If Success is Satisfaction, What is Satisfaction? Self-Reported Satisfaction of Early Years Strength and Conditioning Coaches in a Formalised Coach Development Programme

Evidence across a number of industries suggests that job satisfaction (JS) can positively influence employee performance and commitment (Abdelmoula & Boudabbous, 2020; Badrianto & Ekhsan, 2020; Platis et al., 2015; Saridakis et al., 2018). However, there is a paucity of evidence identifying the JS of early years strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches and the factors associated to JS. Given the importance of JS on performance and commitment, understanding JS in this demographic may be important in optimising development in the formative years of the coaching journey. Thus, the aim of this study is to provide a retrospective analysis of JS in early years S&C coaches in a formalised coach development programme. It is hoped the finding of this analysis may provide the opportunity for a more targeted and supportive approach to optimising the development of early years S&C coaches.

12 S&C coaches completed the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ). The MSQ is a valid and reliable instrument that measures satisfaction with several specific aspects of work and the work environment (Weiss et al., 1967). The participants had all graduated through a formalised S&C coach development programme. Participants completed the long-form MSQ consisting of 100 items with response alternatives as per the 5-point Likert scale. All participants received instruction on how to complete the MSQ. Respondents were encouraged to answer the questions rapidly as per the MSQ instruction manual (Weiss et al., 1967) and responses were anonymised.

Mean general satisfaction was 88.6 ± 11.8. Referenced against normative data (employed non- disabled) from the manual for MSQ this represented a high degree of JS and a score at the 88th percentile. Items scoring in the 90th percentile or above against the reference population were supervision – technical (Mean 24.1 ± 1.7), supervision – human relations (Mean 24.0 ± 2.2), co-workers (Mean 24.3 ± 1.8), achievement (Mean 23.67 ± 2.2) and responsibility (Mean 22.67 ± 2.5). Apart from compensation (Mean 14.58 ± 5.03), all other items scored an average to high degree of satisfaction.

Practical Applications
These results provide a novel insight into JS in early years S&C coaches in a formalised and full-time coach development programme. Overall, participants reported a high degree of satisfaction with their early years S&C coach development programme. Participants reported high satisfaction with the technical skills and support provided by their supervisor, the interaction with their co-coaches, the feeling of accomplishment from their coaching and having freedom to use their own judgement in their coaching practice. As such, early years development programmes in the field of S&C should ensure high quality supervision is in place to support both S&C and non S&C related practice, develop a sense of community within the coaching group, provide opportunities for successful and independent coaching and ensure compensation is in line with national association guidelines. Such factors may contribute to the satisfaction, commitment and performance of early years S&C coaches in formalised coach development programmes.

Working Together to Make Them Move Better: The Importance of Coherence in the Development of Fundamental Movement Skill and Movement Competency within a Talent Pathway

The importance of fundamental movement skill (FMS) and movement competency (MC) through childhood and adolescence has been well established in the research literature (Collins et al., 2010; Lloyd and Oliver, 2012; Lubens et al., 2010; Robinson et al., 2015). In addition, the constructs of effective talent development environments have been identified previously (Martindale et al., 2007). However, there is little evidence outlining FMS and MC performance as youth athletes transition through stages of a talent pathway and whether FMS and MC are enhanced if youth athletes have already been part of a talent pathway, albeit at a more junior stage (i.e. an effective talent development environment). Thus, the aim of this study is to provide retrospective analysis of FMS and MC from Millfield Prep School (MPS) and Non-Millfield Prep School (NMPS) youth athletes as they transition into Millfield Senior School (MSS). It is hoped the finding of this study provide the opportunity to consider a coherent, developmental and effective approach to enhance FMS and MC within a talent pathway.

59 youth athletes were recruited in the study. 27 joined MSS from MPS and 29 joined MSS from a NMPS. All participants completed an assessment of FMS and MC. Both assessments satisfied the criteria for FMS and MC as outlined by Hulteen et al. (2018). The FMS assessment consisted of A-walk and hold, arabesque walk and hold, lunge walk and hop and stick. The FMS assessment was scored from 0-4 points per exercise and collectively out of 16 points. The MC assessment was an overhead squat. The MC assessment was scored from 0-6 points. Both FMS and MC assessments were completed by a qualified physical training practitioner.

