Emotional coach-athlete relationship: a qualitative study with swiss swimmers

Por: Roberta Antonini Philippe e Roland Seiler.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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The coach-athlete relationship is an important factor for sporting performance (Butler, 1997) but equally for the athlete’s interpersonal satisfaction (Smith & Smoll, 1996). Several authors have taken an interest in this relational phenomenon through the perceptions of the actors. The model developed and designed by Jowett & Meek (2000), which is composed of constructs such as closeness, co-orientation and complementarity is used to explain the coach-athlete relationship. According to these authors, the constructs facilitate the understanding of this unique relationship between the coach and athlete.


Five male swimmers from the Swiss national-team volunteered to participate in the study. All had international titles and had been selected for the 2000 Olympic Games and are in preparation for the 2004 Olympic Games.

Data were collected using in-depth interviews with open-ended questions. The construction of the interview schedule was based on the interview schedule developed by Jowett & Meek (2000).


The content analysis revealed different themes amongst the three constructs. With regard to closeness, the interviews showed the importance of establishing common objectives as well as the presence of a mix of general (respect, esteem, etc.) and personal (friendship) sentiments.

Co-orientation is above all characterised by the willingness on the part of the swimmer to let him- or herself be guided by his or her own coach and also to trust him or her fully.

With regard to complementarity, the swimmers affirm they feel themselves to be complementary to their coach. Furthermore, they feel themselves to be emotionally dependant. This drives the swimmers to achieve an objective more with the goal of pleasing their trainer than for themselves.

Discussion/ conclusions

The analysis of the constructs revealed by Jowett & Meek (2000) shows a certain influence of the coach on the athlete. This relationship is defined by all of the swimmers as one that is very close, and that has a positive influence on the approach of the others, the ability to focus and achieve objectives, etc. Our results also reveal the importance of an emotional relationship that allows the athlete to shoulder large workloads in the sporting domain, but also to face difficulties in daily life. However, this relationship does not appear to be an authoritarian relationship, instead it seems to be a pairing in which each participant has a positive impact on the performance and personal development of the other.



[1]. Butler, R. (1997). Sport psychology in performance. Butterworth, Oxford: Heinemenan.

[2]. Jowett, S., & Meek, G.A. (2000). The Coach-Athlete Relationship in married couples: An exploratory Content Analysis. The Sport Psychologist, 14, 157-175.

[3]. Smith, R.E., & Smoll, F.L. (1996). The coach as the focus of research and intervention in youth sports. In F.L. Smoll & R.E. Smith, (Eds), Children and youth in sport: A biopsychological perpective (pp. 125-141). Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill.







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