Examining Coach–Athlete Interactions Using State Space Grids: An Observational Analysis in Competitive Youth Sport
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Objective The purpose of this study was to compare the coach–athlete interaction structures of two competitive youth synchronized swimming teams differentiated on the basis of level of success. Design This comparison was a pilot test of the state space grid (SSG) observational methodology (Hollenstein, 2007) in sport settings. Method Two teams (two head coaches and 17 athletes in total) were observed over five training sessions. Coach and athlete behaviour was coded continuously for the duration of each training session. Measures of coach–athlete interaction were derived from these coded behaviours and compared between teams. Results Results revealed significant differences between the teams on measures of interaction variability, behavioural content patterns, and the sequencing of coach behaviours. The more successful team was characterized by less variable, more patterned interactions between coaches and athletes. The sequencing of coach behaviours for the more successful team emphasized the pairing of technical correction and positive reinforcement. Conclusions The findings suggest that positive environments characterized by a deliberate pattern of coach–athlete interaction may be associated with youth sport settings producing more satisfied and successful athletes. These results support the utility of SSGs for the analysis of interpersonal interactions in sport and highlight the unique insights made available through use of this methodology.