An Examination of Coach-Athlete Interactions in a Model Sport Program for Athletes with Disabilities

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Murphy-Mills, Jennifer
Athletes with Disabilities , Youth Sport
The purpose of this study was to analyze the coach-athlete interactions occurring in a successful sport program for athletes with disabilities and their able-bodied siblings. The successful nature of this program was established by its athletes’ competitive achievements and by the athletes’ reports of positive experiences within this sport environment. This study utilized state space grid and observational methodology and was the second application of this methodology in field-based sport psychology research (Erickson, Côté, Hollenstein, & Deakin, in press). The head coach of the program and twenty-four athletes were observed over multiple practice sessions. Both coach and athlete behaviour was coded continuously for the duration of each practice session. Measures of coach-athlete interaction structure, based on dynamic systems concepts, were derived from these coded behaviours. These measures were examined for the team as a whole and compared between groups within the team (competitive vs. recreational athletes and athletes with disabilities vs. able-bodied athletes). Results indicated that the coach-athlete interactions of the team were highly patterned. Within this consistent pattern, the coach spent most of her time silently observing the athletes. Other commonly exhibited behaviours included individualized technical instruction, organization, and positive feedback. With regards to behavioural sequencing, the coach’s time spent observing the athletes was often interspersed with periods of organization, instruction, and feedback. The coach appeared to adapt her coaching style according to the competitive levels of the athletes, but no differences emerged when comparing the coach-athlete interactions between athletes with disabilities and able-bodied athletes. Overall, this successful sport environment was characterized by positive coach-athlete interactions that were deliberately patterned and mutually respectful.
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