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Examining the Impact of COVID-19 on Sport Coaches

Anthony Battaglia and Gretchen Kerr

Researchers have examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on athletes’ experiences, however, there remains a lack of attention examining the impact of the pandemic on coaches’ experiences. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine Ontario sport coaches’ perspectives on the implications of the pandemic on their experiences. As part of a large-scale survey of Ontario coaches’ experiences in sport, an open-ended question was asked regarding the implications of COVID-19 on the coaching population. In total, 591 participant responses were analyzed using thematic analysis. According to participants, most of the cited outcomes of COVID-19 were negative, although some positive aspects were cited. Negative outcomes of the pandemic included adapting coaching methods and practices, insufficient coach supports, declines in coaching confidence and skills, lack of meaningful interpersonal connections, mental health concerns, job and financial instability, unclear guidelines on safe returns to sport, and loss of athletes and athletic programs. Conversely, positive impacts included having time to reflect on their coaching pursuits and alternative interests and to engage in professional development. These findings highlight the importance of understanding coaches’ experiences during the pandemic and may be used to inform recommendations for supporting coaches post pandemic.

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Psychological Factors Related to the Occurrence of Athletic injuries

Gretchen Kerr and Harold Minden

This study reports data regarding gymnastic injuries. Examined were the number, severity, and location of injuries, events associated with injury occurrence, relationship in time between occurrence and competition, and the perceptions of causes. In addition, this study investigated the relationships between the psychological factors of trait anxiety, locus of control, self-concept and stressful life events, and the occurrence of athletic injuries. The subjects were 41 elite female gymnasts and five national level coaches. There was a high rate of injury (83 %), primarily to the ankle region, with most injuries occurring during the floor exercise. The timing of injuries was related to the approach of competition. The data indicated that stressful life events were significantly related to both the number and severity of injuries. Significant relationships were not found between trait anxiety, locus of control, self-concept, and the injury measures.

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Stress Management and Athletic Performance

Gretchen Kerr and Larry Leith

The authors investigated the effects of a stress-management program on performance, mental rehearsal, attentional skills, and competitive anxiety. The subjects included 24 male and female, international-caliber gymnasts, matched into pairs and assigned to either an experimental or control group. Over an 8-month period, both groups completed attentional, competitive anxiety, and mental rehearsal inventories and received performance scores from competitions. The experimental group received a stress-management program, based upon Meichenbaum’s stress inoculation training. Compared with the control group, the experimental group demonstrated superior performance, mental rehearsal, and attentional skills. Competitive anxiety levels were significantly higher for the experimental group, perhaps due to an increase in facilitative rather than debilitative anxiety. Specific implications for optimizing athletic performance are discussed.

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The Role Experimentation of Intercollegiate Student Athletes

Patricia S. Miller and Gretchen A. Kerr

This study examined the role experimentation of university student athletes using in-depth interviews. The results revealed participants’ role experimentation was limited to three spheres: athletic, academic, and social. Participants’ exploration of and commitment to roles revealed a two-stage model of identity formation. The first stage, Over-Identification with the Athlete Role, revealed a singular focus on athletics that persisted throughout much of the participants’ university careers. The second stage, Deferred Role Experimentation, reflected an increased investment in academic and social roles in the participants’ upper years. Results were consistent with previous findings of an athletic identity among intercollegiate student-athletes (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993), but supported Perna, Zaichkowsky, and Bocknek’s (1996) suggestion that identity foreclosure may have been overgeneralized.

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Key Considerations for Advancing Women in Coaching

Jenessa Banwell, Gretchen Kerr, and Ashley Stirling

Women remain underrepresented in the coaching domain across various levels of sport both in Canada and internationally. Despite the use of mentorship as a key strategy to support female coaches, little progress has been seen in achieving parity. At the same time, greater advances in gender equity have occurred in other non-sport sectors such as business, engineering, and medicine. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to learn from non-sport domains that have seen advances in gender equity to inform mentorship for women in coaching. A mixed-methods methodology was employed and consisted of distributing mentorship surveys to female coaches (n = 310) at various competitive levels, representing current (88%), former (12%), full-time (26%), part-time (74%), paid (54%), and unpaid (46%) coaching status. In addition, eight in-depth semi-structured interviews were also conducted with women in senior-level positions across various non-sport domains, including business (n = 1), media (n = 1), engineering (n = 2), higher education (n = 1), law (n = 1), and medicine (n = 2), regarding the role of mentorship in advancing women in their field. A descriptive and thematic analysis of the survey and interview data were conducted and findings are interpreted to suggest considerable variation in the characteristics of female coaches’ mentoring relationships, as well as the need to move beyond mentorship to sponsorship for advancing women in coaching. Recommendations for future research and advancing women in coaching are provided.

