coaching experiences in the UK to
nd out what coaching meant for them. The study took
18 The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes
a phenomenological approach to examine the coaching
experiences and preferences of high performance female
athletes. Interviews were chosen as the appropriate
method to better understand each woman’s experiences
within their coach-athlete dyad. Participants were pur-
posively and then snowball sampled to ensure they could
contribute to an understanding of effective coaching
practices and processes when working with high per-
formance female athletes. This approach was chosen, as
Poczwardowski et al. (2006) contend, to do “justice to
the nature of the athlete-coach relationship as a socially
constructed phenomenon” (p. 130). It is also argued that
researchers need to incorporate into their work, the aim of
examining numerous units of analysis to provide the most
potential for generating theoretical and practical insights
(Poczwardowski et al., 2006). Rather than focusing on
just coaching behaviours for example, examinations of
athlete needs within their relationship with their coach
should also consider cognitive or emotional expecta-
tions of their coach. Thus, the objective was to discover
the personal experiences of athletes as a whole and as a
phenomenon.
Participant Selection and Recruitment
The sample consisted of female athletes who competed
at a high performance level and their coaches. The
participants were selected from the two UK governing
bodies who expressed an interest to be included in the
study out of a purposive sample of ve governing bodies
approached for the research. The sports included were
athletics (including both track and eld events) to rep-
resent an individual and mixed gender sport perspective
and basketball, solely women’s teams, as the team sport.
An individual and team sport were sampled to provide a
representative sample of athletes and to ensure that any
contextual similarities or differences in types of sports
was addressed. The participants were drawn from the
two highest key participant populations as identied
within the Participant Development Model (PDM):
performance development and high performance levels
(Sports Coach UK, 2008). In the UK, these two levels
refer to athletes engaged in and committed to high level,
performance-oriented, competitive sport (national and
international) (Sports Coach UK, 2009). The rationale
for recruiting participants from the higher performance
levels of sport was based upon the assertion, as explored
earlier in the paper, that at high performance, coaches
need to have not just tactical and technical knowledge,
but also require a high degree of relational expertise. In
this way, coaches need to be holistic practitioners (Cas-
sidy, Jones, & Potrac, 2009). Therefore, the ndings of
the research, aimed at understanding women’s athletic
needs as a whole, would have most benet to the highest
levels of athletic and coaching performance. Letters of
invitation were sent to the two governing bodies who then
passed the letters on to a convenient sample of their high
performance coaches. Snowball sampling was then used
by the coaches to recruit their athletes. As a result, 27
females volunteered to be included in the study, includ-
ing 16 track and eld athletes and 11 basketballers. The
women were all aged between 18 and 28 years old. Of
the 27 coach-athlete dyads, 20 were cross-sex and seven
were same-sex (with a woman head coach). The term
‘coach-athlete dyad’ refers to the unique relationship
between the individual athlete and their coach, hence the
reference to 27 separate dyads. Nevertheless, it is impor-
tant to note that of these dyads, approximately a third of
the athletes were coached by the same head coach. The
study did not intend to sample more male coaches, but
this instead was symptomatic of the underrepresentation
of women as coaches across all sports in the UK. Few
women coaches exist at performance development and
high performance level sport (national and international
competition). Therefore, the gender of the coach was
considered when analysing the participants’ responses
to differentiate their relationship with male and female
coaches. All participants gave informed consent and were
reassured that all of their responses would be kept con-
dential and fully anonymised so that in no way could they
be identied. Ethical approval for the research was given
by the two sporting organisations and the institution. A
signicant limitation of the current study is the inclusion
of all able-bodied performers and that the research team
did not explicitly include questions addressing racial,
class, sexual orientation or experiences related to other
differences, only gender was intentionally discussed.
However, the participants did discuss such differences
over the course of the interviews.
Interview Procedure and Analysis
Given the personal nature of the subject and topics to
be discussed, in that athletes were being asked for an
evaluation of their coaching experiences and what they
need from their coach, it was deemed that one-to-one
interviews were the most appropriate interview style
for the study. An interview guide was devised based
upon a review of the literature within the eld of athlete
preferences and needs within the coach-athlete relation-
ship as well as on eld work carried out by the sporting
organisation for whom two of the research team worked
(Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The research team had not
previously worked with the sampled group of athletes
and basketballers. The beginning of the interview centred
upon briey exploring the athletes’ sporting backgrounds
(e.g., event / sport, age, level at which they competed).
This background was collected through open-ended ques-
tions which led into questions based upon a review of
the literature and on research carried out already by one
sporting organisation, asking the participants about what
they deemed to be characteristics of an effective coach,
the meaning of ‘coaching’ to the participant, coaching
needs and expectations of the participant, and the role of
gender in the participant’s athletic identity and coaching
experiences. Topics that arose during the course of the
interview were also explored. Interviews were conducted
by a member of the research team in locations convenient
Norman 19
to the participants (e.g., club, University) and each lasted
between 60 and 120 minutes. All interviews were digi-
tally recorded and were transcribed verbatim, yielding
488 pages of interview transcripts in total. Participants
were also asked to elaborate on any further information
they felt was relevant during the course of the interview.
