Sports performance is determined by many factors. According to Serpa (1999), and the trends from the literature, the coach-athlete relationship is an important factor affecting sport performance. Within the realms of the 3 C's Conceptual Model, the coach-athlete relationship is defined by the interdependence and influence between coaches' and athletes' thoughts, feelings and behaviours (Jowett & Cockerill, 2002).
The three key constructs used to examine coach-athlete relationship are closeness, commitment and Complementarity and can be determined by the Coach-Athlete Relationship Questionnaire (CART-Q) (Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2001). Research studies have found that high scores within these areas are associated with higher levels of performance and personal treatment (Jowett & Don Carolis, 2003); higher levels of team cohesion (Jowett & Chaundy, 2004), and lower levels of role ambiguity in team sports (Olympiou et
al, 2005 In. Jowett, 2005); and motivation of athletes participating in team sports (Olympiou et al, 2008).
Research focuses mainly on coaches' behaviours and the impact on athletes performance through the use of
observation or questionnaires. There seems to be a wealth of research emphasising coaches positive behaviour, however, there is a gap in research on coach's behaviours leading to athletes negative emotions. Not all coach-athlete relationships are positive and effective.
Inadequate relationships can develop and conflict can occur. Conflict is defined as the experience of incompatibility between people (Deutsch,1973 In. Jowett & Cockerill, 2002). The 3 C's model can be used to
identify problem areas and assess relationship issues between the coach and athlete. Having adequate conflict management skills allow for coaches and athletes to remain focused in high pressure competition, and training. Therefore, it is important that we have an understanding of effective relationships and ways to resolve conflicts.
An important concept of dealing with conflict is maintaining the relationship. Dindia and Canary (1993) described relationship maintenance as strategies used to keep a relationship in a specified state or condition. Ways to maintain relationships may include discussing an area of disagreement and coming to a joint decision of how it can be resolved (i.e., conflict management) or team building (i.e., socializing).
Although no sport psychology research has directly considered relationship maintenance within the
coach-athlete relationship, some research appeared to address issues related to maintenance
strategies. For example, Gould, Lauer, Collins, and Chung (2007) examined the coach-athlete
relationship by interviewing ten American football coaches who all received awards for their abilities to facilitate their athletes‟ personal development.
In the interviews, these coaches emphasized the importance of communication (i.e., having open lines of communication with their athletes, possessing clear expectations, and holding their players accountable). These coaches also avoided using punishment or criticisms that were directed towards their players‟ characters or personalities, and showed that they cared, trusted, and respected their players as people.
These ways of communicating paralleled the relationship maintenance strategies labelled as positivity,
openness, and assurance (Stafford & Canary, 1991). Additionally, research examining coaches’
behaviours consistently has shown that supportive and encouraging coaches were likely to have a positive influence on their athletes development (Coatsworth & Conroy, 2006). This supportive coaching was particularly effective when their athletes were less confident about themselves (Smith & Smoll, 1990). Thus, the use of maintenance strategies in sport has been indirectly associated with positive outcomes.
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Although Seligman (2006) indicates that sporting success is dependent primarily on ability and motivation; Schulman (1999) stipulates that optimism is also key to high athletic achievement. Optimism is conceptualized in two ways: as a dispositional trait characterized by a general sense of faith about the future (Scheier & Carver, 1985); and as an explanatory style which is the manner in which an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures. Explanatory style was previously known as attributional style (Abramson, Dykman, & Needles, 1991).
Attribution theory has a strong theoretical presence in sport and exercise psychology (Biddle, 1993). Wiener’s model of achievement attributions was originally used in classroom settings but this theory has been expanded to include achievement in a variety of contexts. Attribution theory is the vigorous analysis of expressions of causal beliefs which emerged from the reformulation of learned helplessness theory and is ‘tightly woven into theoretical fabrics of reformulation and the hopelessness theory’ (Abramson et al., 1991, p.11). The learned helplessness model proposes that when experiencing uncontrollable aversive events, people become helpless, and hold generalized expectancies that future outcomes are unrelated to actions (Peterson, 2000). This concept was further explored by Seligman (2006) who replaced attributional style with explanatory style (Wiener, 1991).
