Year

2011

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Psychology

Abstract

Youth sports programs can be used to foster many positive developmental assets for participants. In particular, the coach holds an influential role in the realisation of positive outcomes for young athletes, with effective coaching necessitating the facilitation of positive developmental outcomes. This thesis examines how the positive developmental experiences of adolescent athletes can be optimised through coach leadership and coach education. Chapter 2 lays the theoretical foundation for the research program. After reviewing the existing conceptualisations of coach leadership, this chapter defines coach leadership as incorporating both coach behaviour and the quality of the coach-athlete relationship. This conceptualisation is consistent with both the coaching and leadership literature.

Chapter 3 confirms positive developmental experiences as contextually relevant and desirable outcomes for youth sport participants in Australia. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 22 participation coaches for adolescent athletes. Results suggest that coaches see themselves as responsible for facilitating eight interrelated and interdependent themes that are consistent with the positive youth development literature: competence; confidence; connection; character; life skills; climate; positive affect and positive psychological capacities. These themes are discussed in detail.

Chapter 4 outlines the validation of a measure of coach leadership behaviour. The Differentiated Transformational Leadership Inventory (DTLI) is theoretically linked with the desired outcomes of youth sport. The Differentiated Transformational Leadership Inventory for Youth Sport (DTLI-YS) is validated using 322 adolescent soccer players. Theory-driven changes were made to the DTLI by removing the ‘high performance expectations’ subscale. Data-driven changes were also made on the basis of high item-factor cross-loadings. The revised DTLI-YS was subjected to confirmatory factor analysis and proved to be a good fit for the obtained data.

The conceptual understanding of coach leadership set out in Chapter 2 was subjected to cross-sectional investigation in Chapter 5. The relationship between coach transformational leadership behaviours, the perceived quality of the coach-athlete relationship, team success and the positive developmental experiences of adolescent soccer players was investigated. Data from 455 participants showed that coach transformational leadership behaviour and the coach-athlete relationship had a moderate positive correlation with developmental experiences. Team success had no relationship with overall developmental experiences. The best predictor of developmental experiences was a combination of transformational leadership behaviour and the quality of the coach-athlete relationship. The most influential leadership behaviours were individual consideration, intellectual stimulation and appropriate role modelling. These results are consistent with previous work within the sports coaching and positive youth development literature.

Following established links between transformational leadership, the coach-athlete relationship and the positive developmental experiences of adolescent athletes, a coach training program was formulated. Chapter 6 reports the results of a pilot transformational leadership training program for youth sport coaches using a pre-post quasi-experimental design. Athletes of trained coaches reported increases in perceived transformational leadership behaviours from pre-training to post-training. This included changes in perceived appropriate role modelling, fostering acceptance of group goals and intellectual stimulation. No changes were evident in a comparison group. Athletes of trained coaches reported increases in cognitive skill experiences and goal setting experiences. There was no change in personal and social skill experiences, initiative experiences or negative experiences. The comparison group reported a significant decrease in developmental experiences. There were no changes in the quality of the coach-athlete relationship in either group. It is concluded that

coach leadership training increases the reliability and predictability of positive developmental experiences, as well as increasing the effectiveness of coaching behaviours.

The purpose of Chapter 7 was to use the results of an exploratory case study to discuss the design and delivery of formal coach education. Nine coaches completed qualitative and quantitative feedback on the transformational leadership training program. Results suggest that coaches prefer to be given practical skills that have a direct application to coaching practice. Coaches consistently requested practical demonstrations, ongoing support from their mentors and ongoing peer interactions. Results are discussed in the light of parallel processes that emerge within coach education. The relationship dynamics between athlete and coach are paralleled in the relationship between coach learner and coach educator. Recognising such parallel processes has been put forward as a conceptually sound approach to facilitate reflection in coaching practitioners through the use of practical demonstrations.

The findings from this thesis therefore suggest that coach leadership and coach education can play an important role in optimising the positive developmental experiences of adolescent athletes. Coach leadership may best be conceived of as a combination of coach behaviour and the quality of the coach-athlete relationship. However, more research is needed on how these constructs combine to influence athlete outcomes. Transformational leadership behaviour is one avenue for development in these areas, with transformational leadership training for youth sport coaches being a theoretically sound way to increase the reliability and predictability of positive youth development through sport. Optimising this training may include recognition of the parallel processes that emerge within coach leadership training.

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