In order to compare FMS and MC performance between MPS and NMPS, an independent samples t-test was conducted. For FMS, this test was found to be statistically significant (p < 0.05). The effect size for this analysis (d = 0.38) was found to exceed Cohen’s (1988) convention for a small effect (d = 0.2). These results indicate that individuals in the NMPS group (M = 22.58, SD = 4.1) performed better, with a low practical significance in the FMS assessment than individuals in the MPS group (M = 20.94, SD = 4.62). For MC, this test was found to be statistically significant (p < 0.05). The effect size for this analysis (d = 0.19) did not exceed Cohen’s (1988) convention for a small effect (d = 0.2). These results indicate that individuals in the MPS group (M = 3.70, SD = 1.50) performed better, but with trivial practical significance in the MC assessment than individuals in the NMPS group (M = 3.95, SD = 1.0).

Practical Applications
These results provide a novel insight into the FMS and MC of two cohorts of youth athletes transitioning onto a talent pathway. These results suggest youth athletes that transitioned within the talent pathway (i.e. MPS to MSS) performed no better in FMS or MC compared to youth athletes transitioning into the talent pathway (i.e. NMPS to MSS). Authors have previously highlighted the importance of vertically orientated and coherent coaching practice within a talent pathway to support the longitudinal development of youth athletes (Webb, 2019). Given the findings presented in this study, physical training practitioners with a talent pathway should work coherently to ensure the long-term development and quality preparation of FMS and MC for all youth athletes at all ages. This process may be enhanced through the early and deliberate preparation of FMS and MC, the effective communication of training aims and an alignment of expectations at each stage of development.

What’s Good for Them, Maybe Good for Us: Physical Differences of Youth Netball Players Across Age Categories and Playing Positions.

Introduction Authors have recently outlined the significant differences in activity profiles and movement demands across playing positions in youth netball (van Gogh et al., 2020). In addition, Smith and colleagues (2020) identified high injury rates in community level netball, with lower limb injuries most common. Finally, authors suggest injury prevention strategies should mirror the positional demands of netball (McNamus et al., 2005), while injury incidence is greater in more junior compared to senior age categories (Sinclair et al., 2020). As such, the aim of this study is to explore the differences in physical qualities between junior vs senior and attackers vs defenders in youth netball across a range of assessments associated to injury risk of the lower extremity (Read et al., 2016). It is hoped the findings of this study provide netball coaches and physical training practitioners with the opportunity to consider a bespoke and targeted approach to reducing injury risk in youth netball.

Methodology 53 youth netball players were recruited for the study. Participants ranged from 13-18 years of age and were assigned as an attacker or defender based on their most common playing position and junior or senior based on their school year. In line with the injury risk factor hierarchical model as proposed by Read et al. (2016), four physical assessments were chosen to assess the difference in performance between junior vs senior and attackers vs defenders for tasks related to lower extremity injury risk. The assessments were the single leg riser, anterior reach, horizontal hop and lateral trunk hold. All assessments were administered by a qualified physical training practitioner. Following familiarisation, participants complete the single leg riser and lateral trunk hold for one maximal effort. For the anterior reach and horizontal hop assessments, participants completed three tests with the average of the three used for analysis.

Results In order to compare performance between age categories and playing positions an independent samples t-test was conducted. For the single leg riser, anterior reach and horizontal hop, tests were not found to be statistically significant between junior vs senior netballers (p < 0.05). For anterior reach and horizontal hop, tests were not found to be statistically significant between attackers and defenders (p < 0.05). For the single leg riser and lateral trunk hold, the test was not found to be statistically significant between attackers and defenders for the left leg but was statistically significant for the right leg (p < 0.05), with the attackers performing better with moderate practical significance compared to the defenders. For the lateral trunk hold, the test was not found to be statistically significant between junior vs senior netballers for the left side but was statistically significant for the right side (p < 0.05). The test was also not found to be statistically significant between attackers and defenders for the right side but was statistically significant for the left side (p < 0.05).

Practical Applications These results provide a novel insight into the physical differences between junior vs senior youth netball players and attackers vs defenders in a series of applied lower extremity and trunk physical assessments. These results suggest that there may be little difference in the lower extremity strength, explosive strength, proprioception and trunk strength of youth netballers across divergent age categories and playing positions. Authors have previously highlighted the importance of developing such qualities for improving the physical preparedness of netball players (Barnes et al., 2020), whilst a bespoke and tailored injury prevention programme has been promoted (McNamus et al., 2005). Given the findings of this study, physical training practitioners may be warranted in ensuring a holistic and general physical preparation programme is implemented with youth netball players to reduce the risk of lower extremity injuries, irrelevant of age or playing position. It is advised that such physical preparation considers the physical demands of netball as outlined previously (van Gogh et al., 2020) given the high risk of low extremity injuries in this sport.

