Sports dominate American culture as a vital part of everyday life. Regardless of which sports people prefer, they remain an everlasting part of society. Each sport has its own set of rowdy fans that are sure to cheer, jeer and make any contest that much more interesting to watch. The players, of course, are the main source of entertainment as they provide the jaw dropping, inspiring and exciting plays that we love to watch. The players have these abilities not only due to genetics but also through an intense regimen of developing their skills to be at the highest level of competition. These players, while talented in their own rights, would not be the spectacular athletes that we love to watch were it not for the coach that spends endless hours of time deciphering the right game plan, the right lineup, the right play, for the greatest opportunity of success for these athletes.
Coaching experiences differ from athlete to athlete depending not only on the success that one obtains while under the rule of that coach in the form of wins, but also in the way that coaches help to develop a player into the best athlete that he or she can be. As portrayed in today’s sport society, coaches must have the ability to do both tasks or may very well find themselves on the outside looking in through the job market. Coaches in today’s sport society seem so dispensable and useless if they are unable to do both of these tasks at a high level. It is a rarity, one that I actually rather enjoy as a sport fan, to find a coach that has established tenure at a specific school or with a professional team.
Have these tenured coaches truly found the key to being successful on a consistent basis? What types of influences or ethical practices have they used that have gotten them to this level of success?
These are the questions I began asking myself when I started taking courses through my sport management major that dealt specifically with ethical dilemmas in coaching and the philosophy of sport as a whole. I began assessing different events that happened in sports from an ethical viewpoint and became fascinated by the things I discovered. I became so fascinated, that I began bringing these discussions to the classroom and to the office of my advisor. What started off as a simple advising meeting or questions about schoolwork turned into an hour (sometimes two hour) long conversation that consumed this topic of coaching ethics in sport.
It had already been a long year for sports. In early August, the University of Rutgers had fired then Head Basketball Coach Mike Rice after a video had been released of him throwing basketballs at his players while yelling profanities at them. The event sent shock waves through an already partially disturbed audience after events from previous years, such as the Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University, which undoubtedly caused even more distress to the sporting world. Also in the college sporting turmoil, we saw scandals such as those that happened at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where football players were given grades for an “imaginary class” in the African American Studies department of the college. Players were given A+ grades for writing “research papers” that amassed only one paragraph in length. These coaches that were supposed to be the positive influences to their players and a direct representation of the colleges they worked for began the revolution in my mind against such actions and toward the revitalization of coaching for the development of players, not just winning or losing games.
From a professional level, you see coaches that have used technology as a means to spy on opposing teams to see plays. We have seen coaches that have offered dollar incentives to players that were willing to injure other players from different teams. We have even seen coaches that knowingly stood near sidelines in football games with the intention of throwing runners of their mark during the middle of a contest.
Are these really the individuals that we want leading our teams? How are these individuals representing the coaches that wont stand for such actions?
Again, more questions that swam around in my mind and were eventually blurted out during meetings with my academic advisor. I never imagined these thoughts would go somewhere until I was presented with the task of research. The thoughts that my academic advisor and I compiled together formed into a question that would become the embodiment of our research:
“In what ways does the coach shape sport values among participants into action, at the concrete and embodied level of sport practice?” (Hardman & Jones, 2011).
With the help of my professor, I submitted my research proposal to the Appalachian College Association in January of 2014. To my delight, my research was approved, accepted and supported. From there, the tedious process continued as I moved to having my research approved by the institutional review board (IRB) at my college. Having outlined our research question, methodology, interview protocol as well as outlining our process of receiving informed consent, the review board met and quickly approved my research which gave me full access to working on the study before my junior year had come to a close.
The process that ensued had many enjoyable moments. For example…
I received so much joy out of interviewing different coaches from multiple sports. The number of coaches I had initially planned on interviewing changed not only because I felt that a larger number would help with the research question and would yield better results, but also because I wanted to soak as much information from the coaches interviewed so that I could apply their principles not only to my future career in the sports industry insofar as general practices and expectations, but also to my life in general. I used the four most popular sports that we find in America: baseball, basketball, football and soccer and interviewed three coaches from each sport ranging from recreational league to high school to college. The interviews gave me perspective not only on the challenges that many coaches face in the sporting world, but also to the importance of certain principles such as ethics, influences and spirituality that play a vital role in the life of a coach and their team.
