This is the article for the review: Camiré, & Trudel, P. (2014). Helping youth sport coaches integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 6(4), 617–634.
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Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
ISSN: 2159-676X (Print) 2159-6778 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rqrs21
Helping youth sport coaches integrate
psychological skills in their coaching practice
Martin Camiré & Pierre Trudel
To cite this article: Martin Camiré & Pierre Trudel (2014) Helping youth sport coaches integrate
psychological skills in their coaching practice, Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health,
6:4, 617-634, DOI: 10.1080/2159676X.2013.841281
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2013.841281
© 2013 The Author(s). Published by Taylor &
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Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 2014
Vol. 6, No. 4, 617–634, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2013.841281
Helping youth sport coaches integrate psychological skills in their
Martin Camiré* and Pierre Trudel
School of Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa, 125 University Private, 613-562-5800 ext.
6379, Ottawa K1N 6N5, Canada
(Received 12 February 2013; ﬁnal version received 28 August 2013)
Researchers have demonstrated the beneﬁts of psychological skills training for
athletes, but few studies have examined how coaches integrate such skills in
their coaching practice. Empirical evidence indicates that the coaches have a
preference to learn psychological skills in a user-friendly manner with consultant
support. The purpose of the current study is to help youth sport coaches
integrate psychological skills (leadership, goal-setting, self-awareness, visualisation) in their coaching practice. A sport psychology researcher worked with nine
high school coaches from the sport of Canadian football during an entire season
conducting interviews, workshops and observations. Findings indicated that the
researcher was able to put in place an initiative that helped the coaches integrate
psychological skills in their coaching practice. Generally, the coaches indicated
that the partnership was beneﬁcial but also mentioned how it could be improved
in various ways. Findings are discussed using the current literature on youth
development through sport and suggestions are offered to professionals working
with youth sport coaches.
Keywords: leadership; goal-setting; self-awareness; visualisation; adolescents
In recent years, a growing number of empirical studies have demonstrated how
psychological skills training (PST) effectively enhances athlete performance and that
athletes enjoy using psychological skills (e.g. Rogerson and Hrycaiko 2002,
Thelwell et al. 2006). Vealey (1988) deﬁned PST as the implementation of strategies designed to help sport participants learn psychological skills that allow for the
assessment, monitoring and adjustment of thoughts and feelings. Examples of
psychological skills include leadership, goal-setting, self-awareness and
visualisation, which can be employed to increase performance, encourage a positive
approach to competition and achieve personal well-being.
PST with young athletes
Many PST programmes have been developed for elite athletes (e.g. Thelwell and
Maynard 2003, Beauchamp et al. 2012) but for many years, researchers (e.g. Vealey
1988) have argued for more programmes to be designed for other populations,
particularly young athletes who are undergoing considerable psychological
*Corresponding author. Email: email@example.com
Ó 2013 The Author(s). Published by Taylor & Francis.
This is an Open Access article. Non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly attributed, cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way, is permitted. The moral rights of
the named author(s) have been asserted.
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
development. PST programmes for young athletes can be effective because they can
facilitate athletes’ personal growth and provide them with the mental toughness
needed to thrive in and out of sport (Gucciardi et al. 2009b). In the last decade,
several researchers have developed programmes designed to provide PST to young
athletes. For example, Fournier and colleagues (2005) designed a 10-month PST
programme for 11–13-year-old French female gymnasts. Results indicated that the
programme was effective in helping the athletes learn imagery, relaxation and focusing skills. Sheard and Golby (2006) conducted a seven-week PST programme with
10–18-year-old swimmers in the UK. Results suggested that the programme helped
participants develop better coping skills and led to improvements in swimming performance. Gucciardi and colleagues (2009a, 2009b) conducted quantitative and
qualitative analyses of two PST programmes for Australian football players who
were on average 14 years of age. Quantitative results demonstrated that participants
involved in the PST programmes reported more positive changes for mental
toughness, resilience and ﬂow than control group participants. Qualitative ﬁndings
indicated that participants enjoyed the PST programmes because they helped them
improve their preparation, increase their work ethic and enhance their mental
toughness. Collectively, these studies form a growing body of evidence indicating
that PST can facilitate sport performance and personal development.
PST with youth sport coaches
Although a number of studies have examined the efﬁcacy of PST for young
athletes, relatively few studies have explored how youth sport coaches integrate
psychological skills in their coaching practice. One study examined junior tennis
coaches and found that they did not make use of psychological skills frequently,
citing a lack of content information and practical training resources (Gould et al.
1999). Other researchers have found similar ﬁndings, demonstrating how a lack of
knowledge of sport psychology results in inconsistencies in the application of this
material (Pain and Harwood 2004, Paquette and Sullivan 2012). Gould and
colleagues (1999) suggested that coaches receive information on PST in more userfriendly manners such as hands-on activities as well as coach education opportunities that offer support from consultants. Moreover, Thelwell and colleagues (2008)
suggested that coaches become more aware of the psychological skills they require
in order to maximise their use in different coaching activities. However, there have
been a very limited number of interventions developed precisely to promote
coaches’ knowledge of PST. One of the few examples is a study conducted by
Harwood (2008) who developed a four-month programme in a football (soccer)
academy in Great Britain. The intervention’s aim was to help coaches teach psychological and interpersonal skills to young soccer players ranging in age from 9 to
14 years. In total, six coaches were involved in the programme and they were
responsible for the development of 95 young players. The intervention was centred
on commitment, communication, concentration, control and conﬁdence (the ‘5Cs’
of football), and instructions were provided during ﬁve 90-min workshops dedicated
to each skill. Following each workshop, the coaches worked to integrate strategies
in their coaching practice to teach each skill. The coaches expressed increases in
knowledge as a result of having participated in the intervention. However, the
researcher noted how the coaches would have beneﬁted from additional workshops
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
focusing on the PST process in order to implement these principles with greater
conﬁdence during training sessions.
