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Making Passion Work – Sport and Exercise Psychology

A few days ago, I came across a study by Kim, Lee and Kang (2019) that I thought would be interesting for all you coaches out there. These researchers studied the relationship between passion for coaching and whether a coach used autonomy-supportive behaviors (i.e., providing choice for their athletes) or controlling behaviors (i.e., choosing everything for their athletes). Also, the researchers examined the perception of coaches’ relationship with their athletes. Within this study, 172 national level coaches (121 male, 51 female) from South Korea participated. These coaches on average were 36 years old, and they had been coaching on average for almost 9 years. The researchers utilized questionnaires to assess the coaches’ passion, coaches’ interpersonal behaviors and coaches’ perceived relationship quality with their players. Two types of passion are discussed in this research article. Harmonious passion is defined as engagement in an activity by choice and it can often be referred to as a ‘calling’. On the other hand, obsessive passion is when someone is engaged in coaching activities for their self-ego.

Results from the coaches’ responses demonstrated that harmonious passion positively predicted the coach-athlete relationship. For example, coaches were committed to their athletes and respected their athletes. Also, harmonious passion was positively related to coaches’ use of autonomy-supportive behaviors. Specifically, coaches with positive perceptions of their relationship with players were more likely to use autonomy-supportive behaviors (i.e., asking for players to choose a drill during practice) rather than controlling behaviors. Yet higher levels of obsessive passion was related to more controlling behaviors, meaning that coaches who develop an obsessive passion tend to do so to affirm their self-worth and may control their athletes to play their way. Additionally, obsessive passion coaches’ did not have a positive perception of the coach-athlete relationship, meaning that obsessive-passionate coaches may have a rigid and narrow-minded manner when interacting with their athletes. For example, the obsessive coach tends to provide controlling feedback to feed their own ego or self-worth. 

The results of this study shed some light on the role passion has on coaching behaviors and coaches’ perceived relationship with their players. For example, harmonious passion coaches may have a better chance of satisfying an athletes’ relatedness, competence and autonomy needs (definitions are available in one of my previous blogs, ‘Snickers Satisfies: Coaching Can Too’;

Being a harmonious coach may seem simple, but imagine yourself coaching in a big game when the pressure is on. Your team is down with 10 seconds left and the opposing coach just called a timeout. How would this situation change your ‘passion’ in that moment? It may not be beneficial at that moment to start yelling at your players, “You better do this exactly how I taught you.”

You may have seen the passion of some coaches on the biggest stage, such as Kentucky’s John Calipari or the fiery Tom Izzo, who received some backlash for his approach with one of his players. Although both of these coaches are passionate, maybe obsessively, they may not have provided the right type of passion for their players. Each individual coach is the only one who knows how and when harmonious passion should manifest, but the key to justifying whatever is chosen is the ‘why’. As a harmoniously passionate coach you would encourage your athletes that this is their moment or provide them an opportunity to make a decision, even on the next play. Harmonious coaching can produce positive emotions that may in turn influence a positive relationship with athletes. I challenge you to write down your reason for coaching and share that with a fellow coach, today!

Kim, I., Lee, K., & Kang, S. (2019). The relationship between passion for coaching and the coaches’ interpersonal behaviors: The mediating role of coaches’ perception of the relationship quality with athletes. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching14(4), 463-470.

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