Maintaining Mass in Motion: The Longitudinal Tracking of Acceleration, Momentum and Body Mass in School Rugby Union Through a 15 Week In Season Phase

High speed running has been identified as an important physical characteristic for performance in Rugby Union (RU; Duthie, 2006; Gamble, 2004). Indeed, authors have proposed that the combination of sprint velocity, sprint momentum and body mass is able to discriminate between playing levels and age categories (Barr et al., 2014; Till et al., 2014). However, research suggests there is a need to describe seasonal changes in such physical characteristics to provide perspective on variation in performance across playing positions and age groups (Darrell-Jones et al., 2015). Given the importance of these physical qualities in youth RU and the paucity of longitudinal data on such performance markers, the aim of this study was to explore the change in acceleration, momentum and body mass over a 15-week in season period within a school RU season. In addition, the study aimed to assess the difference in these physical qualities between age categories and playing positions. It is hoped the findings of this study provides an insight into the potential for development in acceleration performance and body mass during a school RU season, as well as highlighting the differences between divergent categories of players to aid physical training practitioners in supporting the development of acceleration, momentum and body mass in school RU across age groups and playing positions.

34 school RU players participated in the study. Participants ranged from 16-18 years of age and were assigned as year 12 or 13 based on their academic year (Yr) and forwards or backs based on their most common playing position. All testing was completed at the same time point in the training week and all testing was undertaken by an accrediated strength and conditioning coach (UKSCA). All players engaged in a physical training programme consisting of strength, power and speed development, as well as rugby training and matches. Body mass was measured to the nearest 0.1kg using Seca alpha (model 813) scales. Acceleration was measured at 10m using timing gates (Brower Timing Systems, IR Emit, USA). This distance was chosen to enable assessment of initial sprint velocity and momentum as used by Barr et al. (2014). Each sprint was started 0.5m behind the first timing gate. Players were instructed to set off in their own time and to run maximally through the second gate. Times were measured to the nearest 0.01s. The average of three trials was used for analysis of acceleration and momentum.

In order to compare the change in performance in acceleration, momentum and body mass over 15 weeks, a single factor anova was conducted. An analysis of variance showed that the effect of weeks was significant for acceleration, F (14, 183) = 2.05, P = 0.02. However, the only significant difference between consecutive weeks was for weeks 10 and 11 (p < 0.05). The effect of weeks on momentum and body mass was not significant and there were no significant differences between consecutive weeks. In order to compare performance between age categories and playing positions an independent samples t-test was conducted. For 10m acceleration, the test was not found to be statistically significant between Yr12 vs Yr13 but was statistically significant between forwards vs backs (p < 0.05), with the backs performing better with a small practical significance. For momentum, the test was found to be statistically significant for both Yr12 vs Yr13 and forwards vs backs (p < 0.05), with forwards and Yr13 performing better with a large practical significance. For body mass, the test was found to be statistically significant for both Yr12 vs Yr13 and forwards vs backs (p < 0.05), with forwards and Yr13 performing better with a large practical significance.

Practical Applications These results provide an insight into the changes in acceleration, momentum and body mass over a 15-week in season period, as well as the difference between age categories and playing positions in school RU. These results suggest that, with the regular inclusion of weekly strength, power and speed development sessions, acceleration, momentum and body mass can be maintained through an in-season period in school RU players despite the fatigue associated to regular training and playing load (Oliver et al., 2015), in addition to academic and pastoral commitments. As such, the consistent exposure to such physical training qualities should be encouraged during the competition phase of a school RU season. Given the greater mass in motion of older forwards, physical training practitioners may consider appropriate training formats to drive further adaptations within particular age categories and playing positions, i.e. younger forwards, to prepare for the physical demands of more senior RU as outlined by in the literature (Darrell-Jones et al., 2015).

Research Review – Sensitive Periods to Train General Motor Abilities


In this episode we view the research paper titled, Sensitive periods to train general motor abilities in children and adolescents: Do they exist? A critical appraisal’. In this review we explore the paper’s proposal of the concurrent training of motor skills and general motor abilities, as well as the application of an holistic rather than reductionist view on physical development in youth. 