Based on the past research on PST that has been reviewed, more interventions
offering practical workshops and consultant support are needed because they have
the potential to help coaches increase their knowledge and conﬁdence in using
psychological skills. Herein, the purpose of the current study is to help youth sport
coaches integrate psychological skills (leadership, goal-setting, self-awareness, visualisation) in their coaching practice. Emphasis is placed on examining the process
of how a sport psychology researcher worked with nine high school coaches from
the sport of Canadian football during an entire season. Events are chronologically
detailed with a focus on the initiatives undertaken as well as the challenges faced
from the researcher’s and the coaches’ point of view.
The current study was conducted within the context of high school sport, which is
considered a developmental level sport setting (Gilbert and Trudel 2006). In
Canada, high school sports are practised after school hours and allow
student-athletes (14–18 years of age) to participate in organised competitive leagues
that lead to annual regional/provincial championships. Participation in high school
sport is viewed as an activity that can enhance ﬁtness, keep student-athletes
connected to school and foster the global development of student-athletes, because
it serves as a natural extension of the classroom (Gould and Carson 2008, Holt
et al. 2008). A popular high school sport in Canada is Canadian football which is
very similar to American football but with minor differences such as a bigger playing area, larger team size and different sized ball. At the high school level, football
is played during the fall semester and teams play eight to 10 games during a
condensed season that spans approximately eight weeks. According to School Sport
Canada (2011), there are nearly 900 high school football teams across the country.
The nine coaches in this study were male, aged 23–52 (M = 35) and had zero to seven
years of experience in coaching football (M = 2.5). The coaches were all part of one
football team at a high school in the province of Quebec. Four coaches were teachers
at the school while the ﬁve other coaches were members of the external community
who volunteered to coach. The team was composed of one head coach, two coordinators (offence, defence) and six position coaches. All coaches had post-secondary
education and three coaches held post-graduate degrees. Four of the coaches were
certiﬁed through Canada’s National Coaching Certiﬁcation Programme.
At the time of the study, I (researcher and ﬁrst author) was a 28-year-old PhD
candidate in sport psychology in the process of ﬁnalising my dissertation. I
was responsible for the project in all three phases: before (i.e. initiating
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
discussions, getting school administrators’ approval, partnering with coaches),
during (i.e. conducting interviews, delivering workshops, observing practices and
games, writing reports, providing reading material) and after (i.e. analysing data,
writing and disseminating ﬁndings) the football season. As preparation for my role
in this project, I took several advanced courses in the area of sport psychology
during my graduate studies. Moreover, I coached high school basketball for four
years and gained practical knowledge in the process of teaching psychological skills
to student-athletes. However, I had no playing or coaching experiences in the sport
of Canadian football.
The process was initiated when informal discussions occurred in January 2011
between a former colleague and me. He was now a high school teacher and shared
how his school had a sports programme mandated to promote the global development of student-athletes. Canadian football had recently been added to the sports
programme because the sport was deemed an effective tool to facilitate the positive
development of numerous student-athletes, due to the large team size (approximately 30–50 student-athletes per team at the high school level). The teacher volunteered to serve as one of the team’s coaches and asked if I could assist them in
applying their sports programme’s mandate. I agreed to work with the coaches to
help them integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice during the fall
I met with the teacher and school administrators in March 2011 to discuss the
nature of my involvement with the team. During the meeting, the administrators
emphasised how the football team was deliberately created to facilitate student-athlete development. I explained to them how I could, based on my experiences, help
the coaches integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice. Following
discussions, the administrators deemed it beneﬁcial for me to work with the coaches
during the season.
Upon having formally partnered with the school, I applied for and gained
approval from the University’s Ofﬁce of Research Ethics and Integrity to conduct
the current project. In April 2011, I met brieﬂy with all nine of the team’s coaches
after a practice to introduce myself and explain how I could work with them over
the course of the upcoming season. The coaches expressed a desire to participate
and suggested I take part in a coach meeting at a local pub in May 2011 to explain
my intentions in greater detail. During the meeting, I described how I could help
them learn more about psychological skills and that their input was important in
determining the speciﬁc skills we would work to develop during the season. To
gather the perspective of each coach, I conducted a ﬁrst round of semi-structured
individual interviews in June 2011 which were framed as informal conversations
rather than formal interviews. I asked the coaches to provide demographic
information and to discuss their past experiences in sport to better understand their
biographies. As the conversation progressed, the coaches also detailed their expectations as it relates to my involvement. For example, the following questions were
asked: How do you see my role this season? and What do you wish to gain from
my involvement with the team? The interviews ranged in length from 35 to 63 min
(M = 48). Upon being transcribed, I summarised the interview content in an 11-page
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
document which was shared with the coaches during a meeting in early August
2011. The meeting allowed coaches and me to determine how I would help them
integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice.
