The Associated Impacts of Stress and Expectancy Upon the Elite Coach-Athlete Relationship in Individual Based Sports
This project of research presents a series of three studies that evolved over the duration of the body of work. Steered by existing research and the findings of each individual study, this project investigates associated impacts of stress and expectancy on the dynamics of interactions between coaches and athletes in elite level individual based sports. Specifically, the impacts of stress and expectancies on empathic accuracy. Study one explored the stress and coping experiences of six male elite athletics coaches in the UK. The findings indicated that coaches experienced a vast array of stressors, with stress increasing around competition. However, although participants acknowledged facilitative effects of experiencing stress (e.g., increased focus, motivation, & productivity), they also reported a number of perceived debilitative behavioural and communication changes towards their athletes at times of stress. For example, withdrawal and reduced interaction, concealing true feelings and emotions, and increased physical distance where possible. Experience, learning, and support were identified as the most effective coping strategies, and coaches reported limited use of effective psychological skills. While all emerging themes were deemed important, debilitative behavioural and communication changes towards athletes in response to increased stress, specifically around competition, was the most cited theme reported by all elite coaches. Thus, representing a strong indicator of the potential detrimental impact of stress on the dynamics of interactions between coaches and athletes in elite sport. To further investigate stress and coach-athlete interaction in elite sport, study two examined stress and empathic accuracy in coaches and athletes participating in elite level individual based sports. That is, how accurately coaches and athletes perceived the psychological condition of each other, moment-to-moment, over time, while experiencing stressors associated with different environments (i.e., training & competition). The results indicated that coaches and athletes experienced significantly increased stress during competition compared to training. Empathic accuracy for both coaches and athletes was also found to be higher in competition than in training. However, participants achieved relatively low to moderate levels of empathic accuracy throughout this study. Moreover, the elite coaches recorded varying levels of empathic accuracy with different athletes in their training groups. Finally, study three explored coach expectancies as a potential antecedent or barrier in determining levels of empathic accuracy achieved between coach and athlete. This study investigated the relationship between a coach’s expectancies and levels of empathic accuracy achieved by coach-athlete dyads from the same elite cycling training squad. Athletes’ perceptions of coach treatment were also investigated. Results showed coach-athlete dyads containing high expectancy athletes achieved higher empathic accuracy, compared to those involving low expectancy athletes. In addition, high expectancy athletes perceived the coach gave them less negative feedback, demanded a greater level of work from them, and held higher expectations for them compared to their low expectancy counterparts. These results suggested the coach’s behaviour might have been congruent with their expectations, which in turn may have affected levels of empathic accuracy achieved, and influenced perceived differential coach treatment. This project of research has contributed to researchers’ knowledge of the stress and coping experiences of elite coaches in the UK and thus presented key evidence to support the development of effective coping interventions for coaches working alongside world-class athletes. It has provided vital evidence of the potential impacts of stress on the dynamics of interactions between coaches and athletes in different environments, specifically extending broader literature on empathic accuracy through a longitudinal examination in a unique setting. Lastly, it has expanded the limited dialogue surrounding the relationship between a coach’s expectancies and the subsequent effectiveness of interpersonal perception with their athletes.
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