The core tenets of social cognitive theory (SCT) focus on the interrelationship among three sets of factors—namely personal, environmental, and behavioral. These factors are often described as being part of a reciprocal causal network whereby environmental, personal, and behavioral factors interact to determine a range of attitudinal and behavioral consequences. One of the key underpinning factors of the SCT approach is that it recognizes that human interactions do not occur in a vacuum; rather, they occur in an ever-changing environmental context, and this context influences the nature and outcomes of these interactions. For example, an identical set of interactions may produce one set of outcomes in a particular context (e.g., elite level sport) but different outcomes in another context (e.g., a youth physical education [PE] setting). Another key underpinning assumption of SCT is that humans are all different and that these differences will influence the nature and outcomes of their interactions with others. That is, an identical set of interactions will have a different impact depending on the personality of the individuals involved. For example, individuals high in self-esteem may respond differently to coach criticism than individuals low in self-esteem. SCT models of leadership that have been developed in the context of sport delineate the complex social and cognitive processes that influence coach behavior as well as the effectiveness of those behaviors on athlete and team outcomes. The major SCT models included in this entry are mediational model of leadership (MML), the coaching effectiveness model (CEM) of leadership, motivational model of the coach–athlete relationship (MMCAR), and coach-created motivational climate (CCMC).
Mediational Model of Leadership
The MML—developed by Ronald Smith, Frank Smoll, and their colleagues—delineates the complex interaction between person, environment, and behavior that typifies an SCT approach. The core of the model specifies that coach behaviors influence athlete perceptions and recall, which, in turn, influences athlete’s evaluative reactions. One of the underlying principles of the MML is that the effects of coach behaviors is mediated through the meaning that athlete’s give to their coaches’ behaviors. That is, an athlete’s appraisal of his or her coach’s behaviors serves as the mechanism through which a coach influences that athlete’s attitudes toward the coach and their sporting experience in general. For example, if an athlete perceives a coach to be supportive and helpful, he or she will likely have a positive attitude toward their coach and their sporting experience in general. These positive experiences will then likely lead to enhanced psychological well-being (PWB) (e.g., self-esteem), enhanced performance, and continued participation in their sport. Conversely, if an athlete views his or her coach as being overly critical and unsupportive, they are likely to form negative attitudes toward their coach and their sporting experience in general. This is likely to lead to a reduction in self-esteem, performance and reduced participation in their sport.
As a core tenet of this model, an understanding of the variables that can influence coach behaviors, athletes’ perceptions and recall of these behaviors, and athlete evaluative reactions to these behaviors is critical. To this end, the MML identifies factors that are theorized to influence coach behaviors, athlete perception and recall of coach behaviors, and also factors that are theorized to influence the athlete’s evaluative reactions to coach behaviors. Coach behavior is hypothesized to be determined by three sets of factors including coach individual difference variables, situational factors, and coach perceptions of athletes’ attitudes. For example, the MML hypothesizes that a coach’s normative beliefs impact the way in which they behave. Coach normative beliefs refer to what the coach believes is his or her primary role. For example, one coach may believe that her primary role is to win, whilst another coach may believe her primary role is to promote personal growth and enjoyment. The MML hypothesizes that coaches with a normative belief of winning will display more punitive, authoritarian behaviors, and will be more regimented in their approach than those coaches who see their role as promoting athlete growth. The second broad factor that is theorized to impact coach behavior is situational factors. For example, current game status (i.e., winning, losing or tied) is theorized to impact coach behaviors such that coaches will tend to display more punitive behaviors when losing. The third broad factor that is proposed to influence coach behavior corresponds to coaches’ perceptions of player attitudes. For example, a coach will likely behave differently toward an athlete who he believes has a contentious maladaptive attitude compared to an athlete who they believe has a positive attitude.
Athletes’ perception and recall of coach behaviors are primarily determined by how coaches actually behave but also by a range of athlete individual difference variables and situational factors. For example, trait anxiety (TA) experienced by an athlete is an individual difference variable that reflects a dispositional tendency to selectively attend to threat-related information in the environment. Because of this attentional bias toward threatening stimuli it is likely that athletes with high TA will interpret a coach’s behavior as being more threatening in nature (e.g., more punitive and less reinforcing behaviors) than those athletes with low TA. An example of a situational variable that might impact athlete perception and recall of coach behaviors is the pressure of the situation (e.g., practice vs. competition vs. championship finals). In highly pressured situations, athletes may become more aware of pressure-relevant cues in the environment, such as critical and controlling coach behaviors. As such, athletes are likely to report experiencing more of these types of behaviors in highly pressured situations.