With the enjoyable aspects of research also come the mundane. Upon completion of hosting interviews, I began the process of transcribing every interview, which on average took between an hour and a half to two hours per coach. There were a few outlying interviews that took over three hours to transcribe. This process was a slow one as remaining focused proved to be a difficult task even under a tight deadline. I began making goals for myself to complete each interview by a certain date so that I would feel as if I was on top of all the work needed to complete the research.
The research proved to be very tedious and tiring; this point was exacerbated even further as I was working as a full-time intern with the local parks and recreation department. I would go into work around 7:30am, return around 5, and work on my research until 10pm most evenings. The same process continued for some time…wakeup, work, eat, research, sleep, repeat. There were moments that I questioned if I would ever get through the interviews to eventually begin work on the real meat of the project: the actual writing of my findings themselves. However, I eventually finished and reaped the benefits of the tedious transcriptions when I found that, while using NVivo 10, a project software recommended from my advisor, the process moved a lot faster when I had the words written in front of me.
The NVivo software allowed me to make nodes, or a central connecting point, of topics including ethics, influences and expectations and spirituality in sport, all of which were topics that dominated this study. This not only allowed me to easily transition from one topic to the next within my research manuscript, but it also allowed me to easily access quotes provided by the coaches interviewed which served as my main analysis in the qualitative research study. The NVivo software also allowed me to make an interesting discovery, which provided my only quantitative findings in the research. Using a word query search on the software, I was able to discover the percentage of references to certain topics, specifically synergy versus winning. In performing this query, I discovered that the coaches interviewed were significantly more interested in aspects of teamwork (including references to teamwork, team, group, players, development, etc.) coming in to a whopping 89% of the study compared to winning (references to winning, losing, win, loss, victory, defeat, etc.) a mere 10%.
I don’t think I would have ever been so excited to find these statistics yet, this research called for such excitement. In my tedious and time consuming process, I had found a significant conclusion that would eloquently give significance and statistical proof to my assumption about the importance of coaching with the intent to build a team atmosphere, rather than simply coaching to win. It was my second success of the research, behind the actual interviews of the coaches and the lessons they provided.
As I am writing this blog, I am currently working on the last stages of the research manifesto in which I hope to send to a scholarly journal for possible publication. As a senior trying to obtain my undergraduate degree, I truly have faced no bigger challenge than this now nine-month-long project. In the closing of the articulation of this long process, I would like to give a huge shout out to the administration of my college, especially Dr. David Haney, Dean of Faculty, who signed the papers that showed support of my research proposal, which was eventually accepted by the Appalachian College Association. He not only believed in my aspirations for what this research may discover but he also candidly supported me once my research was accepted and has continued to support me throughout this process.
Another thank you goes to my academic advisor, of whom I have made many references to in this blog. Dr. Rebecca Buchanan has been a pleasantly strict enforcer of detail ever since I became her advisee during my sophomore year at Emory & Henry College. Her organizational skills have kept me on track not only with this research, but with my academic endeavors as well. She has inspired me to push my mind to see more than what is simply written on paper and has been a real influence in my decision to pursue my Masters Degree upon my graduation this coming May. I’ve been privileged to work with her throughout this project and I’ve also been grateful for her allowing me to make this project what I felt it needed to be. While tediously involved in the important details of this research, “Dr. B” has given me the opportunity to be self-driven throughout my work on this research; I had completed about half of my research before she ever read it or made revisions. The confidence she has instilled in me has been life changing and for that, I am forever grateful.
So concludes my personal look at this research for which I have grown so fond. My hope is that this research will prove to be an important study of what coaches can be to their players. In a society that emphasizes the importance of winning, I believe that there are enough coaches with the mindsets of the ones I interviewed to change the notion that it is NOT the only thing that matters. The dilution of this notion in society will, in my opinion, result in the revitalization of a sporting world that at times seems to crumble before us. Sure, there will always be issues like the ones we have seen but, when the players act out on the own accord, we will have a piece of mind in knowing that the coaches in charge are making the right decisions.
-Dylan K. Johnson
Emory & Henry College '15