Article

Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes

Abstract and Figures

The purpose of this study was to identify effective behaviours and characteristics of strength and conditioning coaches as perceived by elite athletes. Eight elite international level university athletes (Male = 6; Female = 2) with an average age of 20.4 years (SD= 1.3) and an average of 7 years' experience in their sport (SD= 2.4) were interviewed. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed. Three general dimensions were identified: behaviours that enhance the relationship between the athlete and their coach; coaches' actions; and coaches' values. The findings confirm previous research that areas such as instruction, technical knowledge and feedback are essential in delivering effective strength and conditioning coaching. However, the results further highlight the important role of higher order characteristics such as trust, respect, role modelling, authenticity, motivation and inspiration. The findings suggest that these higher order characteristics augment the default instructional coaching style as these behaviours enhance the strength and conditioning coaches' effectiveness in developing the athlete. The results further aim to recommend competencies of strength and conditioning coaches by encouraging self-reflection and therefore optimising coaches' development.
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Effective Behaviours of Strength and
Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by
Athletes
by
Chistoph Szedlak, Matthew J Smith, Melissa C Day and Iain
A Greenlees
Reprinted from
International Journal of
Sports Science
& Coaching
Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 967
Effective Behaviours of Strength and
Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by
Athletes
Chistoph Szedlak1, Matthew J Smith2,
Melissa C Day2and Iain A Greenlees2
1Department of Sport and Wellbeing, University of Southampton,
Student Services, Sports Training & Performance Centre, Wide Lane
Sports Grounds, Eastleigh, Southampton,SO50 5PE, UK
E-mail: c.szedlak@soton.ac.uk
2Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Chichester,
Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6PE, UK
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this study was to identify effective behaviours and
characteristics of strength and conditioning coaches as perceived by elite
athletes. Eight elite international level university athletes (Male = 6; Female
= 2) with an average age of 20.4 years (
SD
= 1.3) and an average of 7 years’
experience in their sport (
SD
= 2.4) were interviewed. The interviews were
transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed. Three general dimensions
were identified: behaviours that enhance the relationship between the
athlete and their coach; coaches’ actions; and coaches’ values. The
findings confirm previous research that areas such as instruction, technical
knowledge and feedback are essential in delivering effective strength and
conditioning coaching. However, the results further highlight the important
role of higher order characteristics such as trust, respect, role modelling,
authenticity, motivation and inspiration. The findings suggest that these
higher order characteristics augment the default instructional coaching
style as these behaviours enhance the strength and conditioning coaches’
effectiveness in developing the athlete. The results further aim to
recommend competencies of strength and conditioning coaches by
encouraging self-reflection and therefore optimising coaches’
development.
Key words: Coach-Athlete Relationship, Coach Behaviours, Leadership,
Values, Varsity Sport
INTRODUCTION
Sports coaching or the “process of equipping athletes with tools, knowledge and
Reviewer: Mike Callan (Judospace Educational Institute, UK)
opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective” [1, p. 14] has
been discussed extensively in the sport psychology literature. Mental, physical, technical
and tactical development focused on enhancing performance and achieving results form an
underlying driver for coaches to utilise effective coaching and teaching behaviour. The
process of sports coaching or training can be described as a reciprocal, two-way relationship
with the athlete and differs from the mainly one-way relationship of teaching or educating
[2]. Effective coaching is based on the perfect blend of coaching and teaching and often
coaches favours one role over the other [3]. Effective teaching is often characterised by good
communication skills and a high degree of technical knowledge whereas research has
evidenced that coaching includes higher order behaviours such as motivation [4, 5].
Nevertheless, research identifying effective coaching characteristics and behaviours in the
area of strength and conditioning within the elite sporting environment has been limited.
This is somewhat surprising as the growth of the strength and conditioning profession has
been supported by the expanding research on elementary technical areas such as the
understanding of the physiological adaptive processes [6], including the mechanism of
bodily responses to variables such as diet [7], and the effect of various different exercise
regimes [8]. While there has been great emphasis on the technical, educating aspect that
underpins the practice of a strength and conditioning coach, there has been limited attention
on the effectiveness of the coaching process. Practitioners working with their athletes
require a much broader range of knowledge and skills, such as the ability to be creative and
apply scientific knowledge to the athlete’s needs [9]. Hence, a more in depth investigation
of the most effective behaviours and characteristic would contribute and guide the effective
and personal development of strength and conditioning coaches and enhance the efficacy of
their work with athletes.
Two conceptual models have been offered to provide frameworks to explain effective
coaching. Chelladurai’s Multidimensional Model of Leadership [10, 11], which was
specifically developed for the sporting context, postulates that a congruence of required,
preferred and actual leadership behaviour influences the athlete’s performance and
satisfaction. The coach’s ability to align and adjust their actual behaviours to the required
and preferred behaviours of their athletes within a given context or situation is proposed to
determine effectiveness. Second, Côté et al.’s [12] Coaching Model involves creating a
mental image of the athletes’ potential, taking into account the athletes and coaches personal
characteristics as well as the contextual setting. This mental image or vision forms the basis
for specific coaching behaviour regarding training, competition and organisation [12]. These
models highlight the complexity and demands of coaching and its relationship to different
forms of leadership by going beyond the obvious objective of solely training athletes to
compete. A limited amount of research has applied Chelladurai’s Multidimensional Model of
Leadership to strength and conditioning coaching [13, 14]. Magnusen [14] utilised a revised
version of the leadership scale for sport and found that a strength and conditioning coach
needs to understand the possible differences in athletes, their respective sport and their
competitive level. Although these models have shown to be effective in guiding coaches
behaviour [14, 15] they fall short in examining specific effective coaching behaviours, in
particular higher order characteristics such as motivation, inspiration, trust and authenticity.
Therefore, further research is needed in examine the efficacy of such higher order leadership
behaviours and their influence on the athlete.
