Caring Climate

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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Noddings, N. (2002). The challenge to care in schools: An alternative approach to education. New York: Teachers College Press.

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