The constant comparison method of inductively
analysing the data for similarities and differences was
employed, using the interview guide as an initial frame-
work for the coding process. Coding was conducted using
the software Atlas Ti to code the athletic interview data
and NVIVO to analyse the basketball interview data. The
use of two different software programmes reected the
different strengths and experiences of the two research
team members leading the data analysis, who had utilised
the software in previous research. Using the constant
comparison method, the data analysis process involved
several steps. First, each interview transcript was uni-
tised into smaller units of meaning and the response to
each interview question comprised a unit. Each unit of
meaning was then compared with other units of meaning
and subsequently grouped with similar units to form a
category (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994). Thirdly, when
a unit of meaning could not be grouped with another, it
formed a new category. When no new categories could be
formed, rules of inclusion for each category were written
and connected to similar categories to show relationships
and patterns across the data (Maykut & Morehouse,
1994). Throughout the analysis, recurrent themes were
located across the transcripts involving continually con-
necting the data back to the research question, group-
ing these themes together to form larger, over-arching
categories (see Table 1). Memos were also written to
summarise the relationship between the concepts and
categories that begun to draw out the key themes of what
the athletes needed within their relationship with their
coach. From this, a ‘framework’ of descriptive codes
was rened to provide a more theoretical understanding
of what the participants needed from a coach (see Table
1) (Wolcott, 1995).
To enhance the trustworthiness of the data, the inter-
view transcripts were cross-checked by other members
of the research team before the commencement of data
analysis. Participants were also asked at the end of their
interviews whether they wished to add to or amend any
of their responses. No participants requested any changes
and therefore the research team had condence that
their analysis was based upon accurate representations
of the participants’ views (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). The
participants were also asked if they would like a copy of
their interview when transcribed. All of the participants
declined. The entire research process was overseen by
the lead author who had doctoral training in research
methods and was an experienced qualitative researcher.
The team’s research experience within the subject area,
familiarity with the literature and personal links to the
two governing bodies as well the coaches and athletes all
served to increase the theoretical sensitivity of the team
(Strauss & Corbin, 1990). To ensure that evaluation and
interpretation of the interviews was being carried out
in similar ways, regular team debrieng meetings were
set up in which members audited the analysis of the
transcripts to ensure trustworthiness of the data (Guba,
1981). No disagreements occurred within the team during
data interpretation and analysis and this conrmability
enhanced the condence and trustworthiness in the data
(Guba, 1981).
Results and Discussion
The results were clustered under four themes (see Table
1). Verbatim text is included to illustrate the ndings
(Groom, Cushion, & Nelson, 2011). A discussion of the
ndings is also included in relation to the review of lit-
erature. For the purpose of this section, all of the female
participants will be referred to as ‘athletes’.
Table 1 Main Themes of the Coaching Preferences of Female Athletes Within the Coach-Athlete Dyad
Main theme Sub theme
Female athletes prefer to be supported
as both a performer and a person
• Athlete wants a coach to understand that there needs to be
a balance between sport and outside life
• Does not always want the coach involved in the athlete’s
life outside sport
• Role of coach should change with age of athlete
• Wants the coach to be approachable and to discuss personal
aspects of their life that may impact performance
• Athlete wants to be understood as
a person as well as a performer by
the coach
Coaching should be a joint endeavour • Coach is a guide and mentor rather than authority
• Guidance from coach but some input / control by athlete
themselves
• Equal commitment
Female athletes prefer positive com-
munication
• Positive communication and encouragement / be a source
of motivation
• Consistent and frequent
communication
The signicance of gender in the coach-
athlete dyad
• The coach should understand the gender of their athlete is
signicant
• The coach should understand their
own gender is signicant
20 The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes
Female Athletes Prefer to be Supported
as Both a Performer and a Person
This theme was the most reiterated across the interviews
with the participants. Indeed, the participants felt very
strongly that a coach’s appreciation and understanding
of their athletes as individuals was the most pertinent
characteristic of an ‘effective’ coach. To fully support
the athlete as a performer, one of the key requests by
the participants was for their coach to get to know them
completely as a person. As the following excerpt from
one interview demonstrates:
[Ideally, a coach would] get to know you, yeah, get
to know you and as a person… It’s good if they do
get to know you as a person cause then that can really
affect the way they coach you.
According to the participants, this understanding
of the athlete goes beyond just a tactical, technical or
physiological interest in their athletic development or
performance. Instead, coaches should endeavour to
understand how to support their athletes as individuals,
their motivation in life and sport and their goals. The
participants believed that seeing female athletes as indi-
viduals and not just sports performers may help coaches
understand that they desire a balance between their sport-
ing commitments and an outside life. Currently however,
many of the participants, particularly from an athletics
context, felt suffocated as a result of their coach’s pressure
on them to concentrate solely on their sport. This was the
experience of one of the women with her athletics coach:
He’s not very keen on like people going out and
having late nights and stuff because he just thinks
that that, it will affect your training which it does
but, I think that there needs to be a bit more of a
balance personally.