Various researchers have addressed higher order leadership elements connected to
effective sports coaching. When interviewing 16 expert coaches about their coaching and
leadership styles, Bloom and Salmela [16] highlighted the effectiveness of knowledge
968 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
acquisition, strong work ethic, effective communication and showing empathy in addition to
good quality of coaching. Vallée and Bloom [17] interviewed expert coaches of team sports
to determine characteristics contributing to the effectiveness in building a successful
university programme and found four higher order categories; individual growth,
organizational skills, coach’s attributes and vision. Although Vallée and Bloom’s research
suggests that higher order leadership characteristics impact on effective coaching, limited
amount of research to date has examined elite athlete’s perceptions. Utilising a
phenomenological approach, Becker [18] investigated the key elements of great coaching
and found key themes comprising of: coaching attributes, the environment, relationship, the
system, coaching actions and influences, with the latter two being fundamental. Thus far, the
majority of recent leadership research has concentrated on exploring the effectiveness of
coaches, but consideration of the leadership skills of technical coaching areas such as
strength and conditioning has thus far been neglected.
Much of this research has considered effective coaching behaviour from the perspective
of the coach themselves [16, 17, 19-21]. Chelladurai’s model suggests the need for
congruence between required, preferred and actual behaviours. Therefore, it is important to
identify the athletes’ perception of the leaders’ behaviour within the sport environment [22-
24]. The evidence suggests that the more an athlete’s perception surpasses their specified
preference with regards to training, positive feedback and social support, the more satisfied
the athletes are with the displayed coaches behaviour [25]. It is worth noting that from the
standpoint of the athlete, the perceived coaches’ behaviour constitutes the actual, impactful
behaviour. Therefore, the matter of perceptual congruence, or to what extent the athletes and
coaches agree on leadership style and behaviour of the coaches’ actual behaviour, needs to
be taken into consideration to accurately determine key effective leadership behaviours and
characteristics. However, considering the athletes’ perception to determine these behaviours
within strength and conditioning coaching has so far not been examined. Consequently, there
is a need for more research to examine athletes’ perceptions of effective coach behaviour in
this area.
Various research in strength and conditioning has looked beyond the teaching or
educational element by providing descriptive analysis of strength and conditioning coaches’
profile, job descriptions and leadership responsibilities, outlining typicality and differences
in lead and assistant coaches [26-35]. Job description and responsibilities included areas
such as counselling and motivation alluding to higher order coaches characteristics, but
planning and organisation underlined by technical knowledge and instruction have received
more attention. Only a limited amount of research has attempted to examine the
effectiveness of higher order behaviour [13, 26, 27, 36]. For example, Brooks et al. [13],
utilising an amended version of the of the Leadership Scale for Sport [10], examined the
leadership behaviour of 53 strength and conditioning coaches. Brooks and his colleagues
found that the coaches’ democratic behaviour created a climate for the athletes’ interpersonal
needs to be met by enhancing social support. Magnusen [14] found support for these findings
when examining the differences of strength and conditioning coaches’ self-perceived
leadership style behaviour working within three different competitive levels of athletes.
Booker and Meir [37] outlined a model for strength and conditioning coaches for enhancing
athletes’ development. They identified three basic coaching competencies: diagnosing,
adapting, and the ability to communicate effectively. The model proposes that the coaches’
situational understanding of the athletes’ willingness and ability regulates the choice of
effective leadership behaviours. However, this model has not been supported by empirical
research, hence more research is needed to provide a more thorough investigation of
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 969
effective strength and conditioning coaching behaviours.
More recently, Tod et al. [38] utilised a semi-structured, telephone interview protocol, to
examine the professional development of 15 experienced strength and conditioning coaches.
Tod et al. provided evidence that more experienced coaches concentrated on developing
good rapport and trust to enhance the coach-athlete relationship by being less prescriptive
and technique focused and more athlete centred. Furthermore, they found that over time the
strength and conditioning coaches developed increased self-confidence which resulted in
decreased anxiety. This study provides initial evidence that higher order leadership skills and
characteristics such as trust and self-confidence are effective and enhance the development
of strength and conditioning coaches. However, further research is needed to confirm the
influence of such higher order behaviours within strength and conditioning coaching on elite
athletes’ development from the athletes’ perspective. The current study aims to build upon
the findings of Tod et al. through a more specific examination of athletes’ perceptions of
effective leadership characteristics and behaviours of strength and conditioning coaches.
In summary, this study aims to expand on the coaching literature in three specific ways.
First, we aim to provide an in-depth qualitative investigation of effective behaviours and
characteristics of strength and conditioning coaches as perceived by elite athletes. Second,
we aim to analyse the findings with reference to existing sports leadership models. And
third, we aim to offer applied suggestions to improve strength and conditioning coaching
practise by providing an initial structure identifying higher order characteristics and
behaviours.
METHOD
PARTICIPANTS
Before starting the study, the University of Chichester Human Research Ethics Committee
gave approval for the experimental procedure. Every participant completed a written
informed-consent form prior to taking part in a semi-structured interview. Participants were
eight elite International level athletes (Male=6, Female=2) with a mean age of 20.4 years
(SD=1.3) and a mean of 7 years’ experience in their sport (SD=2.4). Participants represented
a wide range of sports including volleyball, sailing, figure skating, basketball, canoeing,
athletics, and all were full-time University students enrolled in sports scholarship
programmes. Each participant worked with one primary strength and conditioning coach.