The Sky is not the Limit, There are Footprints on the Moon: The Benefits of Performance Analysis for The Dyslexic Youth Athlete

In our previous blog we explored the 4-Cs of positive coaching in a physical development programme. We proposed that the 4-Cs and their integration into physical training can provide rich rewards for the youth athlete later in their development journey. In this blog we explore and share our thoughts and beliefs on the role that performance analysis can play for dyslexic sports pupils and their active involvement in sport. We believe performance analysis can offer an opportunity to enhance this cohort’s engagement within this area and in doing so boost their confidence through empowerment; utilising and optimising their individual strengths.

There is growing evidence to show that individuals who suffer from dyslexia can often display abilities in creativity, visualisation, expression and cognitive flexibility. These can be considered core skills that make a great performance analyst. Being creative via ‘out the box’ thinking, problem solving skills and using visualisation skills to compile and generate data and video content are all important attributes of the analyst. Therefore, with this research area in mind, we believe that analysis allows pupils with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia to explore sport in a way that they may have not been able to do otherwise. Over the years several famous sports stars have highlighted their struggles with dyslexia. This shows how sport can played a significant part in their coping with everyday life, empowering them in ways a classroom could often not.

Sir Jackie Stewart, whose dyslexia went undiagnosed until years after he retired as a Formula One driver, was quoted in saying, “I was labelled thick at school, but sport saved my life.” This is likely to be down to the increased self-worth, confidence and inclusion that being part of a sport provided for him.  As performance analysts, we place a high value on, particularly with our pupils with dyslexia, ensuring pupils thrive in our learning processes particularly around self-worth, confidence and inclusion.

At Millfield pupils in sport actively review video footage during and post training sessions and post matches. We aim for this process to be empowering for the dyslexic pupil, providing a space for these individuals to utilise their visual learning ability and creativity as highlighted above. Through the process of analysing sport, pupils can better understand the challenges of development in sport, taking time and space to generate solutions to sporting problems and a platform to share these with other pupils and coaches. This approach allows pupils with greater cognitive flexibility, creativity and expression to show their true potential and build their productivity and their confidence in an environment which is often considered safe, fun and enjoyable. We hope that is provides an overall positive learning experience for these pupils

In conclusion we strongly believe that the analysis of sport can play a vital role in the development of the Millfield graduate and offers a dangerously modern learning environment which allows students to discover their brilliance and become modern disruptors in sport no matter what their ‘learning abilities’ are.

“It Doesn’t Get Better By Chance, It Gets Better By (Purposeful) Change: The Development of Positive Coaching Practice in Athletic Development

In our previous blog we explored we the importance of reason and choice in developing nutrition behaviours in youth athletes. We proposed that at the epicentre of our nutrition programme is education. The provision of meaningful education messaging, through signage to workshops to bespoke individual support, will always be the foundation of developing positive behaviours and practices around nutrition and fuelling in our environment. In this blog we will explore the importance of the coaching environment in the context of athletic development. At the heart of this will be the role of positive coaching in the acquisition of physical, psychological and behavioural skills and capabilities to support an individual’s developmental journey in sport.
Positive coaching as been previously defined in the research literature. The 4-Cs of positive coaching have been commonly identified, as can be seen below. I have added my interpretation of the 4-Cs within my coaching practice:

  1. Competence – to experience success
  2. Confidence – to experience independence
  3. Connection – to experience a sense of belonging
  4. Character – to express training behaviours

Whilst I am constantly looking to challenge and support the development of these areas in the young athletes I coach, I am conscious there are several factors that may accelerate or derail the development of these characteristics, including but not limited to:

1. Maturity – both physical and cognitive
2. Training age – the impact of past physical training experience on current ability
3. Commitment – a reflection of one’s application and/or contribution

These factors may be influential at various stages of development and I must be progressive yet considered in my approach to the development of the 4-Cs to ensure realistic goals and expectations are set and met. In this context, I would see the process of development through a guided discovery approach in which several critical stages exist:

  1. Autonomy – programme ownership
  2. Mastery – process ownership
  3. Purpose – motivational ownership

In summary, I believe striving to achieve the 4-Cs of positive coaching in a physical development programme is an intention that will provide rich rewards for the youth athlete later in their development journey. It is my role therefore, to consider the interaction of maturity, training age and commitment and offer both challenging and support in my coaching practice and coaching context to facilitate development. The outcome of programme, process and motivational ownership is always front and centre of my professional judgement and decision making and for me, provides the operational basis on which to see the 4-Cs of positive coaching come to life.