During the aforementioned August meeting, the coaches expressed how they wanted
to be observed throughout the season and wanted me to organise workshops. Therefore, I conducted participant observation (Dewalt and Dewalt 2011) of all eight regular season games and 15 practices. Observations focused on coach–student-athlete
interactions and how the coaches made use of psychological skills in their coaching
practice. Field notes were taken during each observation session resulting in 50
single-spaced pages of data. Three 90-min workshops were held with the coaches
during the season and occurred after practices in the coaches’ ofﬁce at school. At the
start of workshops, I provided the coaches with an individualised report based on my
observations of their behaviours during previous practices and games. Time was
allotted to discuss the reports and for the coaches to ask questions. Following the discussion of reports, I provided the coaches with practical information and strategies on
how to integrate psychological skills into their coaching practice. I also offered coaches reading material to further their learning outside of the workshops. Based on the
material I presented during the workshops, the coaches decided to implement several
strategies to integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice. The strategies
used by the coaches (i.e. captains’ breakfasts, goal-setting sessions, a peer evaluation
and visualisation sessions) are explained in the results. To document my impressions
of workshops, I kept a journal resulting in eight single-spaced pages of data.
At the season’s end, I interviewed the coaches for a second time for them to share
what they had experienced during the season. Semi-structured individual interviews
were conducted and gave each coach the opportunity to discuss the beneﬁts and
challenges of integrating psychological skills in their coaching practice. Questions
such as: What were your impressions of the workshops? Can you describe your
experience of integrating psychological skills? and Did you face any challenges
integrating psychological skills? were asked. Interviews were 29–54 min (M = 40) in
length. All interviews occurred in person, were audio recorded, and started by
having the coaches provide informed consent.
All interviews were transcribed verbatim by research assistants and resulted in 268
single-spaced pages of data. Upon being transcribed, I reviewed the transcripts
thoroughly to check for errors and I sent them to coaches via email to have them
conﬁrm the accuracy of the shared information. Only minor changes were made.
The software NVivo 9 (NVivo 2011) was used to organise the interview transcripts,
ﬁeld notes and journal entries which I read in their entirety twice to identify preliminary trends. I conducted a thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) whereby
the data were organised into meaning units, themes and categories. For example,
some meaning units were grouped in the themes of ‘lack of openness’ and ‘being a
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
rookie coach’ which were grouped and organised under the general category of
‘challenges’. Regular meetings were organised with a fellow qualitative researcher
who reviewed the categories to help increase the credibility of the interpretations.
The last step in the analysis consisted of writing the results section. I wrote several
versions which were reviewed by the fellow qualitative researcher mentioned above.
Ultimately, it was decided to organise the themes and categories chronologically in
accordance with the three phases of the study to illustrate the process that was
undertaken to help coaches integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice.
Excerpts from interviews, ﬁeld notes and journal entries are offered to present the
ﬁndings from the coaches’ and my own perspective.
During the ﬁrst interview, the coaches were asked to comment on the role they
thought I should play during the season. The general theme that emerged was that
of ‘support’ as the coaches explained how they wanted me to complement their
work with student-athletes. The coaches stated that having my support was important, especially because this was the football team’s inaugural season. For example,
one coach said that when establishing a new football team, coaches must spend
most of their time teaching student-athletes the fundamentals of football, which
leaves little time for other aspects of coaching: ‘Someone that makes us reﬂect on
what we’re doing. That’s what we’re missing. With a new team, we have to teach
student-athletes all the technique so having someone that keeps us on track with the
other things, that’s useful’ (C1). Under ‘support’ appeared the sub-theme of ‘material’. The coaches stated how they speciﬁcally wanted me to provide them with
practical material to support and improve their practice. Two coaches in particular
believed that my involvement with the team could help them acquire much needed
pedagogical tools: ‘I don’t have many strategies to work with student-athletes. I’d
like more tools and opportunities to test them. Someone who says “according to
your needs, these are suitable tools, here’s how to implement them”’ (C3) and
‘Sometimes I have ideas to help student-athletes develop but I don’t always know
how to apply them. Tools to do that; that would be the best’ (C8). Another subtheme of ‘support’ was ‘feedback’ as coaches believed I could provide them with
useful comments based on their coaching behaviours. One particular coach
discussed how he believed my involvement could beneﬁt him greatly, being new to
coaching: ‘I’m starting, I’m like a sponge for information. It’s great that I can get
feedback from the start, to go in the right direction immediately’ (C9).
As it relates to the initiatives to be implemented, a number of themes emerged.
First, the theme ‘workshops’ appeared as the majority of the coaches discussed how
they wanted meetings to be held. The coaches believed that having regular group
meetings was essential to help them integrate psychological skills in their coaching
practice. For example, one coach said: ‘Have sessions, maybe once every two
weeks, to look at what we did during those two weeks and ask us questions that
make us reﬂect’ (C1). Second, the theme ‘observations’ emerged as the coaches stated how they wanted me to observe their activities during practices and games. One
coach explained how observing would be useful and allow me to understand how
the team of coaches operates: ‘You’ll be working with us so to me, you’re part of
the team. If your intention is to help us, you need to observe us to know what
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
you’re talking about’ (C4). Third, there was the theme ‘articles’ as some of the
coaches mentioned how they wanted me to provide them with reading material
related to psychological skills. Coaches discussed how time constraints often
impede them from consulting this type of material and that having a person who
suggests relevant material would be of value to the team. For example, one coach
said: ‘Give us articles … that would be useful because we don’t have time to do
research on sport psychology and things like that’ (C1).