Some participants shared the same strength and conditioning coach, thus the coaches
discussed were six male strength and conditioning coaches with a mean age of 34.7 years
(SD= 4) and experience of 11.5 years (SD=2.9). There were 4 criteria for participant
inclusion; i) each athlete has an accredited strength and conditioning coach (ASCC), holding
an additional MSc in relevant sports science as outlined by the Talented Athlete Scholarship
Scheme to be working with elite athletes [39]; ii) each athlete had a coach with a minimum
of three years full-time coaching experience; iii) each athlete worked with the coach for a
minimum of one year, two times per week; iv) each athlete had represented their country and
were recognised by their national sporting body as worthy of governmental funding to assist
training. These criteria were used to ensure that the athletes interviewed had a sufficient
experience to provide data to answer the research question.
PROCEDURE
A qualitative interview-based design was selected to answer the current study’s research
questions. Previous research has found that a qualitative approach is suitable when
addressing psychology focused research questions within strength and conditioning [40-42]
970 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
and topics that focus on athletes experiences involving social processes [43]. Following the
principle of data saturation to determine sample size, new participants were added until
additional information failed to offer fundamentally new and distinct insights. Data
saturation occurred at a sample of eight. A semi-structured interview guide was developed
based on previous research focusing on examining effective behaviours and characteristic in
coaches [17, 18]. The semi-structured interview procedure encouraged the participant to
stress points they believed to be most important rather than depending on the researcher’s
concept of relevancy [44]. Participants were contacted by e-mail or phone and were sent a
brief outline of the study’s purpose and requirements. Confidentiality was ensured by
explaining to participants that the data would not be attributed to them and that names
mentioned during the interview process will be omitted from the transcribed data. After
providing informed consent, interviews were conducted with each individual athlete, that
lasted between 45 and 90 minutes (average = 61 minutes) held at the participant’s host
university. The interviews were semi-structured and asked the participants to describe: a)
key effective behaviours and characteristics of a strength and conditioning coach (e.g., Can
you talk about your experience of working with your strength and conditioning coach? What
is it that he/she does that is effective?) and b) situations or instances when these behaviours
occurred (e.g., Can you offer an example of a situation or instance where the coach
demonstrated these effective behaviours?). In order to assist participants in building a more
detailed description of an effective strength and conditioning coach, the interviewer used a
whiteboard to note down behaviours and characteristics which had been discussed. The
purpose of this was twofold. First, it afforded participants a visual aid of their discussion
points, which helps to prompt further thought. Second, it allowed the interviewer to
summarise and present those behaviours and characteristics discussed by the participant,
reassuring them that they had been listened to and reflecting back their descriptions. Finally,
the primary researcher used probing questions throughout the interview in order to encourage
participants to talk in detail about effective behaviours, for example, “Take a moment just to
think” and “Could you elaborate or give any other examples?” All probes were based on the
participant’s own words and responses that had been recorded on the white board. This
process was also used to correct misunderstandings and direct the interview when further
explanations were desired [45].
DATA ANALYSIS
All interviews were audio recorded in their entirety and transcribed verbatim resulting in 126
pages of data. To understand participants’ perceptions of the key effective behaviours and
characteristics of strength and conditioning coaches, an inductive thematic analysis was
used. Using a six-phase procedure suggested by Braun and Clarke [46] (see Table 1), the
transcripts were examined by breaking down the text into small units. After applying initial
coding, 624 meaning units were identified. These meaning units were sorted into first order
themes by collating similar units together. This process of collating data continued to create
second order and higher order themes. Throughout the process of analysis the constant
comparison method of Glaser and Strauss [47], was used, whereby the researchers aimed to
ensure the data fitted the category. Overall, three general dimensions were identified.
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 971
Table 1. Six-step thematic analysis procedure – Braun & Clarke
Phase Examples of procedure for each step
1. Familiarising oneself with the data Transcribing data; reading and re-reading; noting down initial codes
2. Generating initial codes Coding interesting features of the data in a systematic fashion across the
data-set, collating data relevant to each code
3. Searching for the themes Collating codes into potential themes, gathering all data relevant to each
potential theme
4. Involved reviewing the themes Checking if the themes work in relation to the coded extracts and the
entire data-set; generate a thematic ‘map’
5. Defining and naming themes Ongoing analysis to refine the specifics of each theme; generation of clear
names for each theme
6. Producing the report Final opportunity for analysis selecting appropriate extracts; discussion of
the analysis; relate back to research question or literature; produce report
TRUSTWORTHINESS AND VALIDITY
A number of techniques were used to enhance the trustworthiness of the study. In order to
demonstrate that the analysis was characteristic of the participant’s descriptions during
interview, the researcher engaged in the use of peer review, member checking and used a
reflective diary throughout the data collection. First, peer review was achieved through the
use of a critical friend aimed to enhance reflexive self-awareness within the researcher.
Acting as a theoretical sounding board to ensure data congruence, the critical friend
encouraged reflection of the analysed themes by drawing out alternative interpretations of
the events analysed [48]. As Brewer and Sparkes [48] suggested, this can enhance the
conformability of the research, by reducing the biases and subjectivities of the researcher. In
this instance, the critical friend was an experienced qualitative researcher who was not
familiar with the subject matter. As a result this individual was able to act as a continual
‘bracketer’ to the thinking of the researcher [48]. Second, the authors used member checking,
sending individual transcripts and an overview of the results to each individual participant.
Participants were invited to reflect on and verify the researcher’s interpretations in the
analysis. Participants confirmed these interpretations and no themes were amended or
adjusted. Finally, the primary researcher (interviewer) used a reflective journal throughout
the research process to create transparency through critical self-reflection [49]. Here it was
acknowledged that the primary researcher was the main “instrument” of the data collection,
thus the aim was to make the process of the data analysis and collection as visible and
transparent as possible [50]. Drawing on the reflective journal, the researcher made visible
his personal biases such as his own history, values and assumptions. From this he gained
enhanced awareness, which was open to scrutiny from the critical friend and made visible
during the analysis procedure [51]. The reflective process impacted the data collection and
analysis in various ways. For example, comments made in the reflective journal resulted in
the interview guide being amended to provide more prompts to focus the participants on the
key questions, and created an awareness for the interviewer not to move on too quickly with
questions.
RESULTS
The results from the inductive thematic analysis presented in this section are intended to
portray effective behaviours and characteristics of strength and conditioning coaches as
perceived by the elite athletes. Using interview quotations, 46 raw data themes were
972 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
developed relating to the participants’ experience of effective strength and conditioning
coaching. Following the identification of first-order themes (n=11) and in some cases
second-order themes (n=4) three general dimensions were identified: relationship, coaches’
actions and coaches’ values (see Figures 1, 2, 3).
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 973
Relatedness and
closeness
Encouragement and support
Comforting, caring and
unde rst and in g
Approac hability
Trust and respect
Can trust the coach
Chat about everything
Ope n with the co ach
Respect for the coach
Coach is open about own life
Wants to work for the coach
Encouraging
Reassuring and reinforcing
Guiding
Good listener
Po s itive in failur e
Not too disciplinary
Raw Data Themes
Firs t O rde r The me s Se co nd Orde r The me s Gene ral Dimens ion
Supportive
Understanding
Caring
Showing empathy
Sympathetic
Makes athlete feel comfortable
and at ease
Approachable
Easy to talk too
Optimism
Consistency
Commitment
Balanced
Flexible
Positive
Confident
Fo cus on s tre ngths
Consistent in behaviour and
approach
Fully committed to the ta sk
Does not take life too serious
Brings balance
Not naive
Flexible
Adaptable
Doe s no t mind change
Encourages different approaches
Authenticity and sincerity
Practises what he preaches
Pa rent figure
Autho rity figure
Role model
Relationsh ip
Role model
Sense of humour
Funny
Lighthe ar te d
Figure 1. Athletes’ perception of their relationship with the coach
RELATIONSHIP
All athletes perceived coach behaviours that lead to a stronger ‘relationship’ as fundamental.
This finding is consistent with previous literature which has defined the relationship between
the strength and conditioning coach and their athlete as a unique interpersonal relationship
where coaches’ and athletes’ emotions, thoughts and behaviours are mutually interconnected
[52]. All participants described relatedness and closeness, which incorporated the coach’s
ability to relate to his athletes, resulting in an emotional feeling of closeness, facilitated by
trust and respect was mentioned by all participants. “I’ve always felt I could trust him and I
can actually tell him when I do have a niggle or a problem, but at the same time I had a lot
of respect for him”. Furthermore, the coach provided encouragement and support, and was
comforting, caring and understanding. As one participant described: “It may sound as simple
as this but when someone you know well just comes out and talks to you and says this is what
you are doing really well it is so encouraging. He is still talking positively even though I
have failed”. Five athletes identified the coach’s approachability as important.
Approachability provides a structure for the athlete to benefit from autonomy-supportive
behaviours such as trust, support and respect and portrays an open and active engagement in
the athletes’ welfare [53-55]. ”I can just go and talk to him, I know that when I leave Uni I
will be able to ring him up in two years’ time, he will be there for me”.
An attribute that binds supportive and structural attributes within relatedness and
closeness together is sense of humour, which is known to enhance affection and motivation
within relationships [56]. Identified by seven of the athletes, the coaches’ sense of humour
helped them to relieve tense situations, enhanced attention and made communication more
memorable [57]. For example, as one participant stated: ”Even if you fall over in the
warm-up he’ll laugh about it and joke about it, and you don’t feel like you’re constantly
pressurised”. Authenticity and sincerity which reflects heightened levels of the coach’s self-
awareness [58] was also identified by all participants as being important. “He is genuine,
authentic, he’s what he is. You describe him as actually what you see is what you get.”
974 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
Coaches' actions
Instruction
Communication skills
Planning and organisation
Feedback
Con tinu a l p rais e
Constructive criticism
Positive feedback
Visual feedback
Demonstrates
Corrects
S&C knowledge
Sports specific knowledge
Raw Data Themes Firs t Orde r The me s Gene ral Dimens ion
Bre ak s thing s d own
Patient when communicating
Always in contact
Good communicator
Prepared
Optimises session
In control of environment
Planned out beforehand
Punctual
Creative
Innova tive
Figure 2. Athletes’ perception of coaches’ actions
Sincerity or the extent to which the coach’s self is represented accurately and honestly to
others is reflected in the coaches’ psychological capacities of optimism and commitment, as
one athlete pointed out: “He is always saying positive things to make me feel better about
myself. I remember that when I was injured he was so encouraging.” A crucial component
of authenticity is to have a positive moral perspective [59, 60]. Being balanced, consistent
and flexible reflects this key characteristic. These behaviours were noted by all athletes and
reflected in comments such as: “I think that the way that he acts is almost the same in every
session”. Lastly, six participants highlighted role modelling or a behaviour that sets an
example to others to follow, which is consistent with the values of the coach [61], as a vital
coaches characteristic. Perceiving the coach as a father or parental figure stirred the athlete
to emulate motivational strategies as one athlete pointed out: “I’d definitely try and follow
some of the way he is, like the techniques he uses to get people motivated. I think it comes
very naturally to him, he almost has a parent role where he looks after you and wants me to
do well.”
COACHES’ ACTIONS
The ‘coaches’ actions’ dimension is comprised of: effective instruction, positive and
constructive feedback, good communication and organisation, and planning skills. All
athletes highlighted the need for effective instruction “He always demonstrates the lifts or
the movement, and after that he would explain the do’s and don’ts, and I noticed that he
would have different instruction with different athletes, yet the outcome would always be the
same”. The athletes further linked effective instruction or the ability to teach to effective
communication skills. One athlete described: “I listen to him quite well, we started off with
just the movement, one movement to begin with and then he broke down every single area
until I understood what to do”. All participants recognised positive and constructive
feedback to be an important coaches action: “he always gave praise throughout the session
and at the end of the session he would always say ‘good work today’, however if I did not
perform to my full potential or did not concentrate he would ensure that I knew about it and
it would spur me on”. Furthermore all participants linked effective instruction to the
coaches’ technical knowledge: “He was so knowledgeable; it made me feel I could trust him
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 975
Coaches' values
Belief
Motivation and inspiration
Confidence
High performance
expectations
Expec ts res ults
Expects 100% effort
Persistent
Focused on the goal
Be lief in athle tes ' abilit y
Belief in athletes' potential
Values athlete as individual
Raw Data Themes Firs t Order The mes Gene ral Dimens ion
Passionate
Confident
Expresses enjoyment in his job
Motivates
Pushes athlete beyond expectations
Inspires or makes athlete belief
Challen ge s
Figure 3. Athletes’ perception of coaches’ values
even if I did not understand the science behind it.” Lastly, six athletes expressed the
importance of ‘planning and organisation’ which provides needed structure to the
relationship and to the individual sessions: “The sessions are so well thought out according
to the plan he set out at the beginning, this really motivated me because it meant I had a
purpose.”
COACHES’ VALUES
Coaches’ values express the coaches’ intrinsic core values and motivate, inspire and focus
the coach on the task in hand (e.g., enhancing performance). The coaches’ intrinsic values
encouraged persistence within the relationship and within the resultant coaches’ actions. All
but one athlete noted that high performance expectations of the coach would positively
impact their effort within the session: “the whole can-do attitude that he has and that he will
not let us fail impact on my technical skills and it makes me give 100%”. Furthermore, all
participants perceived the coach to have belief in the athletes’ ability, allowing the coach to
build a personalized athletes’ vision: “He was like one more, one more, one more, and he
kept going and I ended up with 36 (press ups). As he kept on going one more, one more, one
more and you end up getting lots more, it was as if he knew how strong I was.” All eight
athletes linked these high expectations and beliefs to the coach’s ability to motivate and
inspire by providing meaning and challenges to the athletes’ tasks and by stimulating
intrinsic values and engagement: “He makes you want to go to the gym, you look forward to
it, he would always say ‘you beat so and so’ and it makes me feel better. I love it when after
the first set he would say that I can beat the target”. Furthermore, all athletes perceived the
intrinsic confidence of the coach, which is encouraged by self-belief and self-efficacy, to be
a vital value, as one athlete remarked: “I guess it was his persona, he came across confident
and he knew what he was talking about, which made me more confident and it was a massive
thing for me to enjoy strength and conditioning with him.”
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to identify the effective behaviours and characteristics within
strength and conditioning coaching. Relationship, coaches’ actions and coaches’ values were
the three main themes identified. Results from this study offer support for previous research
that has highlighted the effectiveness of instruction and technical knowledge, but have also
further suggested the additional contribution of higher order leadership characteristics and
behaviours summarised within the general dimensions. Furthermore the results provide a
strong link to leadership models such as the multi-dimensional model of leadership,
authentic leadership and the transformational model of leadership. The findings of this study
contradict previous research which have suggested elite athletes prefer a more autocratic
leadership style [62, 63]. Our findings suggest that coaching is a behavioural process [64]
wherein the coach encourages a more athletes centred, autonomy based relationship which
focus on developing the athlete to its full potential based on authenticity, trust and closeness.
This section will compare the current findings with literature in leadership and coaching
psychology. The article will conclude by discussing limitations and proposing future
recommendations, as well as considering the practical implications of this study.
The findings reveal a wide range of effective coaching and teaching behaviours and
characteristics, which include interpersonal skills (e.g., effective communication, good
listener, being caring and understanding) and intra-personal knowledge (e.g., motivation,
self-confidence) as well as relational constructs such as trust, relatedness and respect. The
diversity of effective behaviours identified, including higher order leadership behaviours and
976 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
characteristics, indicate that coaching practice is a dynamic and complex process which is
more about improvisation than structured and prescribed behaviours [65, 66]. A coach
consistently analyses the behavioural responses of the athlete, which allows the coach to
make appropriate behavioural changes to enable the athlete achieve the desired goal [65, 67].
These findings are in line with the propositions of Chelladurai’s Multidimensional Model of
Leadership. The focus of the coach on the athletes’ requirements reduces perceptual
congruence and more closely aligns preferred, required and actual behaviour [68].
Behaviours and characteristics such as diagnosing or understanding the athletes’
requirements, adapting or the capacity to be flexible and innovative as well as the ability to
communicate effectively, are also reflected in our findings. Such findings are in line with the
Booker and Meir [37] model of the coaching process specifically designed for strength and
conditioning. The findings further support the coaching effectiveness model proposed by
Côté and colleagues. Central to the coaching model is the mental representation of the
athletes’ potential which relates to creating a vision of the athletes potential. Our results
confirm that the coaches’ vision of the athletes potential and belief in the athlete ability
underlined by the coaches’ authenticity are core characteristics of effective strength and
conditioning coaching.
Coaches’ authenticity has been defined as “being deeply aware of how they think and
behave and are perceived by the athletes, as being aware of their own and the athletes’
values/morals perspectives, knowledge, and strengths; aware of the context in which they
operate and who are confident; hopeful, optimistic, resilient and of high moral character”
[69, p 4]. The coaches’ authenticity is reflected in our results through behaviours and
characteristics such as consistency, commitment, optimism, flexibility and being balanced.
This authenticity forms the basis or root of an effective coach-athlete relationship. Authentic
leadership applied to coaching expresses the most accurate and best articulation of the
athletes’ future potential and over time provides the impetus for the athlete to be more
engaged, possibly resulting in enhanced performance [58]. Furthermore, the findings
complement previous research of the effectiveness of authentic leadership behaviour on
athlete development [70], but further research is needed linking the authentic coaching
approach to more specific outcomes impacting the athletes performance such as increased
self-confidence, motivation and effort.