Yet, the participants needed their coaches to under-
stand they have a life outside their sport (for example
education and employment), and to appreciate they have
to juggle all the different areas of their lives with their
sport (e.g., socialising with friends, studying or working
with training). Many of the participants were studying at
a University at the time of interviewing and felt excluded
from their peer activities because of the disproportionate
time they spent training and performing. Instead, as this
participant observes, the women require a coach to sup-
port a balance in recognition that sporting careers do not
always last due to injury or age, or that performers wish
to balance their athletic career with other aspirations:
[An effective coach is] Someone who can set good
sessions, knows what they are talking about but at
the end of the day has a grip on reality that your sport
is not the be-all and end-all, you know, you have
to enjoy it really and have other things in your life
because in sport it can just end like that. My coaches
are my coaches; they are to do with my running and
not to do with anything else really.
This participant agrees that the coach must recognise
that athletes required a balance of interests but is sceptical
as to whether, at this level of competition, coaches can
do so, remarking that her coaches have found it difcult
to relinquish control:
It can be hard for the coach to let go [of control over
your life]. [But] they’ve got to be able to have the
ability to let go [for a successful relationship].
Throughout the interviews, at many points, the
women appeared to contradict themselves in regards to
what they wanted from their coach. One contradiction
that arose was in the participants’ preference about the
role that they wanted their coach to adopt. The women
wanted their coach to understand them as both people
as well as performers, but at the same time did not want
their coach to be a ‘friend’. This nding highlights some
of the complexities involved within the coach-athlete
dyad. The athletes acknowledge they will sometimes
bring their problems into training and as women, often
nd it difcult to ‘switch off’. A coach needs to consider
how they manage this and the impact on training but then
needs to, according to the athletes, balance their under-
standing of them as women and the factors that impact
their performance and yet not to be too ‘over-familiar’,
as this participant illustrates:
I don’t like them [my coaches] when they get
involved in my personal life… I was saying [to my
coach] about wanting me to stay here and wanting
to organise my life around [my sport]. I think I like
there to be a line drawn around that and when they
[the coach] start to try and intrude, that’s when I
don’t like it.
This point that the participants made concerning the
relationship they want with their coach, understanding
them as a person but not attempting to be their friend,
may appear to be a contradiction but it is the participants
illustrating their desire to have a balance between their
sport and an outside life. Not having that ‘overly’ close
relationship with a coach is something the athletes do
not always need if they have friends and social support
external to their sporting endeavours. The following quote
from one of the participants supports this:
Sport is an area of your life and... like it’s a big area
but it’s not essentially your whole life...The coach
doesn’t need to understand everything else that goes
on in your life to make you better at [my sport]. I
think it’s almost a good thing to have stuff outside of
sport to get away from it in a way. So [I don’t want]
a coach that’s too intrusive and wants to know every
aspect of your life.
Understanding the athlete as a person will enable the
coach to understand what relationship their athletes do
prefer. This understanding should be meaningful and ex-
ible, as the athletes also believed the coach should adapt
their relationship and role with them as they grow older.
Norman 21
Continuing the theme of female athletes needing to
be supported as a performer based upon a coach’s knowl-
edge of them as a person, the nal point the athletes made
was that they would like their coach to be approachable.
Athletes are individuals with personal backgrounds and
issues that do not always get left ‘at the door’ when they
walk onto the court, the track or the pitch. Building on
the earlier point that the athletes did not necessarily want
their coach to be a friend, this is balanced however with
the need for coaches to have the readiness to discuss
personal aspects of their athletes’ lives that may impact
their training and performance. For the women inter-
viewed, this was of paramount importance because the
participants feel women have an emotional connection
to their personal performances and sensitivity as athletes.
Once again, this may at rst appear to contrast the ath-
lete’s desire for the coach to not necessarily be a friend.
However, the theme within the participants’ stories was
that coaches need a high degree of relational expertise to
understand how and when to balance the personal with
the performance. To achieve this, coaches need to be
aware of their background, as one participant points out:
[The coach should not always be] talking to you
about the sport, [but] wanting to know like what else
is going on, any other interests. Because I think if
they know more about you, they’ll nd out like how
you like to train.
To be ready to discuss personal aspects of perform-
ers’ lives, coaches should be emotionally available them-
selves. This was mentioned in many of the interviews and
is illustrated by the following participant:
Someone… that you can like talk to if you’ve got like
problems with [the sport] or even if it’s something
that’s bothering you out [of the sport] but then it’s
affecting you while doing [the sport]… I kind of need
someone who’ll be able to just sort of see that there’s
something wrong and then either take me aside and
say “What’s up?” or just be able to sort of react in a
way to make me cheer up.