An athlete’s explanations are more than merely an assignment of cause after performance (Schinke & da Costa, 2001) but are also an important way of predicting biases, explanations, and future outcomes (Seligman, 1991). Elite athletes usually provide rich explanations for competition outcomes in attempt to refine performance and strive for higher achievement (Schinke, Peterson, & Couture, 2004). These explanations are often linked to expectations of future success or failure (Rettew & Reivich, 1995). Players who approach challenging tasks with minimal expectations of success are not likely to perform as well as those with high expectations (Orbach, Singer, & Price, 1999). Soccer players are faced with varying events in their game such as defeats, victories and adversities, and explanations for such situations will vary depending on their explanatory style.
Explanatory style is conceptualized by Seligman (2006) in three dimensions: internality – internal or external (whether the person caused the event or whether it was due to external circumstances such as attributes of others or task difficulty) ; stability – stable or unstable (how long the person sees the cause lasting); and globality – global or specific (whether the event effects just one specific area or several domains). By examining these varying dimensions, a person’s explanatory style can be determined to be either optimistic or pessimistic. Optimistic explanatory style is characterized by the belief that one can control important outcomes (Peterson et al., 1982).
According to Seligman’s (2006) perspective, optimists explain negative event by attributing cause to external, unstable, and specific factors (e.g. optimistic soccer players are more likely to say they missed a penalty because of a good save by the goalkeeper). On the other hand, a pessimist sees the world in a more negative manner and believes that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Pessimists are more likely to give up when faced with adversity (Kavussanu & McAuley, 1995).
Explanatory style can also be determined based on how an individual explains positive events. Peterson (1991) offers that optimists will attribute the cause of positive events to internal, stable and global causes (e.g. we won because I am talented). The opposite is true for a pessimist in that they would explain positive events as external, unstable, and specific (e.g. ‘we won because the other team underperformed’).
Pessimists explain negative events by attributing cause to internal, stable, and global (e.g. lack of talent) which can be detrimental to one’s self esteem (Seligman, 2006). Pessimistic athletes are more likely to lose confidence and motivation after a poor performance than an optimist (Seligman, 1990).
Several studies have indicated that a more optimistic explanatory style can have on a positive impact on performance (Wilson & Stallings, 2005). The belief that one will succeed is “the engine that inspires the efforts needed to overcome obstacles and achieve goals” (Schluman, 1999, p.31). Seligman (2006) suggests that how one explains setbacks or difficulties will determine how helpless or energized they will become. An optimist views the world in a positive light and will tend to explain unsuccessful performances as temporary set backs. They take responsibility for their performance and maintain the belief that success can occur in future. They are more likely to renew efforts to accomplish goals because they believe that successful outcomes will occur as a result.
Weiner (1986) suggests that the stability dimension of explanatory style influences expectations of success and failure. If a behavioural outcome is caused by a stable source then the behaviour is expected to persist. Attributing a negative event to a stable factor (e.g. ability) is linked to hopelessness as when one attributes. Some athletes believe that performance outcomes are permanent (e.g. due to ability), whereas others believe their results can fluctuate with time or effort (Schinke da Costa, 2001).
From 30 years of research with over one million participants, it is claimed that optimistic explanations are significantly linked to achievement in various settings such as athletics, academia, military, and politics (Seligman, 1998; Boniwell, 2006). Within the sporting realm, optimism is related to improved performance. Review and Reivich (1995) found that baseball and basketball teams inheriting an optimistic explanatory style won more games throughout the course of a season, and performed significantly better in games following a loss than teams with a pessimistic explanatory style (Review & Reivich, 1995).
Optimism is not only linked to better performance but also to motivation, persistence and the ability to overcome adversities (Carver, Blaney & Scheier, 1979 In. Kavussanu & McAuley, 1995). This was illustrated in a study with ranked US university swimming teams. Explanatory style and coaches judgments of swimmers’ resilience after defeat predicted how many unexpectedly poor swims the team member would go onto show. After negative feedback from their coach (e.g. a poor swim time), second swim times 30 minutes later were poorer for pessimistic swimmers but not for optimistic (Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thorton, & Thorton, 1990). The optimistic swimmer got faster after defeat and one swimmer went on to win 5 gold medals.
