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Knowledge and authority give coaches power

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It is primarily knowledge, expertise and the recognised right to make decisions that give coaches power rather than their status as a role model or players' fear of punishment or desire for reward, reveals a new thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

"Players who comply more often with a coach's wishes because they view the coach as knowledgeable and skilled are more happy with, and more influenced by, their coach," says Pär Rylander, author of the thesis. "They also put more into their training and have more confidence in the team's ability."

Create power and influence

Coaches are generally thought to play a highly influential role in the performance and perceptions of their players. However, there has been virtually no research into what it is that creates real power and influence for coaches. In his thesis Pär Rylander looks at five factors – or power bases – which create power and influence for coaches in three different team sports:

  • Expert power: The coach is considered to be knowledgeable and skilled – he or she "knows best".
  • Legitimate power: The coach is considered to have the right to make decisions on the basis of the role or position he or she holds.
  • Referent power: The coach is viewed as a role model and someone players want to emulate.
  • Coercive power: The coach can punish players if they fail to do what he or she wants.
  • Reward power: The coach can reward players if they do what he or she wants.

Using questionnaire responses from around 820 players at both elite and amateur level in football, handball and floorball, Pär Rylander investigates which of the power bases players generally view as a reason to comply with a coach's wishes. He also investigates whether there is a link between players' characteristics and their reasons for doing what the coach wants. He further examines the connection between the power bases and coaching effectiveness.

The results show that the players primarily view a coach's knowledge and position of authority as the reason for doing what the coach wants – the first two power bases. These are followed by the coach's reward, coercive and referent power. There are also clear links between different player characteristics and the reasons for players doing as their coach asks.

Older players care less

"For example, women players are more likely than their male counterparts to view the coach's knowledge as a reason to comply. Players who are included less frequently in a squad's first team comply more often with the coach's wishes because they want to avoid punishment or because of the coach's legitimate power."

However, it is age that consistently makes the biggest difference: the older the player, the less important a coach's role-model status and knowledge, and the less effective his or her ability to reward or punish players to get his or her own way.

"There are also strong ties between the power bases and coaching effectiveness, as measured in the study," says Pär Rylander. "Expert power more than anything else correlates closely with positive consequences for the players. Overall, the results show that it is not just what players do during training sessions, but also why they do it, that seems to play a significant role in creating an environment where they develop and thrive."

Read the thesis here

For more information, please contact:
Pär Rylander, e-mail: par.rylander@gu.se, tel: +46 (0)31 786 2099 or +46 (0)702 210 753

Pär Rylander submitted his thesis Tränares makt över spelare i lagidrotter – sett ur French och Ravens maktbasteori (Coaches' power over athletes in team sports – as seen from the French and Ravens theory of power bases) to the Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science at the University of Gothenburg.