To summarise, according to the participants, a deep
and genuine understanding of the female athlete, as
an individual, with a personal background and unique
circumstances is a vital component of high performance
coaching expertise. This becomes the foundation of a
positive dyadic relationship with female athletes. Know-
ing who they are and what they need will enable coaches
to support their athletes in a way that is tailored to the
individual. For the participants, a key aspect for coaching
practice is that coaches understand who they are coaching,
to deeply consider the personal background of athletes
and tailor coaching practices to the needs and preferences
of that individual. The participants asserted that currently,
their coaches required greater knowledge around how to
adapt their coaching to different individuals, including
men and women. Nevertheless, and perhaps a contra-
diction, the participants did not request their coach to
adopt a ‘friend’ role and social support, a nding that
corroborates with other studies (e.g., Erle, 1981; Sher-
man et al., 2000) This nding adds to the growing body
of literature that calls for coaching to be understood as a
pedagogical endeavour in which the coach makes deci-
sions based upon an understanding of what their athletes
need and on contextual awareness (Jones, 2006b, 2007;
Jones & Bailey, 2011). The research also corroborates
with the work of Becker (2009). The athletes in Becker’s
study reported that their motivation and coachability was
enhanced through an effective coach-athlete relationship
when the coach showed a genuine interest in the athlete as
a person as well as a performer and when the relationship
was athlete centred. Building a personal relationship with
athletes goes beyond merely relating to them, it is vital
that coaches get to know the individual to understand
how they prefer to learn and train, what motivates and
de-motivates them and holds their interest (Becker, 2009).
The present study adds to this literature by including a
consideration of gender within coaching expertise and
competencies. Indeed the work of Poczwardowski et al.
(2002) spoke of the need for athletes to feel known and
cared for by their coach. The present study contributes to
this and is congruent with LaVoi’s ndings (2006) that the
onus is on the coach to take responsibility for relationship
development with their female athletes. This relationship
must be one in which the coach genuinely invests and
represents themselves (LaVoi, 2006) alongside making a
genuine effort to get to know the athletes. The outcome
is that athletes will feel valued (Becker, 2009). Conse-
quently, this will assist in increasing an athlete’s sense
of belonging and in turn improve that performer’s self-
determined forms of motivation.
Coaching Should Be a Joint Endeavour
Many of the women interviewed had great respect and
appreciation toward their coaches and how they were
trained. However, many of the participants described their
coach’s style as autocratic, a ‘my way or no way’ style of
coaching which led to the women feeling considerable
frustration within their everyday coaching experiences.
Instead, the participants wanted their coaches to under-
stand women’s emotional investment in their performance
and thus, employ a less didactic coaching style:
[The] boys are more tended towards the authoritative
side of [coaching]... women tend to take things to
heart a little bit more so I think if it was quite strict
and the coach didn’t have very good personal skills
that could be quite a hard thing to overcome for
most [women].
Many of the participants, who had a male head coach,
felt this was a consequence of being coached by men
who simply transferred their autocratic practices from
their male athletes to their female athletes. The women
preferred a coach who is in control of and who leads the
team but balances this with exibility and negotiation
with the athletes themselves, as this participant illustrates:
22 The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes
I hope they would guide me and tell me how to do
it, but then let me have some input in if I think that’s
the correct way to do it or not… They should have
your best interests at heart but also to listen to what
you’ve said and actually help you achieve what you
want to achieve.
The women wanted guidance from the coach but
wanted to have signicant input into and even control
important decisions regarding training and performance.
This was particularly the case in the athletics context for
individual events, according to this participant:
I am running all sorts. Eventually you have got to
narrow down your distance a bit more and concen-
trate on this. [I want] Guidance in that way but also,
you know, I would hope that they [the coach] would
begin to realise that I have to sort of make the deci-
sions for myself as well.
The role of the coach should be one that ‘scaffolds’
the athlete, providing them the tools and knowledge so
that eventually, as many of the women described, the ath-
letes can “learn to think for themselves”. The participants
believed that they are at a level in their sport where they
have developed considerable knowledge and are aware
of their bodies’ limitations and strengths. As such, they
want to feel that the coach will listen to their ideas and
suggestions and yet can contribute their own ideas. For
one participant, the ‘effective’ coach is almost a periph-
eral gure at a high performance level:
They’re more there as a mentor, not really to tell you
what to do, but just to reassure you, maybe, say, ‘I
think I should do this’, because you know what you
should be doing then. And for them to just say, ‘Oh
yeah, you’re right, you should be doing that.’ So
they’re maybe not as big a part of the picture, but
you still want them there for the reassurance and for
the positive input, and the evaluation.