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Exploring Youth Sport Coaches’ Perspectives on the Use of Benching as a Behavioral Management Strategy

Anthony Battaglia and Gretchen Kerr

The practice of benching players or removing playing time is commonly used in sport. Although benching is used to adhere to game rules related to the number of athletes permitted on the field of play at any given time or to provide athletes with rest breaks, athletes have reportedly experienced benching in response to behavioral infractions such as not paying attention, not devoting sufficient effort, or failing to adhere to team rules. The purpose of this study therefore was to explore the use of benching as a behavioral management strategy from the perspectives of youth coaches. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 10 youth coaches (six men and four women) regarding their views of benching, reasons for use, and alternatives to the practice of benching. Data were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis. All coaches reported using benching to manage athlete and team behavior, address conduct detrimental to the team, and reinforce the coach’s position of power. The coaches interpreted benching as punishment or a learning tool depending on the provision of communication and feedback. Future work is needed to address the use of communication and the nature of this communication to ensure that benching practices are associated with learning and not punishment.

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Influence of the #MeToo Movement on Coaches’ Practices and Relations With Athletes

Alexia Tam, Gretchen Kerr, and Ashley Stirling

Inspired by the #MeToo movement, women worldwide are coming forward to publicly share their accounts of sexual violence. These harmful experiences have been reported in a range of domains, including sport. As such, providing safe sport experiences for athletes is at the forefront of current discussions for all stakeholders in the sport environment, particularly coaches. Thus, the purpose of this research was to explore coaches’ perspectives of the #MeToo movement in sport and its influence on coaches’ practices and relationships with athletes. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 12 Canadian coaches, including male (n = 7) and female coaches (n = 5) from a variety of sports and competition environments. The study highlights that coaches expressed strong support for the #MeToo movement, while also noting an associated fear of false accusation. Coaches reflected on how the movement has impacted their coaching practices and relations with athletes and expressed a desire for greater professional development in this area. Implications include a need for greater coach education on safe touch, appropriate boundaries in the coach–athlete relationship, and clarifications regarding the process of investigating athletes’ accusations of sexual violence in order to alleviate coaches’ fears of being falsely accused.

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Cyberbullying in Sport

Ellen MacPherson and Gretchen Kerr

Despite over 30 years of scholarly attention devoted to bullying and cyberbullying behaviors in school settings, research related to these experiences in the sport context remains limited. Yet, numerous anecdotal examples and preliminary evidence suggests cyberbullying exists in the sport domain and must be addressed given the potential adverse psychosocial outcomes for athletes. This commentary reviews research related to bullying and cyberbullying in the sport literature. To advance our understanding of cyberbullying in sport, recommendations are made to clarify conceptual issues around the central defining features (i.e., power, repetition, intent) commonly used to operationalize these experiences. Further, methodological issues to be addressed are discussed, including, the use of more diverse methods; adoption of an intersectional lens to all research; and the development, implementation, and evaluation of interdisciplinary evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. Only through a research base that addresses these conceptual and methodological challenges, will empirically-informed prevention and intervention strategies be developed to advance safe, healthy, and inclusive sport environments.

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Maltreatment in Youth Sport: A Systemic Issue

Gretchen Kerr, Anthony Battaglia, and Ashley Stirling

The recent, highly publicized cases of maltreatment of athletes have garnered critical attention by the public at large and stakeholders in sport, alike. For many, these cases threaten popular views that sport contributes in important ways to positive youth development. The growing evidence showing that maltreatment occurs to youth sport participants highlights the need for safe, harm-free sport environments as a fundamental prerequisite for positive developments to be reaped. By unpacking the case study of USA Gymnastics and Dr. Larry Nassar’s abuses in this paper, the authors show that for athlete maltreatment to occur and be sustained across so many victims and so many years, more than a perpetrator is needed. The nature of the environment, from the interpersonal level to organizational policies and societal influences, contributes to the occurrence and perpetuation of athlete maltreatment. Using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological-systems model, the authors argue for a systemic approach to preventing and addressing athlete maltreatment. Recommendations are posed for safeguarding youth athletes and fostering the sporting conditions in which positive youth development can occur.

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“It Was the Worst Time in My Life”: The Effects of Emotionally Abusive Coaching on Female Canadian National Team Athletes

Gretchen Kerr, Erin Willson, and Ashley Stirling

This study sought to explore the long-term effects of emotionally abusive coaching on female athletes. Although the long-term effects of childhood emotional abuse are well-documented in the child abuse literature, this question has not been explored empirically in the domain of sport, an environment in which emotionally abusive coaching practices are known to be common. In various prevalence studies of athlete maltreatment in sport internationally, emotional abuse is the most frequently experienced form and yet the long-term implications of these experiences are not well-understood. This study involved interviews of eight retired, elite, female Canadian National Team members. The findings revealed that athletes reportedly experienced different effects depending on whether they were in their competitive careers, in the retirement transition, or in post-transition life. All of the athletes required professional psychological assistance to help them recover from their emotionally abusive experiences; for some, this process continued for six years post-retirement. The effects described by the athletes resembled the symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suggesting an important line of future research. Until coaching practices become abuse-free, these findings also indicate a clear need for the provision of psychological supports and resources for athletes during and post-athletic career.