State space grids: First application of a novel methodology to examine coach-athlete interactions in competitive youth sport
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The purpose of this study was to compare the coach-athlete interaction structures of two competitive youth synchronized swimming teams, one more successful with regard to athletes’ performance and personal development than the other. This comparison was conducted through the first application of state space grid (SSG) observational methodology (Hollenstein, 2007; Lewis, Lamey, & Douglas, 1999) in field-based sport psychology research. Both teams (two head coaches and 17 athletes in total) were observed over multiple training sessions. Both coach and athlete behaviour was coded continuously for the duration of each training session. Measures of coach athlete interaction structure, based on dynamic systems concepts, were derived from these coded behaviours and compared between teams. Results revealed significant differences between the two 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. This patterning took the form of more individualized technical and positive reinforcement feedback information and significantly less use of negative feedback by the head coach, interspersed with substantial periods of silent observation. The athletes of the more successful team more actively acknowledged the receipt of this feedback from their coach. The sequencing of coach behaviours was more patterned for the coach of the more successful team, with heavy emphasis on the pairing of technical correction and positive reinforcement statements. The findings suggest that a respectful, deliberate pattern of coach-athlete interaction may be associated with youth sport environments producing more positive performance and personal development outcomes for athletes.