The term ‘guide’ was a popular term across the
interviews when asked as to what the athletes need from
their coach. Most of the women did not believe that their
coaches possessed a ‘win-at-all-costs’ ethos, but did think
they dictated too much of the training programme and
the direction of their career, particularly in the athletics
setting. Instead, the athletes wanted the evolution of
their development to be reversed, in that they set the
goals and the coach worked toward guiding the women
to achieve these:
[My ideal coach] would give me a set programme
and they guide me, if I tell them a goal, they’ll do
the most in their power to help me get there. And I
communicate with them on a regular basis.
For the coach to act more as a ‘chaperone’ of athletic
development rather than as an authority can mean the
coach-athlete relationship becomes a joint endeavour
rather than as a ‘leader and the led’ scenario. Ultimately,
the participants want a reciprocal, meaningful and demo-
cratic relationship with their coach. For this to occur, the
women believed that equal commitment was required on
both sides. The athletes across the sports recognised that
the role of the coach often is one that involves investing a
lot of time in athletes and requires much preparation and
hard work. But based upon their previous experiences of
feeling that some of their coaches often lacked enthusiasm
when working with female athletes; the women needed
a coach who put in as much commitment as they felt
they did. This excerpt from one interview supports this:
[I want] kind of a bit more enthusiasm in the actual
coaching because it does feel sometimes that [my
coach is] there for, like just because he’s been asked
to be there, not because he wants to be there and he
really wants to see us [women] improve. It is some-
times a bit kind of forced in a way.
This commitment is demonstrated for example in
the athletics setting, by the visible support of coaches
at events and monitoring individual efforts in training.
This was an issue particularly within athletics for some
of the women who felt often that the coaches invested
more effort into training their male athletes because of the
higher value they ascribed to male performance. Commit-
ment to the role of being a guide and mentor of athletic
development means a balance of power between the
athlete and coach over the direction and progress of train-
ing and performance. The participants interviewed felt
very strongly that the coaches possessed too much power
over the content and direction of their training as well
as performance. By wanting a coach to be a guide, the
participants aspire for a greater involvement in decision
making processes and for the management of their career
to be a joint endeavour. This nding adds a specic and
gendered consideration to more general coaching litera-
ture that has concluded athletes’ participation in decision-
making is important in order for performers to engage
with their coaches (Kidman, 2001; Kidman, Thorpe, &
Hadeld, 2005). Yet, other research has revealed that
some coaches may struggle to balance the power within
the coach-athlete relationship because they understand
themselves to be the sole leader of team and the authority
(Fox, 2006; Purdy & Jones, 2011). This may be associ-
ated with high performance level coaching. As coaches
become more experienced and gain more expertise, any
presentation of new challenges from their athletes may be
construed as a threat to their authority rather than as an
opportunity to learn new practices (Johns & Johns, 2000).
Denison and Avner (2011) believe that this is symptom-
atic of coaches ignoring the power that athletes have and
disregarding the notion of shared leadership. While not
linking ndings to the gender of the athlete, democratic
decision making and less autocratic coaching styles has
also been found to positively impact athletes’ motivation-
related responses in sport (e.g., Barnett, Smoll, & Smith,
1992; Duda, 2001). By welcoming athletes into making
decisions and allowing them to offer suggestions, it has
been demonstrated that this may also lead to other positive
Norman 23
psychological outcomes for athletes such as an improved
sense of enjoyment and perceived competency as well
as less negative psychological outcomes such as burnout
and sport competition anxiety (Price & Weiss, 2000). The
present study adds to this by revealing that the desire to
be involved in decision making processes is a strong need
of these high performance women athletes.
Female Athletes Prefer Positive
Communication
The participants reported that coaches need to consider
two important dimensions of the communication they
adopt when working with female athletes. Firstly, the
frequency with which they communicate is an essential
consideration when coaching women. The consensus
between the high performance athletes interviewed was
that they require consistent and frequent communication
with their coaches, as this participant states:
I like to think that they’d keep in touch. They’d like to
know what I was doing, whether I was [completing]
the schedule that I’m on, or they’d have an input on
what I do... a lot of us have individual needs... I’d like
to know they’d want to keep in touch with you and
want to know what’s going on and just because you’re
not on the scene, you’re not turning up to training
sessions, they [often] forget. I think that’s important.
Continual communication with their coaches was
important for the participants. This was in part to make
the athletes feel integrated and an important part of the
team, even for individual sports athletes who still desired
to feel part of their club. Often the athletes described
the coach-athlete relationship as akin to a ‘popularity
contest’ that was performance contingent and between
other women for the attention of their coach. At times,
some of the participants described feeling isolated even
within a team sport setting. Continual communication
with athletes by coaches can overcome this.
Secondly, as well as frequency, coaches must pay
consideration to the type of communication they employ
when coaching female athletes. For the participants, the
type of communication they preferred was personalised
and positive as a source of encouragement and motivation.
This is not to say that the women interviewed wanted
feedback on training sessions and performances to be
‘sugar coated’ or praise given when it was not warranted.
Nevertheless, the female athletes did prefer to receive
positive encouragement and praise, when it was due, to
motivate them and improve their sense of condence.