A key finding from our data concerns the importance athletes attach to behaviours of their
coach that serve to develop and strengthen the relationship between the strength and
conditioning coach and their athlete. This data supports the theorising from previous research
that has examined the coach-athlete relationship [71, 72]. Jowett identified three different
dimensions; commitment, closeness and complementary which are suggested to initiate,
maintain and build an effective coach-athlete relationship. In partial support of Jowett’s
theorising, participants in the current study highlighted coach behaviours that enhance
commitment and closeness to be essential in developing an effective relationship. The
complementary dimension, or the behavioural responses of cooperation and responsiveness
between the athlete and coach resulting from an effective relationship, was not evident in our
findings. These findings concerning relatedness and closeness support the assumption that
both coaching and leadership are constituted and maintained by interpersonal relationships.
The coach encourages a two-way relationship and pays a high degree of attention to the
individual athletes’ needs aiming to develop them to their full potential. By encouraging
closeness of relationship the coach is able to understand the differences in the athlete’s needs
(i.e., some athletes receive more autonomy and some more encouragement). In our study,
effective strength and conditioning coaches were perceived by the athletes to lead by
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 977
example, and were seen to be consistent, trustworthy and approachable. Furthermore, the
coaches’ active modelling of these behaviours and self-confidence encourages the athlete to
adopt the characteristics and behaviours exhibited by the coach [73, 74] Our findings
suggest that effective role modelling of the coach encourages trust and respect as well as
admiration. These results further parallel those of Bass and colleagues [75-77] regarding the
importance of the coach acting as a role model to cultivate such characteristics. However,
more targeted research is needed to further understand the effect of the coaches’ role
modelling on specific outcomes such as the athletes’ motivation and performance.
More recently, research examining effective coaching has been underpinned by the
transformational leadership theory [66, 78]. Our findings revealed a number of effective
behaviours and characteristics that could be mapped onto this leadership theory such as
motivation, high performance expectations, inspiration, trust, respect and authenticity The
essence of a transformational coach is to inspire, develop and empower the athletes” [79].
Four key transformational behaviours have been conceptualised: idealised influence,
inspirational motivation, individual consideration and intellectual stimulation [80].
However, Bass proposed the full range leadership model which further includes transactional
behaviours. Transactional leadership behaviour prescriptively outlines tasks and the manner
they should be achieved. Athletes engage by prescription, meaning they complete the task
the prescribed way in exchange for material (awards) or psychological compensation
(recognition). Part of the transactional style includes the corrective element of active-
management-by-exception, which is a valid description of strength and conditioning
coaches’ active behaviour within the training context and is fundamental to sports training
sessions [70]. Conceptualised as instruction, mistakes in technique are observed by the
coach and corrective actions are implemented to enhance the physical attributes of the
athlete. In our study, athletes perceived the ability of the coach to effectively instruct as
fundamental which compare directly to a transactional style [70, 81]. In contrast, elements
of a transformational coach include behaviours such as promoting ideals, showing care and
concern and overcoming problems through being flexible and innovative are further reflected
in our results.
Our results confirm previous research of behaviours or coaching actions identified as
essential to effective coaching such as instruction [19, 82, 83]. Effective instruction,
essential to the teaching or educating part of coaching, is determined by the technical
knowledge of the coach [82]. The pursuit of scientific knowledge within the field of strength
and conditioning has been prevalent within strength and conditioning accreditation bodies
such as the UK Strength and Conditioning Association and the National Strength and
Conditioning Association. The importance of up-to-date scientific knowledge in delivering
effective strength and conditioning programmes is reflected by the results of the current
study. Furthermore, the results endorse previous findings that the transactional element of
active management-by-exception has become a coaching style deemed to be effective within
strength and conditioning [70]. Within this educating or teaching process, the strength and
conditioning coach detects and corrects the athletes’ mistakes and therefore directly interacts
with the athletes thus creating trust and initiating relationship. Interestingly, the participants
identified positive feedback or ‘praise’ as essential. Building on initiating relationship
through instruction, ‘praise’ can be construed as a reward, meaning a transactional coaching
behaviour, but when it is used as a psychological aid it becomes a transformational or higher
order behaviour [84]. Furthermore, the study results strengthen previous findings that
effective coaching is delivered through good communication skills [18]. Good
communications and interpersonal skills have been linked with building rapport and trust and
978 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
hence would be essential in initiating and maintaining an effective relationship [38]. An
indirect way of effective communication is through planning and organisation [18]. The
planning and organisational themes incorporated optimisation, creativity and innovation on
behalf of the coach. Creativity and innovation imply that the coach is incorporating the
athletes opinions and their decision making [75], whereas optimising and planned out
sessions challenge the athlete to reach higher levels of achievement [17]. Although the
results of the current study confirm previous research regarding effectiveness of the default
transactional coaches’ actions, they further indicate that higher order characteristics and
behaviours should be encouraged to promote coaches’ effectiveness.
Another parallel with previous research involved the coaches’ values. These finding
support the research of Hardy et al. [85] who suggest that high performance expectations or
expressed coaches’ behaviour that expects excellence, quality and high performance on the
part of the athlete, positively impact athletes development. High performance expectations
have often been explained as consequence of the Galatea and Pygmalion effect. Research
has explored the possible transference of expectations from the leader to the follower [86].
As a consequence, athletes’ expectations and performance can be raised as an unintentional
consequence of the Pygmalion effect either through subconscious high expectations of the
coach or deliberate direct communicated high performance expectations [87]. Previous
research has shown that the coaches’ high expectations predict performance [88]. Although
results from the current study highlight the importance of the strength and conditioning
coaches’ high performance expectations, further research is needed to link this characteristic
to specific outcomes such as performance or increased effort.
