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Identifying the methods of coaching used by youth sport coaches’: a multimethod study

By 12 April 2021July 5th, 2021No Comments
Carroll & Allen
Published: 17th September 2020


This research investigated antecedents of youth sports’ coaches autonomy-supportive and controlling behaviours using a multi-method approach. Recreational youth swimming and football coaches were each observed leading a coaching session and participating in a semi-structured interview. The results identified that the coaches were predominantly autonomy-supportive, with some instances of controlling in their interactions with the athletes. The coaches communicated that they coached in this way due to factors associated with their personal orientation, the coaching context, and their perceptions of athlete’s characteristics. The findings of this research were discussed in relation to factors which might determine coaching behaviours and be used for coach development.


12 youth sports coaches from Scotland, who coach recreational athletes in swimming and football participated in the study. All coaches held coaching qualifications and were either paid or voluntary part time. The study used a concurrent triangulation mixed methods approach, with both quantitative and quantitative data collected from the coaches during the same time frame. Each coach carried out a coaching session, which was recorded on cameras. Each time a predetermined behaviour was identified, it was noted down on a MMCOS coding sheet. The mean and standard deviation, as well as percentage of total behaviours were then calculated. This allowed the investigation into individual and shared patterns of behaviour. Using these, the mean potency ratings and standard deviation were calculated, giving the overall strength of coaches’ observed autonomy-supported and controlling behaviours. The researcher then conducted a 40-minute recorded interview with the coach. These were analysed using a thematic analysis to identify self-reported autonomy-supported and controlling behaviours. The results from the interview and coaching session were then compared to assess how well the data matched, and reasons around the reasons for the findings.

Key Findings

Results showed that the autonomy-supportive behaviour of each coach created motivational environment received a higher potency rating than the controlling environment. This suggests that on average, coaches create a moderately autonomy-supportive and minimally controlling environment for their athletes. Additionally, the coaches showed far more autonomy-supportive behaviours compared to controlling behaviours. The results from the coaches self-reported interview showed that on average, the coaches believed that they were moderately autonomy-supportive and weakly controlling, whilst the cross-concordance analysis showed the interview results had medium levels of consistency when compared to their observation skills.


This research has been successful at identifying the environments created and behaviours used whilst coaching youth athletes, however, has shown that there is still progress needed to improve the motivational environments created and to increase the understanding of the two behaviours and why they are used. Further analysis of the coaches’ data has identified a number of themes as to why they coach using these methods. The coaches own personal orientation, in particular the influence of others, learning experiences and roles of the coach being identified as key theme as to the reasons behind the coaching methods. The next theme that was identified as to having a significant effect of coaching behaviours was the coaching context, in particular the perceived time pressures on the coaches. Finally, the last theme identified as having a significant effect on coaching behaviours was the coaches’ perceptions of athlete characteristics. The readiness for autonomy, athlete gender and behaviours and motivations were shown to highly influence coaches’ behaviours during their sessions.

This research has shown that when looking to help coaches to improve their interpersonal coaching behaviours and motivational environment, it may be beneficial to start with learning more about the coaches as individuals, as well their coaching context and athletes they coach. By carrying this out, it may assist coaches in understanding how autonomy-supported behaviours work with how they are thinking and behaving.