Under their current coaches, many of the participants
felt that the type of communication they receive was
inconsistent from sometimes distant and autocratic to
jokey and ‘laid back’. For some of the athletes, their
coach gendered their communication interacting more
positively with their male counterparts:
I can run with the boys... I think they [my coaches]
talk to [us girls] more like [we’re] weaker and [we’re
not], you know, necessarily…aren’t as motivated as
the guys and can’t run as fast, and things like that.
Therefore, not only did they require consistent com-
munication but positive too, similar to one example given
by the following athlete, a long distance runner:
They could just say, ‘Oh, you know, she’s [a rival
athlete] run that but you know, you’ve beaten her
before so it means you can run that time,’… not
‘Wow, she’s run really, really fast.’ Say, ‘Oh, you’ve
beaten her last year so it means you could run just as
fast as her,’ or, you know, ‘ You can beat her again’
Like, you can say it but turn it in a way that makes
it positive.
The need for coaches to pay attention to the style
of and frequency with which they communicate with
their athletes is not a novel nding, adding to the earlier
work around positive communication in coaching by, for
example, Amorose and Horn (2000), Potrac, Jones and
Armour (2002), Smoll and Smith (2002), Potrac, Jones
and Cushion (2007). However, the ndings from the
current study demonstrate that positive and consistent
communication is crucial to enhance the coach-athlete
relationship with and performance prospects of, these
high performance female athletes. The research by Potrac
et al. (2002) in particular, concluded that athletes are
responsive to positive coaching communication and this
can lead to an increase in motivation and self-condence.
The results of the current study are consistent with this
and add that this is particularly the case with female
athletes. To this end, the current study updates the early
work of Di Berardinis, Banvind, Flaningam, and Jenkins
(1983) in highlighting the need for positive communica-
tion within the coach-female athlete dyad to enhance
women’s athletic performance. It is often thought that
athletes are passive recipients of coaches’ communication
and that communication is always successfully received
(Cushion, 2010). But previous research demonstrates
that how communication is received is affected by the
coach-athlete relationship and athlete identity (LaVoi,
2007; Poczwardowski et al., 2002; Groom, Cushion &
Nelson, 2011). Through the ndings of the current study,
it is shown that gendered identity inuences athletes’
preferred style of communication.
The Significance of Gender in the Coach-
Athlete Dyad
According to the participants interviewed, they are eager
for coaches to be aware that gender is an important con-
sideration when working with athletes. Precisely, coaches
should understand that women may approach training and
performance in ways that are different to men athletes
and secondly, that the gender of the coach themselves
affects athlete perceptions of and interactions with them.
Firstly, the participants stated that they want to be
pushed as hard as their male counterparts, something
that is often lacking in many of the participants’ current
24 The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes
coaching experiences. The women believed they shared
similar expectations to their male peers. However, based
upon how they have observed other athletes interact with
their coach, the athletes acknowledged that many women
are different to men in other ways, such as describing a
deep emotional connection to training and performance
outcomes and believing they will want to discuss their
progress more with their coaches. Women will want to
know ‘why’ from their coach more frequently. As such
and as discussed earlier, coaches should consider this and
tailor the way they communicate with the athlete/team to
meet these needs, while at the same time conduct train-
ing with similar technical rigour for all of their athletes.
Coaches should not ignore the signicance of an athlete’s
gender as this participant illustrates:
Ultimately I’m a basketball player and I think that’s
what I want to be seen as…but I think gender always
comes into account. There’s no way of getting around
it, no matter how much you try.
Other participants described how they think coaches
should differentiate their methods according to whether
it is men or women they are coaching:
I think girls, almost they need more of a comfort
base if things are difcult [like if] I’ve raced badly,
whereas guys just tend to like keep it to themselves
or get angry or just like, “oh I’m not bothered”.
I think girls tend to . . . I know I myself have got
upset through it because I feel like I’ve let myself
down and let other people down, and that’s the point
where I think you almost need the comfort [from a
coach] . . . I mean, like just a tap on the shoulder or a
hug just to say “everything’s okay, it’s just one race,
you’re going to have other times”, just reassurance, I
haven’t witnessed many guys get upset or need that
reassurance. Whereas girls I think they are almost
more emotional.
Many of the women interviewed felt that they pos-
sessed a strong emotional investment in how they were
performing; they reacted to failings and triumphs with
more emotion than their male counterparts. This was the
most signicant difference, according to the participants,
between men and women as athletes. A coach needs to be
aware of this and manage this as one participant wished
for when she said “Yes, [I need] probably a little bit more
understanding [from my coach towards gender issues],
like [women] are more sensitive”. Coaches should also
be aware that women may question their self-condence
on occasions and need an environment in which they feel
secure rather than exposed:
I think girls lack condence more than men. A lot
of girls lack self condence whereas guys see it as
ego boosting when they are running together, like
competing and things like that. For girls it is a bit
different, maybe that’s why there are not many girls
competing. So I think as a coach you need to help
boost the condence of girls.
