The sideline behaviour of coaches at children’s team sports games
Simon R. Walters
, Philip J. Schluter
, Anthony R.H. Oldham
, Rex W. Thomson
, Deborah Payne
AUT University, School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland, New Zealand
AUT University, School of Public Health & Psychosocial Studies, Auckland, New Zealand
The University of Queensland, School of Nursing and Midwifery, QLD 4072, Australia
Unitec, School of Sport, Auckland, New Zealand
AUT University, School of Heath Care Practices, Auckland, New Zealand
University of Otago, Department of Public Health and General Practice, Christchurch, New Zealand
Received 14 May 2010
Received in revised form
10 November 2011
Accepted 10 November 2011
Available online 20 November 2011
Objectives: This study aimed to establish the prevalence, pattern and nature of coaches’ verbal behaviour
at children’s (ages 6e12 years) team sports events. The study draws upon the motivational model
presented by Mageau and Vallerand (2003) to examine the inﬂuence of global (gender), contextual (sport
related), and social (athlete gender) factors on coach comments.
Design: A cross-sectional observational study of coaches stratiﬁed across four team sports: Rugby Union,
Netball, Association Football and Touch Rugby.
Method: The Observation Instrument at Sports Events was used to categorise covertly recorded verbal
comments made by coaches at organised team sports games.
Results: Overall, 10,697 comments were recorded at 72 games at a rate of 3.71 comments/minute; 35.4%
were categorised as positive, 21.6% as negative, and 43.0% as neutral. Signiﬁcant differences in negative
comments were identiﬁed between sport (p < .001) with rugby coaches recording the highest
percentage of negative comments and the lowest percentage of positive comments; by coach gender
(p < .001), with male coaches recording higher rates of negative comments; and by athlete gender
(p < .001), with coaches of male-only teams recording higher rates of negative comments. When
simultaneously included in a Poisson regression model the difference in negative comments between
sports remained statistically signiﬁcant (p < .001) whereas coach gender was no longer signiﬁcant.
Conclusions: The ratio of negative coach comments for all sports gives cause for concern. These ﬁndings
suggest that sports of national and cultural signiﬁcance are a key driver of coaching behaviours in
a competitive environment.
Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
The role of sport in children’s lives is open to many conﬂicting
interpretations, both positive and negative. The positive impact
that sport can have on children’s psychological well-being has long
been acknowledged (Allen & Howe, 1998; Woolger & Power, 1993).
However, as Orlick and Botterill (1975) point out, sport involvement
does not automatically lead to positive beneﬁts for all. Positive
outcomes are to some extent dependent on the sporting environ-
ment created (Rutten et al., 2011; Sanders, Field, Diego, & Kaplan,
2000). Correspondingly, signiﬁcant attention has been paid to the
role of coach behaviour and its contribution to the positive and
negative beneﬁts of sport participation (Amorose & Horn, 2000;
Gearity & Murray, 2011; Smith & Smoll, 1990). A number of
studies have highlighted the positive beneﬁts associated with
coaches demonstrating autonomy supporting behaviours and
creating appropriate achievement environments for athletes of all
ages (Gillet, Vallerand, Amoura, & Baldes, 2010; Keegan, Harwood,
Spray, & Lavallee, 2009; Mageau & Vallerand, 2003). The study by
Keegan et al. (2009) in particular, conﬁrms the considerable inﬂu-
ence coaches have on the child athlete’s experience of, and beneﬁts
gained from, sport involvement. What needs to be better under-
stood are the conditions that determine coach behaviour when
supporting young athletes.
The motivational model of the coach-athlete relationship
proposed by Mageau and Vallerand (2003), which draws on the
hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Vallerand,
1997), is one theoretical view-point that facilitates an improved
understanding of this behaviour. This model enables the exploration
Corresponding author. School of Sport and Recreation, AUT University, Private
Bag 92006, Auckland 1020, New Zealand. Tel.: þ64 9 921 9999x7022; fax: þ64 9
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (S.R. Walters), philip.schluter@otago.
ac.nz (P.J. Schluter), email@example.com (A.R.H. Oldham), rex_chch@hotmail.
com (R.W. Thomson), firstname.lastname@example.org (D. Payne).
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Psychology of Sport and Exercise
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/psychsport
1469-0292/$ e see front matter Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Psychology of Sport and Exercise 13 (2012) 208e215