During a meeting in August 2011, I shared with the coaches a report I had
prepared that summarised the major themes they had discussed during the interviews. The purpose of the meeting was to decide on the nature of my involvement
with the team and it was agreed that I would observe two practices and one game a
week and that workshops would be held biweekly. Additionally, I presented many
psychological skills during the meeting and offered examples of strategies designed
to put those skills into action. The coaches settled on four psychological skills they
wanted to try to integrate in their coaching practice during the season: leadership,
goal-setting, self-awareness and visualisation. (Journal Entry 17 August 2011). As a
result, through this process, I was responsible for selecting and proposing material
but the coaches, based on their wants and needs, ultimately had the ﬁnal say in
terms of how I would be involved with the team and what psychological skills I
would help them implement in their coaching practice.
Workshop one: leadership
On 31 August 2011, a workshop was held during which I provided the coaches
with a personalised report based on my observations of training camp. The coaches
had mentioned in prior meetings how it was a priority for them to use appropriate
language around student-athletes by avoiding swearing and disrespectful comments.
Therefore, the reports I prepared focused on coach–athlete interactions, and I
provided the coaches with samples of comments they had made to student-athletes
during practices. Some of the coaches were surprised when reading their reports
based on the number of their remarks which included swearing and derogatory
comments. A discussion ensued and some coaches proposed measures to minimise
swearing, while others stated such comments are part of football. Ultimately, no
measures were formally adopted. (Journal Entry 31 August 2011). During the second part of the workshop, I presented information on leadership inspired by recent
empirical work in sport (e.g. Voelker et al. 2011). Speciﬁcally, I discussed the
importance of explaining to student-athletes what deﬁnes leaders and what their role
is in promoting team cohesion, conﬂict resolution and communication. The aim was
to have the coaches use this information during the captains’ breakfasts, a weekly
initiative conceived by the coaching staff. At meeting’s end, I asked the coaches if
I could be present at the ﬁrst captains’ breakfast and they approved (Journal Entry
31 August 2011). After the workshop, I emailed Gould and Voelker’s (2010) article
on leadership to all the coaches as additional reading material.
Integration of leadership
The morning of 3 September 2011, the ﬁrst captains’ breakfast was held at a
restaurant near the school. The goal of this activity was for the coaches to build
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
relationships and discuss leadership principles with the team’s captains. The head
coach had organised notes and stood up during the breakfast to explain to captains
how it is essential that they inspire others, interact positively with referees and try
to get the best out of their teammates. Additionally, he talked about Charles de
Gaulle in politics and Mark Messier in ice hockey as examples of great and effective leaders. The two coordinators also addressed the captains and discussed how
being a leader is a big responsibility and that as captains, they should always strive
to be exemplary team ambassadors on and off the ﬁeld (Field Notes 3 September
2011). Several themes emerged from the interviews related to the coaches’ perspective on the initiatives undertaken to promote leadership. The ﬁrst theme was
labelled ‘positive outcomes’ as the majority of the coaches expressed how the ﬁrst
workshop and the reading material on leadership had helped them organise the captains’ breakfasts effectively. For example, the head coach said: ‘I read and I took
away things from the email you sent me. How to reach out to student-athletes, how
to motivate them. That was useful material deﬁnitely’ (C7). However, another
theme labelled ‘less positive outcomes’ also emerged because several coaches discussed how subsequent captains’ breakfasts were not as productive. Two coaches in
particular stated how leadership was not often the topic of focus during captains’
breakfast later in the season: ‘The ﬁrst breakfast was awesome. They saw that we’re
interested in them. You were there, coaches delivered messages. But other breakfasts, we didn’t talk about leadership except on a few occasions’ (C6) and ‘We
shared our expectations but we didn’t use the breakfasts as well as we could have’
(C9). Finally, the theme ‘other settings’ emerged as it relates to leadership. Several
coaches acknowledged that the captains’ breakfasts were not always optimally used
but explained how the principles of leadership presented during the ﬁrst workshop
were often discussed during other moments of interaction with the student-athletes.
This one coach said: ‘We used those techniques more during practices, at school,
on the bus. That’s when it happened, less during the breakfasts’ (C6).
Workshop two: goal-setting and self-awareness
During this workshop, held on 14 September 2011, I prepared a four-page individual
report for coaches based on my observations of the events that occurred during the
ﬁrst two weeks of the season. The coaches took time to read their reports and asked
questions. I commended the coaches for their work during the ﬁrst captains’ breakfast
and shared how I had observed some captains taking on important leadership roles
during games (Journal Entry 14 September 2011). The ensuing part of the workshop
was dedicated to goal-setting and I presented material on how to design goal-setting
strategies based on recommendations from the scientiﬁc literature (e.g. Burton et al.
2001). I told the coaches how I had observed during the ﬁrst two weeks of the season
that goal-setting was used as a strategy by some of the coaches. However, goals were
decided by the coaches, promoted a performance climate and were not revised. I
explained to the coaches the beneﬁts of having student-athletes involved in the
goal-setting process, having goals that promote a mastery climate and revising goals
periodically. The last part of the workshop was used to discuss self-awareness. I
offered material on this psychological skill and explained to the coaches the beneﬁts
of having student-athletes identify and become more aware of their strengths and
weaknesses. Moreover, I presented to the coaches a peer evaluation strategy that can
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
be used to promote self-awareness and they decided to conduct this activity the
following week (Journal Entry 14 September 2011).
Integration of goal-setting
To promote goal-setting skills, the offensive and defensive coordinators decided to
meet in classrooms before games with their respective groups to establish goals.
Relating to goal-setting, the theme ‘evolution’ emerged as a number of the coaches
indicated during the interviews how they witnessed a clear progression in how
goal-setting was used after the second workshop. For example, two of the coaches
shared how the workshop triggered a reﬂection process that made them realise how
goal-setting can be an effective tool when appropriately used: ‘What you said during the workshop, it made us reﬂect. After, we asked players “What do you want to
achieve?” It motivated them and they always had their goals in their heads on the
side-line’ (C6) and ‘At the beginning, we said “here are our goals for the game”.
After, we realised that they’re the ones on the ﬁeld so we should have their goals’
(C8). Several coaches explained in detail the actual steps that were taken by the
coaching staff to promote effective goal-setting. One coach said: ‘At mid-season,
we saw changes. There were individual goals, goals were written on the board, we
revisited goals at practice. It helped us to have speciﬁc things to work on’ (C3).
Finally, one particular coach explained how the importance of revisiting goals with
his unit was the most signiﬁcant lesson he took away from the workshop: ‘The ﬁrst
practice after a game, I’d say “What went well? What didn’t go so well? Did you
achieve your goals?” I’d take 8–10 min for student-athletes to reﬂect on the game’
(C9). During practices, I observed on several occasions how goals were discussed
and revisited collectively following games (Field Notes 15 October 2011).
Integration of self-awareness
On 21 September 2011, student-athletes participated in a peer evaluation activity to
promote self-awareness. At the start of practice, the head coach explained the rationale for this activity and provided instructions. Student-athletes were separated in
groups according to their playing positions (e.g. linemen, receivers), given a
clipboard, sheet and pen, and asked to write a strength and weakness for each
teammate playing their position. Some coaches actively oversaw student-athletes
completing their sheets while others stayed back and observed. The coaches
gathered student-athletes’ sheets and the following week, a customised report was
prepared for each student-athlete detailing what their teammates believe they are
good at and what they need to improve on. During my observations, I noticed how
most of the coaches appreciated this activity but after 20 min, some of the coaches
became impatient because it was taking away practice time for technical skills. The
offensive coordinator even started the warm-up, while two student-athletes were still
completing their sheets (Field Notes 21 September 2011). The theme ‘useful’
emerged from the interviews as most of the coaches mentioned how they found the
peer evaluation valuable. One particular coach even expressed his intention to
employ this activity in other settings: ‘For me personally, the peer evaluation, I
thought it was great. Eventually, I’d like to integrate that activity in my physical
activity classes’ (C3). Another coach mentioned how he believes that when
feedback comes from peers, it has a special impact on student-athletes: ‘It’s great
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
because you’re being told “You do this good” and “You need to work on this” by
people you consider to be practically your brothers. If that doesn’t motivate you to
improve then I don’t know what will’ (C8). In contrast, the theme ‘negative comments’ also emerged. A few of the coaches discussed how they believe the peer
evaluation was not positive for some student-athletes who focused solely on the
negative remarks. One coach explained how some student-athletes found it difﬁcult
to receive critical feedback: ‘Clearly, they reﬂected. Some were frustrated by comments made and the positive points, they didn’t talk about them. They just said
“What’s all this stuff that I don’t run fast enough?”’ (C6). The ﬁnal theme related
to self-awareness was ‘priorities’. Several coaches reﬂected on how the peer evaluation activity was implemented rather superﬁcially and should have had a bigger
inﬂuence. One coach, in particular, discussed that the timing of the activity might
not have been optimal as coaches had other things on their mind during that practice: ‘I don’t think we provided instructions seriously. We were stuck in football
mentality, getting prepared for the playoffs and it was put aside too quickly’ (C6).
Workshop three: visualisation
A workshop was held on 3 October 2011 during which I presented to the coaches a
two-page individual report based on my observations of coaches integrating goalsetting and the peer evaluation activity in their coaching practice. I shared how I
had observed substantial improvements in how goal-setting was being used. I gave
the example of how I had observed the defensive coordinator forming a huddle
before a game and having his group of student-athletes choose three task-oriented
goals (Field Notes 24 September 2011). Moreover, we talked about the peer evaluation activity and some of the coaches said they had discussed the results with student-athletes, while others had not (Journal Entry 3 October 2011). During practice,
I observed the defensive line coach talk to his student-athletes one-on-one in the
bleachers to discuss their strengths and weaknesses (Field Notes 28 September
2011). The last part of the workshop was dedicated to deﬁning visualisation,
explaining its purpose and detailing the beneﬁts. To demonstrate how visualisation
can be used, I shared a YouTube video of Michael Jordan discussing his mental
preparation before games. I also talked about the Quick Set routine developed by
Jeff Simons and suggested that the coaches use this activity to help student-athletes
improve their focus (Crust 2012). This three-phase routine takes 20–30 s and is
designed to be used as a means of refocusing after a distraction. First, athletes close
their eyes and focus on maintaining deep rhythmic breathing. Second, athletes envision a successful performance and direct their attention to the positive emotions
associated with that performance. Third, athletes return their attention to the present
and focus on what they must do, in the moment, to achieve optimal performance.
Finally, I explained how coaches can use keywords to promote self-talk and help
student-athletes refocus during games.
Integration of visualisation
The main theme that emerged from the interviews as it relates to visualisation was
‘application’. Most of the coaches were able to provide concrete examples of how
they integrated proper visualisation strategies in their coaching after the third
workshop. One coach discussed how his initial conception of visualisation was
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
transformed based on the information he received in the workshop: ‘I had ideas
about visualisation, you sit down, close your eyes. However, you said “That’s good
but you need to have them thinking more speciﬁcally” My idea was just to keep
them calm. It was interesting to learn that’ (C5). Another coach mentioned how he
encouraged student-athletes to use visualisation after they had just committed a
mistake on the ﬁeld: ‘It’s something I encouraged a lot. On the side-line, I’d say
“Imagine the next series, how opponents make their move and how you react”’
(C9). Also related to the theme of ‘application’, some of the coaches explained how
they integrated YouTube videos during their pre-game preparation to provide student-athletes with cues to visualise their performance: ‘To help visualise, we had a
clip of Ray Lewis, we used it all the time, players were really pumped, it helped
them a lot’ (C3). Two coaches in particular mentioned being inspired to use keywords as verbal cues to help student-athletes refocus during games: ‘One thing I
really used was keywords. As you suggested, we watched clips and my keyword
became “Ray Lewis”. I saw results and visualisation is something I want to use
more’ (C1) and ‘I used the word “game time”, the name of the song in the Ray
Lewis clip. When they went back on the ﬁeld, it was “game time”! They thought
of the song. I think it worked’ (C8). That same coach mentioned how he believes
visualisation and the videos were well received by the student-athletes: ‘We’d tell
them “close your eyes, think about your performance”. After, we saw that they
were ready. I think it had an inﬂuence and they were eager for videos because that
meant the game was close’ (C8). During the second half of the season, I often
observed the coaches using visualisation during games. For instance, I observed
how a coach talked to a student-athlete after he had just fumbled the ball and told
him to practice seeing himself grab the ball, secure the ball and then run (Field
Notes 8 October 2011).
Final part of the season
A workshop to discuss with the coaches their experience of integrating psychological
skills was scheduled for 17 October 2011 but did not occur because few coaches
were available to meet. Some of the coaches were too busy with school-related obligations, while others wanted to concentrate their efforts on making the play-offs.
Nonetheless, several coaches continued to be interested in integrating psychological
skills during the rest of the season. Several coaches were regularly in contact with
me via email and asked for additional reading material which I gladly forwarded. I
made efforts to provide articles relevant to the coaches that speciﬁcally discussed
high school football and student-athlete development (e.g. Gould et al. 2007) (Field
Notes 3 October 2011). Moreover, one coach asked to meet individually before a
practice. During our conversation, he mentioned how the articles he had read had
triggered a reﬂective process that made him realise the importance of deliberately
integrating in his coaching practice activities that promote student-athletes’ global
development (Field Notes 11 October 2011).
A number of themes emerged related to how my involvement with the team beneﬁted the development of coaches. The ﬁrst theme was labelled ‘transformational’ as
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
a few of the coaches discussed how the information they had been exposed to
during the season had signiﬁcantly inﬂuenced their coaching approach. For
example, this one coach explained how the material presented during workshops
and in the articles provided him with the structure necessary to focus his efforts on
promoting the global development of student-athletes:
In my head, I knew the results I wanted to achieve but I didn’t have the tools to do it.
This year, I was able to try new things. It allowed me to change my style and I was
positively surprised. I realised that it’s ok to not always be focused on winning. Now,
I try to make student-athletes understand that football can be more than just learning
techniques. I try to work harder to develop student-athletes as people. (C1)
The second theme of ‘articles’ was developed because the majority of the coaches
discussed how the reading material was beneﬁcial. For one coach, the articles
helped him comprehend the messages I was communicating during the workshops:
‘The articles you sent me, I read them to see how other football coaches promoted
development. Having those readings really helped me understand what you were
trying to show us’ (C1). For another coach, the reading material proved useful in
helping him coach beyond the technical side of sport: ‘You provided a lot of literature which helped. I learned important processes that as coaches we must implement on a regular basis during a season’ (C5). The third theme ‘reports’ was
created as several coaches discussed the beneﬁts of receiving individual reports
based on my observations. For example, one coach explained how the comments I
provided allowed him to modify how he interacted with student-athletes: ‘It inﬂuenced me because at the beginning, rightfully, you said I was negative and didn’t
participate much. I wasn’t seeking out the positives. It was good. Being observed,
you can only beneﬁt from it’ (C4). For another coach, the reports served as a great
self-evaluation tool: ‘I liked it. It was a rare occasion where we got to assess our
comments and behaviours. Often, we said: “Ah, I’m really like that!”’ (C7). The
fourth theme was labelled ‘selection’ as some of the coaches discussed how they
did not integrate in their coaching practice all of the material that was presented
during the season. For example, one coach reﬂected on how he incorporated certain
skills (e.g. goal-setting) but decided to maintain his original approach in other areas
(e.g. swearing in front of players): ‘For sure I reﬂected. I thought about things when
you gave us feedback “What should I change?” “Is this for me?” Some things I
changed but others, it’s my style. I purposely decided not to change’ (C2).
Although the coaches stated that my involvement with the team was beneﬁcial on
several levels, it was not without its challenges. Three themes emerged that represented challenges from the coaches’ perspective. The ﬁrst theme was labelled ‘lack
of openness’ and refers to some of the coaches’ initial reticence to fully participate
in the intervention. For most, this reticence was attributed to a lack of exposure to
sport psychology principles and their utility in coaching. For example, one coach
said: ‘It took me a while to understand what you presented during workshops and
how it could help me. It’s about personal openness and for some, it takes longer
than others’ (C1). Some of the coaches offered explanations for their initial apprehensions. One coach blamed football’s subculture which promotes very speciﬁc
ways of doing things: ‘When you provided feedback, some coaches were thinking
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
“Well, this is how football works”. Your comments went against football’s mentality
but when we got past that, what you said was really good for coaching’ (C7). For
another coach, my lack of football experience was a key factor: ‘My point is that
you probably would’ve been a more effective resource had you played football.