Martin-Krumm, Sarrazin, Peterson, & Famose (2003) found similar results with a basketball team whereby those that gave optimistic explanations for a loss were more likely to win the next game than those who offered pessimistic explanations. A pessimistic explanatory style was linked to lower expectations of success, increased anxiety, and poorer achievement (Martin-Krumm et al., 2003).
At team level, Gordon and Kane (2001) completed a study analyzing optimism and performance in the game of soccer. Similar to Seligman’s (1990) study, the ASQ was completed by players and highly significant positive relationship between optimism (ASQ scores) and performance was found. In alignment with Seligman et al (1990), the performance of pessimistic soccer players varied as a function of team’s performance (e.g. when the team was winning pessimistic players performed well, but their performance was worse in losing matches). Nevertheless, there was little variability among the optimistic players as they performed at high level across wins and losses. This may support that people with optimistic explanatory style not only try harder, but are able to enhance performance after negative feedback. Tsai, Chen and Kee (2007) found that athletes who are optimistic are less likely to experience burnout and suggest that coaches, and sport psychologists should aim to promote optimism in their athletes. Based on the findings regarding optimism and performance, it is reasonable to presume that an intervention geared towards promoting optimism could have several benefits. This could be attempted through changing pessimistic explanatory style to more optimistic explanatory style.
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"When I was told I had cancer after my operation, I was relieved. I had been under the hospital for 18 months without being diagnosed. Knowing was better than not knowing." Cancer Research, UK.
Hospital appointments. Sitting in the Beatson Cancer Centre waiting to discuss my 5 year clear! Hospitals like this one can make you feel very fortunate in that there is always someone worse off. I feel very lucky and fortunate.
My tumour the size of a basketball doesn't sounds as bad as the man across from me who has had 7 different tumours and the last one resulting in him losing his arm. I only lost a big part of my bowel. A part that nobody can see, nobody would know.
My scar can be hidden. But for many, their scars can't be hidden, the fight with cancer is an on-going process; and a fear that may always be there.
Speaking of my experience is not something I share very often, and not something I think about everyday. Yet today is different. Today, I get to say, "I am pretty much 5 years clear" (one more scan to go :))
Usually, I sit here in the waiting room and think that people may wonder if it's me that has or had cancer...I am the youngest in the room and I would say the healthiest looking, yet, I've also had to fight off the cancer curse. The question that my family members ask, "Why the healthiest one of all of us?"
Today is different, there are two people here for appointments around the same age as me. Brave smiles on their face, and one guy who decided he wanted to go into the appointment on his own. You have a wonder about what he is thinking and feeling but also his parents. For me, I knew I could deal, I knew I was resilient and strong, and wouldn't let it keep me down. I hope he has that feeling too.
This place brings back memories of Theresa. Theresa is the woman I met when I was going in for my second surgery. I was asleep in the waiting area, jet-lagged and knackered from exam cramming, but my mum who likes to chat, sparked up conversation with Theresa and Alex. What beautiful people! We kept in touch, and even visited Theresa in hospital when her cancer came back. She passed away, and as much as I prayed that she would recover she never did.
Everyone deals differently. I have found that I have dealt by being strong, not thinking of it as a bad thing, and not letting it define me. A lot of people wouldn't know that this is something I had endured but today, I felt like it would be good to share, and hopefully be a part in helping someone else.
My advice would be:
Keep living like each day is your last. You never know what's going to happen. I have always had the mindset of trying to cram as many things in as there's so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn, and when you deal with such a a thing like cancer, this helps you continue this mindset. Well mine.
Live for the moment. Live for the day. Take risks. Let go. Don't be afraid to try! Don't sweat the small stuff!
Before I had cancer, I never slowed down and carried out everything I did with stress and striving to be perfect. Always wanting to my best. I still have that. The strive to be my best, however, it doesn't come with the psychological stress I once had. Thanks to learning about psychology and sport psychology. I am now less concerned about meeting the harsh expectations that I put on myself, and try to enjoy life a lot more. Thank you to cancer for helping me relax in my mind, enjoy every day, and continue to strive for excellence in a healthy way.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.