The potential benefits of children’s engagement in sport for their psychological, social, and physical health are well established. Yet children may also experience psychological and social impairments due, in part, to a variety of detrimental coach behaviors. In the current study, we proposed and tested a conditional process model of children’s self-reported behavioral engagement and behavioral disaffection in sport based on self-determination theory. Results from a sample of 245 youth soccer players suggested that structure from coaches related positively to behavioral engagement and negatively to behavioral disaffection, and that these relations were mediated by athletes’ basic psychological need satisfaction. Importantly, and in line with our hypotheses, these indirect effects were moderated by autonomy support from coaches, such that the mediation was evident only among those who reported higher levels of autonomy support. These findings underscore the importance of coaches’ providing guidance, expectations, and feedback (i.e., structure) in a way that respects athletes’ volition (i.e., autonomy support).
Thomas Curran is with the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. Andrew P. Hill is with Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, UK. Christopher P. Niemiec is with the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, USA.