This participant agrees:
The majority of girls from what I’ve seen are gener-
ally not as condent. And boys are denitely more
aggressive and condent. Girls tend to be a bit more
like ‘I don’t know if I can do this’. So yeah, I think
they do need [a] more encouraging coaching style.
During the interviews, the younger participants often
described incidents in which they felt aware of their
appearance in front of others whilst they trained and this
decreased their sense of condence. Other participants
described losses of condence through occasions in
which they were weighed by their coach in front of their
peers but the male athletes were not asked to do so, or
their weight was openly remarked upon, within the larger
group, by their coach. This was illustrated by two of the
participants, including one who had recently returned
from injury, both of whom had different head coaches:
Now I’ve been getting weighed every week, [it]
doesn’t make you feel great. And then obviously
with girls who take into consideration that they’re
not going to be the same weight every week, I don’t
think that’s sort of taken into consideration [by my
coach] and it’s like: “Oh yeah, you’ve lost weight this
week and now you’ve put it back on again”. . . And
I understand it because when I do lose that weight
it improves my jump but I just think there’s better
ways of going about it. . . it felt like it was just the
girls [getting weighed].
A similar experience was shared by another athlete:
Maybe it’s because she’s a female [coach], I don’t
know, she talks a lot about the size of runners...
because she is a woman, she does talk about that...
like, ‘oh, she’s so skinny, she’s lost loads of weight’
like about another runner...and then, I mean, she
has made few comments before like ‘oh, I’d much
rather have a nice strong athlete like you than a
skinny runner’ and I just think...‘oh well, should I
be?’ There’s quite a lot of eating like problems with
girls and runners. Sometimes I think well, ‘should I
lose weight and sort of be this skinny runner because
there’s a skinny runner that’s winning all these
races and stuff?’ And sometimes her being a female
[coach] sometimes puts that pressure on...or she’ll
say, ‘oh she’s put on loads of weight’ and stuff like
that and then it makes me feel a bit paranoid that
she’s noticing like my weight a lot as well. One of
my friends was told by her coach, that he thought
that she could do with losing a bit of weight and
she...went so anorexic.
Instead, a positive coach-athlete relationship which
offers security, sensitivity and encouragement on the part
of the coaches in such instances was required as well
as the understanding that the condence levels of these
female athletes may be affected by what the coach may
consider are insignicant coaching practices. This may
Norman 25
be the case particularly with younger competitors and so
coaches should be willing to adapt the training environ-
ment if this is affecting their athletes.
Furthermore, not only is the gender of the athlete
signicant but the participants believed that the gender
of the coach was signicant. When asked as to what
they needed from their coach, most of the athletes from
a cross-sex coach-athlete dyad responded that they only
wanted to be coached by a man because they believed
them to be stricter, more assertive and more knowledge-
able than women coaches. Thus, they associated with
what they considered good coaching competencies with
their perceptions of masculinity. When asked by the
participants to further elaborate on this response, all
of the participants reected upon their assertions and
understood their preference to be based on their previous
experiences, as this participant illustrates:
The stereotype in my mind [of a male coach], that
works for me... I don’t know, I probably could work
just as well with a women coach, but my experience
is I haven’t [had a woman coach]...I guess again it’s
the stereotype in my head of the experiences I’ve
had. And I currently do one session a week with a
female coach and she’s quality, she knows what she’s
talking about....And she’s a good coach [but] I guess
it just comes down to what I’ve experienced already.
Many of the participants had only ever been coached
by a man and this biased their opinion as to the coaching
abilities of women. Some acknowledged that they also
built their opinion as to the coaching competencies of
women on preconceived ideas, stereotypes and unfavour-
able ideologies that exist within the wider culture of sport.
One participant remarked that she strictly preferred male
running coaches on the basis that “men run faster than
females”. Crucially however, during discussions with
the participants as to their coaching needs, most of the
women expressed a desire for a strong communicator for
a coach, someone who could demonstrate high emotional
intelligence and who was approachable to discuss often
sensitive and personal issues. Contradicting themselves,
some of these participants felt that these were skills most
associated with female coaches, as one athlete stated:
“Maybe if it was a woman I’d feel maybe that I could
speak to them about things sometimes”. Another partici-
pant agrees: “I think [having a male coach] means you
can’t talk to them about personal problems whereas if
you had a female coach, you might”. Nonetheless, what
this means for coaches is that they need to acknowledge
and manage athlete perceptions of their coaching ability
and qualities. These ndings also reveal the salience of
gender in the coach-athlete dyad that is more than just
biological sex. The participants from a cross-sex coach-
athlete dyad experienced gender as signicant in that, as
the participants recounted, some of the coaches either
unfairly adjusted their training programmes to make them
‘easier’ compared with their male counterparts because
they were perceived as less competent. This was the
experience of one of the athletes:
The girls and boys were separated, and we [the girls]
never ran anything over 200 metres.[So] everyone
was quick over the shorter distances but everyone
struggled over 400 metres and up but he couldn’t
see that there was a problem because, obviously,
his training sessions, he’d been doing this for years
and it worked for him. He didn’t understand why it
wasn’t working for the [the girls]. So he was very
kind of tunnel visioned, didn’t really want to know
anything else. I did speak to him and basically said
to him, ‘could you like let me train with the boys,
for instance, do your session but let me train with the
boys’. He wouldn’t have it. He was just like, ‘girls
and boys don’t train together’ and then when I said,
‘well I’m thinking about moving on’; he then almost
gave me the cold shoulder. He would then ignore me
during the training session and make no one on one
contact which then kind of opened my eyes and I
was just like, I need to move clubs.
Other participants too perceived that their male
coaches often ignored the idea that women and men
do have differing coaching needs and expectations and
instead approached just them as ‘athletes’ rather than
individuals each with their own personal backgrounds.
This is not a call however, for coaches to treat female
athletes as ‘special cases’, but rather to, as discussed
earlier, understand that the gender of their athlete and
indeed, themselves as the coach will inuence their rela-
tions with athletes. Future research is needed, conducted
from an interpretive framework, to examine the coach-
ing needs and preferences of male athletes to add to this
nding. While psychology may be full of debates as to
the inuence of gender over social interactions and the
gender similarity hypothesis, LaVoi argues that there is
little work into the intersection of gender and closeness
in the coach-athlete relationship (2007). What the current
study also revealed is that women may have a preference
for a cross-sex coach-athlete dyad because they associ-
ate the needs they have with skills that they considered
are masculine traits. This is a similar nding to the work
of Haselwood et al. (2005) in showing female athletes
preferred male coaches for what they perceived to be
their strengths in communicating although the athletes
perceived women coaches would be more effective for
their positive style of coaching, management of conict
resolution, and more personable and participatory leader-
ship style. Other research too has indicated that female
athletes have a preference for male coaches based upon
their perceptions of men and women as leaders (e.g.,
Habif, Van Raalte, & Cornelius, 2001; Leung, 2002;
Leung & Chan, 1999). The participants’ responses in
the current study are worrying and impress the need
on governing bodies and coaching agencies to push to
recruit a more diverse coaching workforce to balance
athlete views of what makes effective coaches. After all,
some of these athletes may aspire to be future coaches.
However, more female athletes may be put off because
they have always experienced a one-sided view of the
profession and thus, do not see a place for themselves.
26 The Coaching Needs of High Performance Female Athletes
A suggestion for coaches may be to consider bringing in
male and female coaches into training sessions to offer
athletes a more rounded picture of other coaches.
Conclusion
The present study examined the coaching needs and
expectations of high performance female athletes from
both cross-sex and same sex coach-athlete dyads. The
research builds upon previous research that found that
coaching preferences are inuenced by the gender of
the athletes and of the growing importance of inter-
personal relations in sport, by highlighting specific
coaching needs of the women interviewed. The ndings
suggest that the relational expertise of coaches is at the
forefront of what these women need from their coach.
The study also demonstrated that for the female athletes
interviewed, the coach-athlete dyad was at the heart of
improving athletic training and performance. The study
highlighted the importance of coaches genuinely under-
standing their athletes to personalise their coaching, for
coaches and athletes to regard the dyad as a partnership,
the signicance of how coaches communicate with their
female athletes, and that gender relations between coach
and athlete are a salient inuence on this relationship.
However, the aim of the study was not comparative; the
ndings are not intended to imply that the coaching needs
are entirely different for women than they are for men.
Rather, the ndings evidence the need for coaches to be
‘gender-responsive’ practitioners and to understand that
the gender of their athletes will have implications for
their coaching preferences. These implications require
coaches to be exible and responsive to whom they
coach because athlete expectations will never be satised
if coaches employ uniform, ‘one-size-ts-all’ practices
(Denison & Avner, 2011). This may require more work
on the part of the coach, but as Denison and Avner (2011)
also assert, this can allow coaches the exibility and
freedom to practice rather than having to stick to what
are considered ‘correct’ methods and problem solving
procedures. The strength of this research is also that it
is based upon the rst hand voices and experiences of
the women themselves. Further research is warranted,
using interpretive approaches and qualitative methodolo-
gies, to understand the value and meaning of coaching
for different individuals and groups across the various
performance domains.
Acknowledgements
The author would like to acknowledge the UK Women in Sport
and Fitness Foundation as well as Sports Coach UK for funding
the research study.
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the attitudes of 130 male and female athletes toward female coaches in Hong Kong. Athletes, selected from 14 individual sports, responded to a questionnaire that included 34 attitudes’ items using a 5-point Likert Scale and a question involving preference, in which subjects indicated their preferences toward male or female coaches. An independent t-test analysis (p < .05) revealed that athletes reported a favorable attitude toward female coaches. Chi-Square analysis revealed that athletes preferred a male coach to a female coach.