Don’t Judge Choice Without Understanding Reason: Building Buy In and Making Knowledge Meaningful in Nutrition Education

In our previous blog we explored the role of the physiotherapist in supporting the development of the whole person. We identified that the physiotherapist often has a critical role to play in asking questions, being knowledgeable and educating others in relation to an array of challenging topics, such as RED-s. In this blog we delve into the area of nutrition education and explore the importance of understanding reason and choice to nutritional behaviours. Drawing from our nutrition delivery framework at Millfield, the epicentre of our program is education. Whether it is workshops, presentations, effective signage or face-to-interactions, we focus on providing meaningful educational messages to support our students’ nutritional behaviours and subsequent practices.

Nutrition education programmes often aim to rectify suboptimal dietary practices by improving general nutritional knowledge and understanding of sport-specific nutritional needs. However, this is based primarily on the premise that superior nutritional knowledge translates into better nutritional behaviours and practices (Heaney et al, 2011). Is this in fact the case? Is simply providing the education of what good nutritional practices are enough, or does how the message is transmitted to its receiver play a role in supporting change? For example, whilst understanding the glycaemic load of carbohydrates and how we should apply this across a training day to maximise fuelling and recovery may be appropriate for certain athletic adult populations, this is likely not a message for a year 9 multisport student who has limited knowledge on what foods classify as carbohydrates.  

Often, I find nutrition messages being pushed over social media, within governing bodies and from other key stakeholders can be grossly over complicated and unrelatable for their target population. I  too have been guilty of wanting to dive right in, use contemporary research to provide nutrition support that looks good on paper, or follows rigid guidelines of what an athlete should do, rather than listening to what their goals are, understanding of what they want to achieve and recognising the external pressures which are currently preventing them achieving these goals from a nutritional standpoint.

As a practitioner, having a strong foundation of knowledge and remaining in touch with contemporary nutrition related research to inform practice is important. However, what often separates successful nutrition support and leads to the greatest or most sustainable results is the ability to build rapport and relationships with our athletes. When we get to know the person, not just the athlete, it becomes much easier to recognise the factors affecting their current behaviours, understand the level of knowledge they current possess and identify how we translate our knowledge into practical solutions which will have a meaningful impact. Fine tuning softer communications skills can support this process and often comes with gaining exposure to an array of different personalities and making the most of Informal conversations walking through the corridor, rather than in the office.

Without the appropriate relationships being in place, appreciation of goals and challenges influencing their nutritional behaviours, the impact of support is often lost in translation, no matter how ground-breaking it may be. With a program underpinned by nutritional education to influence and improve nutritional behaviours, I aim to challenge myself daily not only to provide high quality, accurate nutrition support but provide it in manner that our students will not only understand but more importantly, can put into practice.

Every Art Requires (and Should Consider) the Whole Person: The Developing Role of Physiotherapy in Supporting the Whole Person

In our previous blog we explore the importance of autonomy supportive behaviours in the physical development of youth athletes. We proposed that the S&C coach should be encouraged to share planning and programme rationale and use language that internalises physical capabilities and enhances internal motivation. In this blog we continue to explore the diverse role of sport science practitioners in youth sport by considering the potential of the physiotherapist to recognise and respond to signs and symptoms of relative energy deficient disorder.

The role of the physiotherapists has changed over time to be more focussed on, not just the physiological factors of the human body, but a more holistic looking at the whole person. With this more holistic approach comes a greater emphasis on providing appropriately positioned education and advice. One key area of physiotherapy that is significantly gaining momentum recently is relative energy deficiency syndrome (RED-S). RED-S is particularly important within youth sports due to the fact that optimum bone density is laid down from around 15-24 years of age and peak bone mass is found at 18 in females and 20 in males (Bones.nih.gov, 2020).

The concept of RED-S is that energy input (food) vs. energy output (exercise and basal metabolic rate) is imbalanced and therefore the body does not react well and begins to suffer in a number of ways. RED-S is something that has previously been mainly linked to female athletes in weight dependent sports (light weight rowing, swimming and athletics for example), but more recently there has been a shift in an awareness for all athletes and coaches to be able to recognise and respond with appropriate support.