Athletes’ evaluative reactions of their perceptions and recall of coach behaviors are also proposed to be influenced by athlete individual difference variables and situational factors. For example, following on from the previous rationale regarding the influence of TA on perception and recall of coach behavior (i.e., perceive that her coach is displaying more threatening behaviors), TA is also theorized to impact evaluative reactions to these coach behaviors. That is, athletes with high TA perceive punitive coach behaviors to be more threatening than those with low TA. Thus, not only will TA influence the amount of punitive coach behavior that they perceive themselves as receiving but will also influence the magnitude of the effect of these behaviors.
Studies that have tested the tenets of the MML have found that coaches who display more reinforcement of desirable behaviors and effort combined with encouragement and technical instruction toward mistakes are liked by their athletes; the athletes have more fun, and athletes like their teammates more. Coaches’ self-ratings of their own behavior tend to be uncorrelated with athletes’ ratings of those same behaviors. However, athletes’ ratings of their coaches’ behavior are often correlated with expert observers’ ratings of coach behaviors. Furthermore, supportive coach behaviors are generally associated with positive attitudes toward the coach, and punitive behaviors are generally related to negative attitudes toward the coach. Finally, team win–loss records have been found to be unrelated to athletes’ liking of the coach. However, athletes’ perceptions of their parents liking of the coach are related to win–loss records (athletes on winning teams perceived that their parents liked their coach more than athletes on losing teams).
The MML formed the basis for the development of a prominent coaching effectiveness training program by Smith and Smoll that was designed to enable coaches to relate more effectively to their athletes. This training program involves targeting (and modifying) coaches’ behaviors in order to enhance the sport experience of their athletes. Five guidelines underpinning this coaching effectiveness training program are to (1) focus on effort and enjoyment rather than winning at all costs, (2) emphasize a positive approach to coaching, (3) establish norms around interpersonal helping behaviors, (4) involve athletes in decision making (DM), and (5) enhance self-awareness of coaches. This program has been shown to be effective in modifying coach behaviors, developing athlete self-esteem and enjoyment, liking of the coach and teammates, and reducing attrition rates in sport.
Coaching Effectiveness Model
The CEM, which was developed by Thelma S. Horn, is one of the most recent models of coaching that has emerged from a social cognitive perspective. The CEM, in some respects, can be considered an extension of the MML. Many of the predictions and pathways specified in the CEM are consistent with those specified in the MML. For example, both models highlight the importance of coach behaviors and athletes’ evaluative reactions of these coach behaviors. However, the CEM also extended the MML by identifying and adding more explicit mediational pathways to the coaching process. These mediational pathways have been added to both the antecedents of coach behavior and the effects of coach behavior. For example, where the MML specifies that coach individual difference variables and situational factors can combine to impact coach behavior the CEM posits that the effects of these factors on coach behaviors is mediated by coaches’ expectancies, values, beliefs, and goals. Furthermore, the CEM identifies that coach behavior directly impacting athlete performance has an indirect effect on athlete performance via athlete self-perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes. These in turn impact athlete motivation and performance.
The various linkages and relationships specified in the CEM are based on a wide range of theoretical models. For example, the link between coach expectations and coach behaviors is supported by principles of self-fulfilling prophecy theory. Achievement goal theory (AGT) is also used to provide a rationale for identifying factors that impact coach behaviors. Specifically, the CEM hypothesizes that coaches who have more of a task orientation display behaviors that are consistent with that task orientation and, for example, emphasize self-referent goals rather than goals that involve comparisons with others. Given that the core principles of the CEM are largely similar to the MML, the research that supports the main tenets of the MML also support the CEM.
Motivational Model of the Coach–Athlete Relationship
Genevieve Mageau and Robert J. Vallerand’s MMCAR is premised upon self-determination theory (SDT) contentions. Similar to the other models discussed in this entry, the MMCAR specifies antecedents and consequences of coach behavior. The main difference of the MMCAR from the other models is that the MMCAR is almost exclusively grounded in SDT. In line with the principles of SDT, the MMCAR hypothesizes that the impact of coach behaviors on athlete motivation is mediated by the satisfaction of the three basic needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence. That is, the more coaches satisfy these three basic needs, the greater the athlete’s self-determined motivation will be.