Various researchers have highlighted coaches’ motivation and inspiration skills to be
essential and impactful on athletic development [14, 17, 18]. The current findings support
the necessity of higher order characteristics such as inspiration and motivation to articulate
and sell the coaches’ vision to the athlete. Leadership researchers have found
transformational behaviours have augmented transactional behaviours [89-92]. With the
emergence of transformational behaviours in our data, it might be suggested that such
behaviours within strength and conditioning coaching could have a positive, augmentative
effect beyond that accounted for by the default transactional approach. For example, the
coaches’ ability to motivate might encourage the athlete to go further than the standard
expectations by increasing intrinsic goal-setting [93]. As a consequence of this increase in
the motivational climate, coaches might inspire their athlete to higher levels of commitment
to the common vision [94, 95]. Thus, in the current study, it can be tentatively suggested that
higher order transformational behaviours augment the transactional behaviours; however,
future research is needed to explore this proposition more fully.
CONCLUSION
The current findings highlight the contribution of higher order leadership characteristics and
behaviours on the athletes’ development. However, future research should aim to confirm
these findings by considering the impact of these characteristics and behaviours on athletes’
development. Such approaches might incorporate different qualitative or quantitative
methods to further stimulate responses to various different coaching scenarios. Furthermore,
further research is needed to explore the impacts of these higher order characteristics and
their augmentative effect above the default transactional style on specific outcomes such as
motivation, performance, effort and adherence. As a first practical application, these results
provide strength and conditioning coaches with examples of effective behaviours and
characteristics such as high performance expectation, motivation, inspiration, role
International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching Volume 10 · Number 5 · 2015 979
980 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
modelling, trust, respect and instruction. Encouraging self-reflection, practitioners can
identify individual areas of strength and weaknesses in their own work with athletes, which
might result in more targeted, specific personal development. For example, some coaches
might identify that they need to increase their motivation skills or develop their interpersonal
skills in order to enhance trust with the athlete. As a second practical application, these
results could further the development of strength and conditioning coaching competencies by
incorporating personal development modules based on identified higher order behaviours
and characteristics. As a final practical application, the results suggest that strength and
conditioning coaches might pursue current leadership training programmes such as the
transformational leadership style to enhance coaching effectiveness.
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984 Effective Behaviours of Strength and Conditioning Coaches as Perceived by Athletes
... Research among S&C coaches shows that motivation is one of the highest ranked critical factors influencing athletes' success, and a lack of motivation is the number one cause of poor performance (Radcliffe et al., 2013). Additionally, student-athletes perceive effective S&C coaches display effective communication, good listening, and motivational skills, as well as behaviors that promote trust, relatedness, and respect (Szedlak, Smith, Day, & Greenlees, 2015). Hence, what S&C coaches ultimately say or do can profoundly impact the relationship, effort, and performance potential of athletes (Cardinal & Melville, 1987). ...
... Specifically, they have expressed an interest in psychological skills and their development, yet they feel ill-prepared in their ability to employ such skills due to a lack of knowledge of different psychological strategies and a lack of confidence in using those strategies in practice (Radcliffe et al., 2018a). This is especially regrettable since Szedlak et al. (2015) identified S&C coaches' inspirational and motivational skills to be an essential component of their success in working with athletes. ...
... As for the precise types of psychological skills S&C coaches are interested in, communication skills were ranked second highest in priority only behind hypnosis (Quartiroli et al., 2020). Coupled with the findings of Szedlak et al. (2015), whereby athletes strongly preferred their coaches use positive and encouraging language as a form of reward, there is a clear need for theoretically and empirically supported practical strategies that S&C coaches can implement into their practices (Moore & Gearity, 2019). ...
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Strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches must employ psychological skills to optimally motivate athletes and promote their well-being. Yet, S&C coaches feel uncomfortable in their ability to apply such skills, highlighting a need for the development of science-based, practical tools. The purpose of this study was to examine the verbal language used by S&C coaches in publicly available YouTube videos through the Psychological Capital Model (PCM) lens. Coaches' statements (N = 178) were transcribed verbatim and coded into one of the eight dimensions of the PCM. Significant differences were found in S&C coaches' use of the eight developmental dimensions of the PCM, x2 (7, N = 173) = 139.52, p < .0001, C = .67. Three PCM developmental dimensions were overused (i.e., standard residuals ranging from +2.76 to +7.10; i.e., experiencing success/modeling others [n = 54, 31.2%], building efficacy/confidence [n = 48, 27.8%], and implementing obstacle planning [n = 34, 19.7%]), while five were underused (i.e., standard residuals ranging from-2.23 to-4.18; i.e., building assets/avoiding risk [n = 11, 6.4%], persuasion and arousal [n = 10, 5.8%], affecting the influence process [n = 9, 5.2%]), goals and pathway design [n = 5, 2.9%]), and developing positive expectancy [n = 2, 1.2%]). To facilitate the use of a more diverse set of psychological strategies, this study offers a collection of 40 practice-and science-based motivational statements-five for each of the eight PCM dimensions-that S&C coaches may use and build upon to improve their own coaching language and practices.
... This study intended to investigate the partnership between performance model staff to show how collective efforts can strengthen the personal and professional environment in athletic healthcare and performance. At the time of this writing, few studies had documented high-performance model professional leadership and communication styles (Laurent & Bradney, 2007;Szedlak et al., 2015;Yates, 2013). This current study helped fill a significant gap in the research, as little to no extended research on the leadership styles of any performance model field staff has been conducted in the recent past. ...
... The relationship between two individuals, such as a coach and studentathlete, who are like-minded and possess the same goal is a close partnership where each individual complements the other through a commitment to the goal and a belief in cooperation (Jowett & Poczwardowski, 2007). Professionals in the fields of athletic training and strength and conditioning assume the roles and the great responsibilities of developing the whole studentathlete (Brooks et al., 2000;Gilbert & Baldis, 2014;Misasi et al., 2016;Pido, 2014;Szedlak et al, 2015). Thus, this group of people is tasked with serving as confident and close advisors to these student-athletes while safely pushing them to their physical and mental limits in efforts to help them surpass their goals. ...