You haven’t lived football’s culture. We probably would’ve been more receptive
had it come from someone who played’ (C2). The second theme was labelled
‘responsibilities’. Most of the coaches discussed how it was challenging to balance
professional, personal and coaching obligations and ﬁnding time to actively participate in the project. For example, this one coach expressed how he was initially
open to participating in the activities that were organised during the season but simply did not have the time to invest himself appropriately: ‘I don’t think the workshops had that big of an inﬂuence on my coaching. It’s my fault. I’m still chasing
my time. The articles you sent, I didn’t have time to read them’ (C3). The third
theme was labelled ‘being a rookie coach’. One of the challenges of being a new
coach consisted of coaching while knowingly being observed. Due to a lack of conﬁdence in his coaching competencies, this particular coach discussed how he would
lose focus when he knew that I was on the ﬁeld observing the coaches and taking
notes: ‘I found it difﬁcult when you observed. I asked myself “Did I do this right?”
“Should I have said that?” “What is he going to say in his report?” I always
questioned what I was doing’ (C6).
The coaches provided valuable suggestions to improve the learning process. The
theme ‘summary’ emerged and was related to the reading material that was provided to coaches throughout the season. Some of the coaches mentioned how they
would have preferred receiving summaries rather than entire papers, because these
are less time-consuming and easier to read. For example, one coach said: ‘I consulted the articles you sent but next time, I’d like more precise information. Don’t
give me the 45 page report; tell me to go to page 11 or 12 because sometimes it
was a bit long’ (C7). Another theme labelled ‘role of the head coach’ emerged.
Speciﬁcally, a number of coaches suggested how the head coach should have
played a more prominent role in helping deliver the information on psychological
skills. One coach expressed how this recommendation could be implemented during
a future intervention: ‘You joined progressively, negotiated your place. For a ﬁrst
year, we can’t ask for more. If we were to pursue, the head coach should take the
lead, be the facilitator to have maximal inﬂuence’ (C3). The ﬁnal theme in this category was ‘individual meetings’. The coaches had varying levels of motivation to
learn psychological skills but those who were very interested in this type of material
suggested that individual meetings could be organised to supplement the group
workshops. This one coach expressed how individual meetings would represent a
value-added feature to the intervention: ‘The workshops we had with you, they
were after practices and it was difﬁcult to have a big impact. Long-term, for the
coaching staff, I think we’d need individual meetings’ (C1).
During an entire season of Canadian football at the high school level, a researcher
worked with a group of coaches to help them integrate psychological skills in their
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
coaching practice. Workshops were organised during which individual reports were
provided and material on psychological skills was presented. The approach used
during workshops was consistent with the recommendations of Gould and
colleagues (1999) who suggested that coaches should be provided with material on
psychological skills in a user-friendly manner through concrete examples and activities. Although workshops were well received, additional workshops would have
been beneﬁcial to further facilitate the integration of the material. Harwood (2008)
noted in his study how coaches needed more educational sessions on psychological
skills to feel conﬁdent enough to implement these principles in training. However,
as this and other studies have indicated (e.g. Winchester et al. 2012), many high
school coaches want to develop their coaching practice but their numerous obligations leave them with sparse time to invest in continuing coach education. Moreover, football seasons are condensed which makes it challenging to plan and deliver
workshops like those in the current study. Researchers have discussed how more
initiatives that complement formal coach education programmes are needed and for
those initiatives to be effective, they must be designed to ﬁt within coaches’ daily
realities (Gilbert et al. 2009, Winchester et al. 2012). One initiative that was undertaken in the current study to help coaches integrate psychological skills consisted of
offering reading material that they could consult at their own discretion. The coaches shared how the articles were useful and complemented the workshops but also
discussed how summaries tailored to their needs would have been even more beneﬁcial. Such ﬁndings correspond to those of Reade and colleagues (2008) who found
that scientiﬁc publications are unlikely sources of information for coaches because
they do not have the time to conduct literature searches and prefer summaries that
help them solve problems immediately. Thus, it appears that professionals working
with youth sport coaches must increase the accessibility of scientiﬁc work and
present information in a manner that is relevant to coaches’ needs.
Although the strategies presented during workshops were believed to be useful,
the coaches did not use all of them optimally on a consistent basis. For example,
leadership was irregularly discussed during the captains’ breakfasts and the peer
evaluation was rushed at the start of practice. Several explanations can be put forward to try to explain such ﬁndings. First, it might be that as a researcher, I did not
effectively convey to coaches the complexities of coaching multifaceted concepts
such as leadership and self-awareness. Second, behaviour change takes time and the
length of the partnership might not have allowed the coaches to get comfortable
using psychological skills (Gould et al. 1999). Third, some of the coaches commented on how they sometimes lost sight of the programme’s mandate and wanted
to maximise practice time to work on student-athletes’ technical skills in order to
make the play-offs rather than allocate time for psychological skills. High school
sports are indeed competitive but as Camiré and colleagues (2009) have argued, it
is essential that coaches always keep in mind the fundamental reasons why sports
are practiced in academic institutions. Gould and Carson (2008) discussed how
increasingly, coaches must deal with a professionalised approach in youth sport
where the attainment of extrinsic outcomes is often the primary focus of involvement, diminishing the potential of sport to positively inﬂuence athletes’ personal
development. Although strategies were not always optimally used, some of the coaches shared how having a researcher work with them during the season had a
meaningful impact on their coaching practice, allowing them to integrate material
that goes beyond simply teaching technical skills. This is an encouraging ﬁnding
Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
because the establishment of a coherent philosophy and practice is essential for
using sport as a tool for development (Camiré et al. 2011). As Gould and Carson
(2008) discussed, personal growth does not occur through simple participation;
skills must be taught deliberately by coaches in order to foster favourable developmental environments.
