Understanding and ultimately optimizing the experience of individuals involved in physical activity is a focal point in sport and exercise psychology. From a social cognitive perspective, perceptions of the psychological climate represent an individual’s perceptions of what is valued, emphasized, and promoted in a particular setting. Recently, Maria Newton and colleagues have identified a facet of the psychological climate termed the caring climate. This entry will define and discuss the conceptual underpinnings of the caring climate, review the existing empirical literature, and provide suggestions for future research.
Newton and colleagues define the caring climate as the extent to which individuals perceive a particular setting to be interpersonally inviting, safe, supportive, and able to provide the experience of being valued and respected. Conceptualization of the caring climate is firmly ensconced in the work of educational philosopher Nel Noddings, who describes caring as a state of awareness by the one caring characterized by engrossment and motivational displacement for the cared-for. Engrossment refers to open and nonselective receptivity demonstrated by fully accepting and listening to the cared-for. Motivational displacement refers to emphasizing the goals and aspirations of the cared-for in lieu of one’s own needs. Thus, caring is relational in nature and characterized by the one-caring taking time and energy to express authentic concern and connection with the cared-for.
In sport and exercise settings, coaches, group exercise leaders, personal trainers, and fitness specialists predominantly play the role of the one caring while participants (teammates, clients) are the cared-for. Importantly, however, perceptions of a caring climate occur reciprocally and among all participants within a setting; members of a team can care for other teammates, opponents, and their coach (acting as the ones-caring).
Conceptually, perceptions of a caring climate are proposed to be positively associated with motivational striving, moral engagement, quality of relationships, and mental health. Perceptions of a caring climate are somewhat similar to participants’ sense of belonging and social and relatedness goals emphasized in a particular setting but are philosophically different. The caring climate taps into a social–emotional sense of safety, closeness, and the feeling of being compelled to be of assistance to others, all of which make caring a distinct construct.
Emerging literature suggests that caring is an important element of the psychological climate of a setting and influential in understanding and maximizing the experience of individuals involved in physical activity. Newton et al. (2007) created the Caring Climate Scale (CCS), which measures the extent to which individuals perceive a specific context to be caring. Example items include “the leaders care about kids” and “everyone likes kids for who they are.”
Perceptions of a caring climate are related to indicators of positive engagement and developmental outcomes in sport. Mary Fry and Lori Gano-Overway reported that athletes who perceived their team to be caring were more likely to have positive attitudes toward their teammates and coach, indicate greater enjoyment of and commitment to their sport, and were more likely to report acting in a caring manner toward others. In a sample of primarily African American underserved adolescent athletes, Daniel Gould, Ryan Flett, and Larry Lauer (2012) reported that perceptions of a caring climate were linked to positive developmental outcomes, most notably teamwork and social skills.
Studies have established links between perceptions of caring climate and mental well-being and social behaviors, while also providing evidence for possible mechanisms that explain how caring operates to influence outcomes. Fry and colleagues found that perceptions of a caring climate have been associated with greater hope and happiness and less depression and sadness as well as increased prosocial behaviors and decreased antisocial behaviors. Gano-Overway and colleagues reported that a perceived caring climate influenced mental well-being and social behaviors through aspects of personal efficacy. When individuals are cared for, they are better able to monitor and regulate their emotions and feel more capable of empathizing with others. These beliefs result in greater personal well-being as well as more adaptive social behaviors.
While a majority of the research has focused on participant outcomes associated with perceptions of a caring climate, an interesting study by T. Michelle Magyar et al. explored the predictors of leaders’ self-reported ability to create a caring climate. Leaders’ emotional intelligence, specifically their ability to control their emotions and efficacy for implementing instruction, were significant and positive determinants of their own personal caring.
The importance of a caring climate in exercise settings is yet unknown and a warranted focus of future research. Extending the leadership findings is another intriguing area of future research. Lastly, well controlled intervention studies would be most beneficial in identifying the impact of creating a caring climate.
- Fry, M. D., & Gano-Overway, L. A. (2010). Exploring the contribution of the caring climate to the youth sport experience. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22, 294–304.
- Fry, M. D., Guivernau, M., Kim, M., Newton, M., GanoOverway, L. A., & Magyar, T. M. (2012). Youth perceptions of a caring climate, emotional regulation, and psychological well-being. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 1, 44–57.
- Gano-Overway, L. A., Newton, M., Magyar, T. M., Fry, M. D., Kim, M., & Guivernau, M. R. (2009). Influence of caring youth sport contexts on efficacy-related beliefs and social behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 45, 329–340.
- Gould, D., Flett, R., & Lauer, L. (2012). The relationship between psychosocial development and the sports climate experienced by underserved youth. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 80–87.
- Magyar, T. M., Guivernau, T. N., Gano-Overway, L. M., Newton, M., Kim, M., Watson, D. L., et al. (2007). The influence of leader efficacy and emotional intelligence on personal caring in physical activity. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 26, 310–319.
- Newton, M., Fry, M. D., Watson, D. L., Gano-Overway, L., Kim, M., Magyar, M., et al. (2007). Psychometric properties of the caring climate scale in a physical activity setting. Revista de Psicologia del Deporte, 16, 67–84.
- Noddings, N. (2002). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.