... Their findings supported the continued study of leadership in athletic personnel because they found varying leadership styles correlated with success rates of coaches. Furthermore, a great interest in the leadership styles and behaviors of athletic performance support staff currently exists, specifically pertaining to strength and conditioning coaches (Bartholomew, 2017, Szedlak et al., 2015, Voight, 2016. The NCAA stipulates that student-athletes are only permitted participation in countable athletic-related activities for four hours per day, and not to exceed 20 hours of contact per week, during the competitive in-season. ...
Thesis
The purpose of the case study was to examine the self-perceived leadership characteristics, behaviors, and communication styles of professionals within the pillars of the high-performance sport model, specifically athletic trainers, and strength and conditioning coaches, to gain perspective on their ability to influence student-athletes and colleagues at the NCAA DIII level. A qualitative case study format allowed the researcher to engage with a small sample of participants and explore the differences and similarities between the participant groups. Participants were selected based on their primary job title and setting at over 80 institutions of higher education that participate in NCAA Division III institutions within the extended New England region. A total of 331 individuals were sent an electronic survey by email. Twelve participants (six athletic trainers, six strength and conditioning coaches) agreed to and completed a semi-structured, follow-up interview to gain perspective on their ability to influence student-athletes through their own displayed leadership. Interview audio was transcribed and analyzed through three levels of coding. Six themes were developed from the data analysis (caring/relationship, educate/teaching, culture, leadership, communication, conflict). The data revealed very few differences in the leadership perspective of the certified athletic trainers and strength and conditioning coaches that participated. Participants exhibited a lack of knowledge and experience when it came to leadership theory and leadership training in their professional careers while still aspiring to fulfill their professional obligations of mentoring younger and less experienced staff members. Further research should be conducted to establish a standard for leadership education, development, and implementation within the pillars of high-performance sport, specifically athletic training and strength and conditioning. Keywords: high-performance, leadership, sport, student-athlete
... Previous research has shown that technical knowledge, instruction, and feedback provided by strength and conditioning coaches is viewed as essential by athletes to enable delivery of effective coaching. 15 Statements related to research design and methodology were rated more highly by academic participants, while most of the remaining statements were rated higher by the practitioners. This is likely due to the nature of the work and participants' employment sector. ...
... Interpersonal skills such as effective communication and the ability to develop relationships, including the coach-athlete relationship have been shown to be important. 15,20 In line with the technical skills, applied sport scientist participants were more likely to rate these skills higher than the academic participants. The only transferrable skill rated higher by the academic participants was 'mentors new graduates and emerging sport scientists in the subfields of sports science'. ...
Article
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... 8). The procedure of the phone interview was carried out like that in [72], where it was made conducive for each participant to emphasise on issues that they consider more relevant instead of depending on what the researcher deemed relevant. ...
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... Vztah trenér -svěřenec, ve kterém je podporována autentičnost, důvěra a blízkost vede k rozvoji plného potenciálu sportovce a k podpoře jeho autonomie (Chel ladurai & Carron, 1983;Szedlak et al., 2015). Podpora autonomie jedince je obtížná dovednost, zahrnující čas, trpělivost, citlivost a individuální přístup. ...
... Thus, the coach's decisions condition the behavior and influence the motivation of the athletes [14,15]. Studies on coaching efficacy and coaching competency have placed significant emphasis on the impact of coaching leadership and coaching behaviors on various athlete outcomes [16][17][18][19]. As such, the athlete's perception of their coach's leadership style and the fairness of the decisions they make can be determinant in sports practice. ...
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This paper examines the athletes’ perception of their coaches according to the role of starter or substitute in the final phase of the season. The variables analyzed were: leadership style, perceived justice, competence, and support for basic psychological needs. A longitudinal study was developed, evaluating the participants at two different stages: the end of the season and seven weeks before. A total of 112 football and handball players participated in this study, 78 completing the questionnaire at the two waves. The final sample comprised 51 starters (80.39% males) and 27 substitutes (70.37% males) who evaluated their coaches’ leadership, competence, and support of the players’ psychological needs. The interaction moment of measurement (seven weeks before the end of the season vs. end of the season) * group (starters vs. substitutes) was statistically significant for the variables authentic leadership, perceived justice, and the basic psychological need of competence. Post hoc analyses revealed a significant decline in the perception of authentic leadership from coaches, perceived justice, and support of the psychological need of competence at the end of the season only in those in a starter position, with no change observed in the substitutes group. The findings show that the perceptions of coaches among starting players deteriorates significantly in the final phase of the season, while those among substitutes remain unaffected.
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Women continue to be underrepresented and underserved in the field of strength and conditioning (S&C), yet scholarly work examining the experiences and perceptions of women S&C coaches is limited. Thus, the purpose of this study was to conduct a scoping review of the existing literature on women S&C coaches to identify current trends as well as knowledge gaps. Four electronic databases (SPORTDiscus, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, and Academic Search Complete) were searched up to July 30, 2021. The initial search yielded 164 unique English-language papers, reviews, and book chapters. All in all, seven peer-reviewed articles were included, and data from these studies were charted. Each article offers insight into women’s experiences within the S&C industry, which are significantly different to their male counterparts. Based on our review of the findings, we recommend S&C coaches to participate in coach education programs and more women to be actively involved in the recruitment and hiring of S&C staff. While such findings are relevant, they have not fully explored the complexity of gender dynamics in S&C. Moreover, these recommendations will have limited long-term, sector-wide impact unless necessary policies are also implemented to help eradicate structure-level gender bias within the culture of S&C.
Book
I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.
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