The interviews at season’s end allowed the coaches to reﬂect on the challenges
faced during the season and to provide suggestions for improving the process. For
example, the coaches discussed how they were initially apprehensive about the
material presented during workshops, mainly because they felt that I, the researcher,
did not understand football’s subculture. Trudel and colleagues (2007) discussed
how each sport has its own distinct subculture with implicit norms and rules that
inﬂuence how participants interact with one another. In addition, Pain and Harwood
(2004) have stated that academics are often viewed by coaches as being too theoretical and are accused of presenting material with little applicability. To be deemed
relevant and increase coaches’ openness toward psychological skills, Pain and Harwood stated that it is essential to learn to deal with the cultures of speciﬁc sports,
present material clearly, and demonstrate the value of psychological skills through
concrete examples. Of note is how the coaches in the current study suggested that
material on psychological skills might have been better received had the head coach
acted as a facilitator. The rationale is that there exists a hierarchy in football where
higher-level coaches (e.g. head coaches) have much more inﬂuence and decisionmaking power than positional coaches (e.g. receiver coaches). Therefore, having the
researcher deliver workshops with the head coach might have given greater
legitimacy to the strategies presented and led even more of the coaches to integrate
psychological skills in their coaching. Another advantage of having head coaches
involved in the facilitation process is that they have a greater ability to deliver
content in a sport-speciﬁc language (Pain and Harwood).
An additional challenge faced by some of the coaches consisted of coaching
while knowingly being observed. This proved to be especially challenging for less
experienced coaches who maybe lacked conﬁdence in their approach to coaching.
Individual meetings were not organised in the current study because the coaches
did not request them during the pre-season. However, integrating individual meetings might be valuable in future interventions of this type to give coaches opportunities to voice concerns. Moreover, individual meetings can help build connections,
promote empathy and further engage participants in the learning process.
Reﬂections from the ﬁeld
The following are the key reﬂections I share with fellow researchers interested in
conducting similar research. First, ensuring the success of the current project
required commitment. During the season, I conducted interviews, prepared/delivered
workshops, observed practices and games, wrote reports and provided reading material. These initiatives required signiﬁcant investments in time and energy but were
necessary to help the coaches integrate psychological skills in their coaching practice. Second, maintaining the coaches’ motivation to participate was testing because
they had varied biographies, aspirations and opinions. As a researcher, I constantly
had to be in contact with the coaches via email to remind them of upcoming activities because they were often overwhelmed with other obligations during the intense
football season. Finally, ensuring that the coaches had a strong input in the
M. Camiré and P. Trudel
decision-making process was crucial to the successful completion of the study.
While designing the study, I initially had conceptions of how it could be efﬁciently
structured; however, I had to allow the coaches to decide the nature of my involvement with the team. For example, I had initially planned to deliver a few more
workshops during the season but various factors allowed for a total of three workshops to occur. Consequently, researchers should be cognisant that an ability to
constantly adapt to the needs of participants is challenging but ultimately necessary
to ensure the success of such studies.
There are limitations to this study that must be acknowledged. First, as the primary
researcher and ﬁrst author, I was responsible for overseeing the study in its entirety
and the organisation of the ﬁndings reﬂects my interpretations and personal biography. Readers should be aware of the subjective nature of the perspectives provided,
even though efforts were made to control for assumptions. Second, a total of three
workshops occurred during the season, reﬂecting the challenges of generating learning activities and dealing with the coaches’ multiple obligations during the short
and intense football season. Third, the study was conducted with coaches afﬁliated
to a single high school football team. Readers are cautioned from inferring that
identical ﬁndings would emerge in other sport settings. Nonetheless, more research
is needed to better understand how coaches working in different settings can effectively integrate and use psychological skills. Fourth, I as a researcher had no experience in football which might have inﬂuenced the coaches’ openness to the
information and strategies presented during the season. Moving forward, studies are
needed to examine more closely how researchers’ biographies and credentials affect
coaches’ receptiveness during interventions.
In spite of these limitations, this study contributes to the scientiﬁc literature by
examining the process of helping coaches integrate psychological skills in their
coaching practice. Although challenges were faced, ﬁndings suggest that the
coaches believe they beneﬁted from having a researcher work with them during an
entire season as they were able to improve their coaching and better facilitate the
development of student-athletes. The ﬁndings provide viable strategies and
suggestions that can be used to facilitate positive change in youth sport settings.
Notes on contributors
Martin Camiré is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Human
Kinetics. His research interests consist of examining how positive youth development can be
facilitated in the context of school sport and the roles played by coaches in promoting the
development of student-athletes.
Pierre Trudel is a full professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Human Kinetics.
His main research interests are related to the development of coaches from a lifelong
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