Trust and distrust in coaching: Better understanding sporting relationships

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff Metropolitan University
Department Name: Cardiff School of Sport


Aim and research questions
The purpose of this study is to explore the nature of trust within sports coaching. This overarching aim will be addressed through five related research questions;
1. What can be defined as trust between and among coaches and athletes?
2. By what means do athletes and coaches develop trusting relationships, and what do these look like in practice?
3. How does trust/distrust manifest itself between coaches, athletes and context?
4. How do individuals prove themselves to be trustworthy?
5. How is the work of repair undertaken when trust is perceived to be broken?

Significance of project
During the past decade, coaching has been increasingly depicted as situationally constructed, comprising negotiated interactions between a myriad of social actors in context (e.g., Santos, Jones & Mesquita, 2013). An aspect not yet engaged with as a part of this relational agenda, however, has been that of trust; that is, the trust (or distrust) that exists within coaching contexts which enables or inhibits the activity from working. This would appear an unwarranted neglect seeing that trust is deemed a vital function in the development of constructive relations (Purdy, Potrac & Nelson, 2013). Similarly, considering that trust forms the bedrock of all strong relationships (Reina & Reina, 2006; Hardin, 2002), an understanding of how notions related to trust and distrust, such as commitment, exchange, unpredictability, competence, trustworthiness and willingness, apply in coaching practice would appear to hold sizeable worth.
The principal significance of the project lies in better grasping the temporal relational interplay between coaches, athletes and context, particularly in relation to notions of trust (Rompf, 2015). In this respect, moving beyond questions of 'what is trust?' toward 'which trust, how and when?' holds considerable value in progressing our understanding of trust as related to coaches' practice. A further value of the study, for coaches and coach educators alike, lies in deciphering aspects of the 'culture change' often desired and claimed by practitioners. Despite its prevalence, such a notion lacks a critical authenticity beyond rhetoric. Consequently, an exploration of trust per se, holds the potential to shed light on how such culture change or creation can be realistically embarked upon, developed and maintained within a given time frame.

Qualitative methods within a case-study framework will be used to address the identified research questions. The case-study will comprise a team sports club being investigated over the course of a full season (circa 9-10 months), where the focus will be upon observing, interpreting and questioning coaching practice during both training and competition. The case study club will comprise at least 3-4 coaches, in addition to various support staff. The participant club will be selected using purposive sampling techniques on the basis that it meets pre-defined criteria, thus being regarded as 'information-rich' (Patton, 2002).
More specifically, course of action analysis (Theureau, 1992) will be used as a means to better engage with the complexity of the non-linear phenomenon in question (i.e., the nature and development of trust in coaching relationships). Such a method can do so, as it seeks to describe and analyse the actions of agents from their point of view in relation to the characteristics of the situation. In this respect, course of action analysis is a perspective that increases the focus of analysis to include more than just the individual actor(s) or the environment, to the interaction that occurs between these elements over time. Hence, it enables the examination of the seemingly intuitive, unplanned actions of coaches and those they work with. In turn, the collected data will be transcribed, organised and analysed as soon as they have been collected, thus allowing an on-going process of interpretation and sense making.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1937063 Studentship ES/P00069X/1 02/10/2017 24/09/2021 Christopher Neil Baker
Title Photography as a method and product 
Description My work involves capturing photographic images of the content under study. The photos are seen as both decided and decisive moments, thus allowing room for interpretation (in line with the epistemological obligations of the work). In this respect, they both describe 'what took place', while also allowing agential space to engage in questions such as 'what else look place?' 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact No material impact has yet resulted although plans have been explored to present the photographic work as part of a local exhibition. 
Description Although the field work is currently on going (due for completion in May, 2020) early findings have been incorporated into 'third mission' and consultancy work. Such work includes seminars and related workshops run for National Governing Bodies (of sport) specifically in relation to their coach development programmes. Once fieldwork has been completed and the data analysed through appropriate sensitising concepts, it is anticipated that findings will be increasingly integrated into such provision thus providing cutting edge content on sports coaching to respective audiences.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism
Impact Types Cultural

Description Coach Vygotsky: Developing the pedagogical creativity of coaches: An action research approach.
Amount £60,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 2117802 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 09/2022
Description Welsh Rugby Union, Level 4 award; Sport Wales Elite Coach Award 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Early findings from the research were introduced and discussed to both WRU coaches and Sport Wales policy makers. The intention is to further integrate more complete analysed results into developmental provision within both organisations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019,2020