Team sports have become a vital informal learning setting in which athletes are taught, motivated and mentored by their coaches.
A recent experimental study published in the June issue of International Journal of Sport Communication examined the effects of coach verbal aggression on athlete motivation and perceptions of coach credibility.
Results revealed that athletes exposed to a verbally aggressive coach were significantly less motivated and perceived the coach as less credible than athletes who were exposed to a coach who used an affirming style.
The participants were 130 undergraduate student-athletes from a large southeastern US university who played multiple sports throughout their lives including American football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and swimming.
The group was asked to complete a questionnaire on narratives from a verbally aggressive coach and an affirming-style coach.
Profanity, screaming and condescending language was included in the verbally aggressive narrative, and calm, supportive and concerned language was featured in the affirming-style narrative.
The primary purpose of this study was to explore the effects of coach verbal aggression on athletes’ motivation and their perceptions of coach credibility.
The findings suggest that coaches who were represented as highly verbally aggressive led athletes to experience significantly less motivation and led them to perceive the coach as significantly less credible.
Coaches may intend for their aggressive communication to correct athletes’ poor performance during competition and improve their overall effectiveness.
However, these communication choices can come at the expense of athletes’ motivation and lead athletes to perceive the coach as less competent, trustworthy and caring.
When coaches yell at their players when they make mistakes, use condescending and profane language and use other hurtful communication behaviour, athletes report that they are less motivated to participate and perceive the verbally aggressive coach as low in credibility.
On the other hand, coaches who use an affirming style with calm and supportive language can lead athletes to experience greater motivation and perceive the coach as more competent, trustworthy and caring.
College athletes respond poorly to verbally aggressive coaches — behavior epitomized by former Rutgers coach Mike Rice — according to a study conducted by researchers at Clemson University. The research, which took place in spring 2012 well before the Rice videos surfaced and is scheduled to be published in June in the International Journal of Sport Communication, found that the participating athletes were less motivated by hostile interaction with coaches, and that athletes found coaches who utilized these methods to be less credible, meaning they didn’t trust them, find them competent or caring.