Grounded in Bowlby’s (1969/1982, 1988) attachment theory, this study aimed to explore (a) the pervasiveness of the three main functions of attachment within the context of the coach-athlete relationship, (b) the associations of athletes’ attachment styles with such important variables as satisfaction with the relationship and satisfaction with the sport, and (c) the process by which athletes’ attachment styles and satisfaction with sport are associated. Data were collected through self-report measures of attachment functions and styles as well as relationship satisfaction and sport satisfaction from 309 student athletes (males = 150, females = 159) whose age ranged from 18 to 28 years (Mage = 19.9, SD = 1.58 years). Athletes’ mean scores indicated that the coach was viewed as an attachment figure fulfilling all three functions of secure base, safe haven, and proximity maintenance. Bivariate correlations indicated that athletes’ avoidant and anxious styles of attachment with the coach were negatively correlated with both relationship satisfaction and sport satisfaction. Mediational regression analysis revealed that athletes’ satisfaction with the coach-athlete relationship may be a process that links athletes’ attachment styles with levels of satisfaction with sport. The findings from this study highlight the potential theoretical and practical utility of attachment theory in studying relationships within the sport context.
The authors are with the School of Sport, Exercise, and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK.