Drawing Upon Previous Experience: Autonomy Support and Control in Novice Coaches

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Presented at the 7th International Self-Determination Theory Conference.

Introduction: In examining coaching behaviors, autonomy supportive and controlling behaviors have been highlighted as instrumental in the psychological development of athletes. Both Mageau and Vallerand (2003) and Bartholomew and colleagues (2009) have outlined autonomy supportive and controlling behaviors within the coaching context. Considering these within coach development, previous research has indicated that novice coaches rely more heavily on previous athletic experiences than formal coach training, which could contain a variety of learned autonomy supportive and controlling behaviors. The purpose of this study was to elicit examples of autonomy supportive and controlling behaviors within a novice coaches’ athletic experience and determine if these behaviors transfer to their current experience as coaches.

Methods: Fifteen novice coaches enrolled in coaching education courses at a large Southeastern University were interviewed about their previous experience as athletes and as current youth sport coaches. These experiences were organized using the seven autonomy support coaching behaviors and the six controlling coaching behaviors identified in the literature. Participants first described their experiences and interactions with their coaches and then were asked what their typical coaching behaviors would look like. They were then given the definitions of autonomy supportive and controlling behaviors and asked to identify any other examples in their experiences.

Results: Participants could recall interactions with coaches during their athletic experiences which were coded as being autonomy supportive or controlling. Controlling behaviors seemed to be more impactful on participants’ decisions in their own coaching experiences. In reporting about current or future coaching, participants indicated that they would engage in more autonomy supportive behaviors. When asked about their knowledge of the behaviors, most, if not all, participants were unaware of the terminology. Discussion & Conclusion: The results indicate that participants were able to report examples of autonomy support and controlling behaviors in their own previous experiences as athletes, but were not able to classify them as autonomy supportive or controlling. In essence, their negative experiences were more tied to controlling behaviors they experienced, while positive experiences seemed to be more tied to autonomy supportive behaviors of their previous coaches. Further, while participants did seem to learn from their previous coaches’ controlling behaviors, in that they do not promote a healthy motivational environment, some identified this method to be the only option in certain cases. This indicates a potential perpetuation of controlling behaviors that could produce negative sport experiences for future athletes.


7th International Self-Determination Theory Conference


Egmond An Zee, Netherlands