Some of the key indicators that an athlete is suffering from RED-S are recurrent injury, in particular stress fractures, chronic fatigue, decreased metabolism and menstrual dysfunction. The image below highlights the range of possible indicators.

The biggest hurdle in this battle is reducing the stigma around conversations with youth athletes about diet and health and in females in particular, symptoms such as menstrual dysfunction. A recent conversation with a young female athlete allowed me to understand what her thoughts were on the topic of being asked about these aspects. She, much like many other athletes and coaches, had never heard of the concept of RED-S, or even elements of it. We discussed the best method she felt of displaying this information in a non-invasive way and allowing for conversations to be had. It was clear that certain coaches would be ok to talk to and others would be more uncomfortable. She noted that she would trust a physiotherapist to discuss this topic if the opportunity were provided to her. It was also clear that if the topic of RED-S was not pushed upon the athletes (a questionnaire where the results were taken, and then automatic meetings were made if multiple symptoms were ticked for example) then they would not seek help if they were just given other sources of guidance, for example an advice sheet.

This major take-home from this experience was the lack of awareness. It is a well-established fact that awareness is poor of this topic, but how can we feel empowered to approach RED-S and put steps in place to overcome it? Does the conversation start with diet and bone density with regard to exercise and loading bones during these optimal ages? Our role as physiotherapy is ever-changing but having the awareness of topics such as this means we can have another checklist to consider when treating and supporting the development of young athletes. Within our environment we may be the first person to notice that someone has had recurrent injuries or illness, so it is essential our knowledge is sufficient to highlight any symptoms or risks. Having the confidence and knowledge to ask within a physiotherapy appointment about the symptoms stated above should be part of our remit and we must feel empowered and capable to do this. The challenge is ensuring you prioritise this topic when a symptom arises. With limited appointment times and a specific rehab and exercise role, it is easy to push it aside altogether. The long-term effect of ignoring something like this can be significant and impact the rest of these young athletes’ lives.

My top 3 pieces of practical advice would be:
1- It is our remit and we need the confidence to ask the questions.
2- Brush up on your knowledge of the symptoms of RED-S and have a plan of what to do when faced with someone who is displaying them.
3- Use your knowledge to educate those around you; coaches, athletes, teachers, parents and so on. The more people that know about it the better and one of those people will be approachable for that pupil to talk to, so make sure we are all equipped.

Control Leads to Compliance, Autonomy Leads to Engagement: Is Autonomy Support the Most Important Factor to Facilitating a Productive Coach-Athlete Relationship in Athletic Development?

In our previous blog we explored the true value of university placement programmes on the intra and interpersonal development of university students. The placement experiences shared in the blog highlight the ability of placement programmes to narrow the gap between the textbook and the real world in the sport science industry, with challenge and support being important aspects. In this week’s blog we will explore the role of the coach-athlete relationship in physical training, with a particular focus on autonomy support. Is autonomy support the most important factor to facilitating a productive coach-athlete relationship in athletic development?

Sports psychology research has identified the importance of the coach-athlete relationship to both successful athletic performance and interpersonal satisfaction (Jowett and Meek, 2000; Jowett and Cockrill, 2003; Jowett, 2005; Lyle, 1999; Mageau and Vallerand, 2003; Poczwardowski, Barott, and Jowett, 2006). A well-conceived coaching philosophy provides the structure through which such performance and satisfaction can be coherently and consistently achieved (Cassidy, Jones, and Potrac, 2009; Martens, 2004; McGladrey, Murray, and Hannon, 2010). An important construct of the author’s own strength and conditioning (S&C) coaching philosophy surrounds the need for autonomy in the coach-athlete dyad. Autonomy is the experience of volition; for behaviour to be united with an integrated sense of self, empowering choice as a driving force behind behaviour (deCharms, 1968; Deci and Ryan, 2000; Reeve, Nix and Hamm, 2003; Ryan, 1995). The author will now provide a critical discussion as to whether autonomy support is the most important factor to facilitating a productive coach-athlete dyad in athletic development.