The MMCAR also identifies the coach’s personal orientation (either autonomy supportive or controlling), coaching context, coach perception of athlete behavior, and motivation as determinants of coach behavior. For example, coaches’ expectations of their athletes’ ability are likely to influence the behavior that they display toward athletes. Specifically, according to the MMCAR, a coach who has low performance expectations of an athlete is likely to send messages of mistrust, emphasize mistakes, and ignore success in that athlete (i.e., exhibit behaviors that are likely to thwart need satisfaction). The MMCAR also identifies structure that a coach provides as being important in forming athlete perceptions of competence. Namely, structure in the form of specific instructions from the coach provides athletes with information by which to gauge their progress. Without sufficient feedback, athletes cannot experience progress, thus thwarting their need for competence. Lastly, coaches’ involvement with the athlete (i.e., demonstrating care for the athlete’s welfare) is theorized to make the athlete feel more related to the coach and thus satisfy their need for relatedness.
The MMCAR posits eight key indicators that are theorized to be consistent with the satisfaction of the three basic needs in athletes: provide a rationale for tasks, acknowledge athletes’ feelings and perspectives, provide athletes with opportunities for initiative taking and independent work, provide Non-controlling competence feedback, avoid overt control, avoid criticisms and controlling statements, avoid tangible rewards for interesting tasks, and prevent ego involvement in athletes. There is a large body of evidence that supports the core principle of the MMCAR that satisfaction of the basic needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence is positively associated with the internalization of motivation. There is also research evidence that supports the notion that coaches who display an autonomy supportive style of leadership have positive effects on athletes, whereas coaches that display more controlling behaviors tend to have negative effects on their athletes.
Coach-Created Motivational Climate
Developed by Joan Duda and Isabel Balaguer, the CCMC approach to examining leadership in sport is grounded in the principles articulated in AGT. Consistent with the other models of leadership described in this entry the CCMC specifies antecedents of coach behavior (e.g., coach individual difference variables, situational characteristics, and coaches’ perceptions of athletes’ attitudes), and it also delineates the consequences of coach behavior via specific mediating mechanisms. However, the CCMC diverges from the other models in that all the effects of coach behavior are proposed to operate predominately through the creation of task-involving and ego-involving climates. Based on the work of John Nicholls, AGT posits that there are two fundamental higher-order goals—namely, task and ego goals. Task goals refer to goals that are primarily articulated around self-referent criteria and involve factors such as effort and improving skill level, whereas ego goals are primarily articulated around the demonstration of superior competence in relation to others. The CCMC model posits that coaches create climates that promote either task-involvement or ego-involvement, which in turn impact the types of goals that athletes set. The types of goals that athletes set (or the reference by which they evaluate their performance) have an impact on their own attitudes, motivation, and behavior.
A substantial body of research has generally supported the predictions of the CCMC. For example, task-oriented climates have been found to be related to a large number of positive outcomes, such as self-determined motivation, satisfaction, effort, enjoyment, persistence, team cohesion, collective efficacy (CE), and sportsmanship behavior among athletes. Furthermore, ego-oriented climates have been found to be related to maladaptive coping strategies, anxiety, worry, tension, and amoral sport behaviors.
The social cognitive approaches to leadership that have been developed within the field of sport psychology provide strong evidence that coaches play a significant role in shaping athletes’ experiences. The models and theories of coach leadership that have emerged from the social cognitive perspective have identified in excess of 20 factors that are theorized to influence coach behaviors. These factors can be subsumed under the broad headings of coach individual difference variables, situational variables, and contextual variables. In excess of15 coach behaviors have been identified with three different methodologies of measurement (observer rating, coach self-report, and athlete rating). The main findings to emerge from the social cognitive paradigm of sport leadership can be summarized as follows:
- The coach plays a central role in influencing the athlete experience.
- Athlete cognitive evaluations of coach behaviors are the primary mediator of the impact of coaches’ behavior.
- Coaches who provide their athletes with autonomy supportive environments provide positive reinforcement and structure, demonstrate care for their athletes, create task-oriented environments, and avoid controlling behaviors tend to engender positive outcomes in their athletes.
- Coaches’ individual differences, situation, and context play a major role in determining coach behavior.
- Athletes’ individual difference variables influence their perceptions and evaluations of their coaches’ behaviors.
- Athletes’ individual difference variables moderate the effectiveness of coach behaviors.
- Coaches’ self-perceptions of their behaviors often appear to be incongruent with athlete perceptions and observer ratings of those same coach behaviors.
In sum, it is apparent that the social cognitive approach has been very influential in helping researchers and coaches understand the process of influence in a sport context. It is also apparent that the different models that have been proposed share similar features at a general level (e.g., they all specify antecedents of coach behavior and propose outcomes of coach behaviors) but differ substantively at a specific level (e.g., the specific antecedents of coach behavior that are identified, the specific variables involved in the coach behavior influence process, and the primary theoretical grounding employed). Finally, it appears that the coach has an incredibly difficult yet very important job in developing his or her athletes toward both optimal performance and PWB.
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