Autonomy support occurs when a significant other (e.g. S&C coach) embraces the target’s (e.g. athletes) perspective, provides appropriate and consequential information and encourages the target’s initiative (Black and Deci, 2000; Pelletier, Fortier, Vallerand and Bricre, 2001). Research suggests that behavioural strategies may be applied by the S&C coach to satisfy this support system (Grolnick and Ryan, 1989; Mageau and Vallerand, 2003; Pelletier et al., 2001). Through the author’s own S&C coaching philosophy (appendix 1) and experiences such strategies can be applied by providing the athlete with a clear direction and framework to S&C. Publicising the periodisation of training and expectations regarding adaptation, volume and intensity of training relative to the competition cycle provides pertinent information and rationale to the athlete. At this point the athlete should be encouraged to express opinion; consult on tasks, limits and policies and propose questions in order to fulfil self-determination (deCharms, 1968; Ryan and Deci, 2006). The author also positions the need for individuality in the coaching process relative to physical ability and the need for mentoring athletes. Autonomy supportive behaviour would propose varying strategies relative to training age and physical literacy to stimulate continued adaptation without threatening wider training aims. Variability in exercise progressions and regressions and considering action required on feedback from the athlete may be appropriate strategies. As such the sensations of competency, connectedness and autonomy may be internalised, thus mediating the effects of need satisfaction on the relationship between the coach’s behaviour and athlete’s motivation (Mageau and Vallerand 2003, Reeve and Deci, 1996; Ryan and Fredrick, 1997). #

Beyond the actions related to programme design and athlete competency, the author cites the importance of language and its impact and influence on the athlete (appendix 1). Language that provides structure and portrays involvement in the athlete’s welfare represents an important component of athlete’s perception of autonomy (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Grolnick and Ryan, 1989; Alvarez, Balaguer, Castillo, and Duda, 2009).  Research has highlighted the importance of communication being positive, open, honest and founded on mutuality and understanding (Culver and Trudel, 2000; Bloom, Schinke and Salmela, 1997; Headley-Cooper, 2010; Yukelson, 1997). Drawing on the experiences of the author, the use of such language may allow the athlete to ‘try’ a variation in technique or ‘may want to’ load or deload the barbell to achieve training adaptations. Such language creates a more motivating climate, providing the athlete with vital experience and information to internalise their own physical capability and facilitate self determined extrinsic motivation (Mageau and Vallerand, 2003; Pelletier et al., 1995). Research has shown that S&C coaches who undertake a process of self-assessment of their instructional behaviour are effective in modifying behaviours targeted for change (Gallo and De Marco, 2008). As such this process may be effective in improving the S&C coaches’ use of language to provide more effective autonomy support for the athlete.

While the concept of autonomy supportive behaviours fosters choice, rationale, emotive awareness and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Cordova and Lepper, 1996; Grusec and Goodnow, 1994; Reinboth and Duda, 2004) it is idealistic to suggest such support can always be effectively delivered in the S&C environment. Coaching context is an influential factor on coaching behaviour (Mageau and Vallerand, 2003) and even if autonomy supportive behaviours are central to coaching philosophy, actual behaviours are formed within the context in which they operate (Deci and Ryan, 2000; Headley-Cooper, 2010; Oliver, Markland, Hardy, and Pethrick, 2008). From the author’s experiences, the S&C environment can be highly competitive as task contingent rewards are prevalent, athletes are continually observed, evaluated and assessed, competition and training are scheduled in advanced creating rigidity to training and performance and S&C coaches are afforded limited contact time with the cohort of athletes they engage with. Such circumstances can force ego-involved, controlling behaviours from the S&C coach that result in conflict, alienation, controlling regulatory processes and compensatory outcome goals (Conroy and Coatsworth, 2007; Deci and Ryan, 2000; Deci and Ryan, 1987). Autonomy relative to ideal supportive behaviour may be undermined and the equilibrium of the coach-athlete dyad affected.

Whilst the role of autonomy supportive behaviours has been recognised as important to facilitating productive coaching-athlete relationships, the ability to execute such behaviours in the S&C environment may be challenging. The S&C coach should be encouraged to expose S&C planning and rationales, provide individual support to stimulate athletic development and use language that internalises physical capability and motivation. Such recommendation fulfils the athlete’s self-determined need for choice, independence and expression of feelings and motivation. However, the challenge is represented by the context in which the S&C coach and athlete engage. The limitations surrounding competition, reward systems and scheduling places stress on the coach’s ability to deliver autonomy support and as such controlling behaviours may prevail. S&C coaches should understand the importance of autonomy supportive behaviours and the positive effects on the athlete and their physical and emotional development. However, the coach must also be aware of factors that limit the facilitation of productive coach-athlete relationships such as the coaching context. How do you go about developing autonomy support to facilitate a productive coach-athlete relationship in athletic development?