The Coach-Athlete Relationship

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The Sport Psychologist, 2009, 23, 203-232

The Coach-Athlete Relationship: A Tripartite Efficacy Perspective

Ben Jackson
University of Western Australia
Peter Knapp
University of Leeds
Mark R. Beauchamp
University of British Columbia

The purpose of the current study was to identify putative antecedents and consequences associated with self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and relation-inferred self-efficacy, within the context of elite coach-athlete dyads. Semistructured interviews were conducted with each member of six international-level coach-athlete partnerships, and data were analyzed using inductive and deductive content analytic techniques. Results for both athletes and coaches demonstrated that the above ‘tripartite efficacy beliefs’ (cf. Lent & Lopez, 2002) were identified as originating from perceptions regarding oneself, inferences regarding the ‘other’ dyad member (e.g., the athlete’s coach), as well as the dyad as a whole. Results also revealed that the tripartite efficacy constructs were interrelated, and independently associated with a number of positive task-related and relationship-oriented consequences. Findings are considered in relation to developing and sustaining effective coach-athlete relationships at the elite level.

Self-efficacy corresponds to a person’s confidence in his or her own capabilities to perform specific tasks (Bandura, 1997), and in the context of sport this construct has been studied extensively across athlete and coach populations. Among athletes, self-efficacy has been found to be associated with improved athletic performance (Moritz, Feltz, Fahrbach, & Mack, 2000), enhanced effort and persistence (e.g., George, 1994), positive affective responses (Haney & Long, 1995; Treasure, Monson, & Lox, 1996), as well as the setting of more challenging personal goals (Kane, Marks, Zaccaro, & Blair, 1996). Among coaches, self-efficacy (also referred to as coaching-efficacy) has also been found to be associated with the use of more positive instructional/coaching behaviors (Feltz, Chase, Moritz, & Sullivan, 1999; Sullivan & Kent, 2003), as well as improved athlete performance and greater athlete satisfaction (Feltz et al., 1999; Myers, Vargas-Tonsing, & Feltz, 2005). Notwithstanding this body of knowledge, it is noteworthy that coaches and athletes are highly interdependent and in addition to developing self-efficacy beliefs, are also likely to develop a set of relational efficacy cognitions that correspond to the other member of the coach-athlete partnership. Lent and Lopez (2002) recently theorized that two specific forms of relational efficacy manifest themselves in close relationships, such as coach-athlete partnerships, each of which are conceptually distinct from, but also related to, self-efficacy beliefs. The first type of relational efficacy, other-efficacy, involves “an individual’s beliefs about his or her significant other’s ability to perform particular behaviors” (Lent & Lopez, 2002, p.264). The second form of relational efficacy, relation-inferred self-efficacy (or RISE) constitutes a metaperception (cf. Kenny & DePaulo, 1993) and is concerned with the question, “How confident is my significant other in my abilities?” Specifically, Lent and Lopez defined RISE as “person B’s appraisal of how his or her capabilities are viewed by person A” (Lent & Lopez, 2002, p.268). Lent and Lopez theorized that other-efficacy and RISE represent important relationship-specific antecedents of self-efficacy that complement information providedby mastery enactments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological and emotional states (cf. Bandura, 1997). In addition, Lent and Lopez theorized that while other-efficacy and RISE represent important antecedents of self-efficacy in close relationships, both relational constructs also play substantive roles in their own right in sustaining dyadic functioning. Recent investigations in both social psychology and sport psychology have provided preliminary support for the utility of Lent and Lopez’s (2002) conceptual model. For example, in research involving romantic relationships, Lopez and Lent (1991) found that self-efficacy and other-efficacy beliefs associated with relationship management skills were independently able to explain unique variance in perceptions of relationship satisfaction and adjustment. In addition, RISE beliefs were able to explain additional variance in perceptions of relationship adjustment, and were also positively related to relationship persistence expectations. From the sporting domain, recent research by Jackson, Beauchamp, and Knapp (2007) with youth tennis pairs, examined the relationships between the tripartite efficacy constructs and athlete commitment and satisfaction. Jackson et al. found that other-efficacy and RISE beliefs were positively related to self-efficacy, and when athletes were highly confident in their own tennis-playing capabilities (self-efficacy) they were more likely to be committed to their relationships, and when they were confident in their partner’s respective capabilities (other-efficacy) they were more likely to be satisfied with their relationships. Interestingly, through the use of actor-partner interdependence modeling, Jackson et al. also found that when athletes had elevated levels of self-efficacy then their partners were also more likely to be committed to the relationship as well (this is termed a “partner” effect; Kenny, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). In another study, involving the dyad of “horse-and-rider” within equestrian eventing, Beauchamp and Whinton (2005) found that elevated levels of other-efficacy (i.e., riders’ confidence in their horses’ dressage capabilities) were able to augment the effects of self-efficacy (i.e., riders’ confidence in their own performance-related capabilities) with each efficacy construct able to explain unique variance in riding perforCoach- Athlete Efficacy Beliefs 205 mance. Collectively, these studies suggest that while key indices of relationship health (e.g., satisfaction, adjustment, persistence, commitment) are associated with self-efficacy beliefs, it is also important that people demonstrate confidence in their partners’ capabilities (other-efficacy) and also believe that their partners are confident in them (RISE). In addition to investigating some of the potential consequences associated with the tripartite efficacy constructs, recent research has also begun to examine some of the antecedents of other-efficacy, RISE, and self-efficacy within sporting partnerships. Using interview-based methods with international-level athlete dyads, found that each of the tripartite constructs were reported by athletes to be supported by a range of cognitions and experiences that included perceptions regarding oneself, one’s partner, the dyad/ relationship, as well as external factors. Specifically, in line with theorizing by Bandura (1997) self-efficacy was found to be supported by antecedents that included past individual mastery achievements, physiological and emotional states, and verbal persuasion. In line with theorizing by Lent and Lopez (2002), self-efficacy was also reported by athletes to derive from relationship-specific cognitions (i.e., other-efficacy and RISE), as well as dyadic mastery achievements. In their study, other-efficacy was aligned with rather different antecedents that included comparisons with previous athletic partners, comments from third parties (regarding the partner), the partner’s past performances, as well as perceptions of the partners’ motivation, psychological state (e.g., being relaxed), and physiological factors (e.g., strength). Finally, RISE beliefs were reported to derive from a partner’s verbal and nonverbal behavior, as well as one’s own self-efficacy beliefs, insofar as athletes thought their partners would be confident in them if they were confident in themselves. In spite of this emerging body of evidence within the sport psychology literature, researchers have yet to examine the tripartite model of efficacy beliefs within the context of coach-athlete relationships. Coach-athlete dyads are conceptually quite different from athlete dyads. In athlete dyads members often share the same position and status; in which case Kenny et al. (2006) would refer to this as an example of an indistinguishable partnership. Coach-athlete partnerships, on the other hand, represent distinguishable dyads (Kenny et al., 2006), whereby members fulfill different roles and are subject to differential power (i.e., superordinatesubordinate) relations. Recent advances in the study of coach-athlete interactions in sport (see Jowett, 2007 for a review) have provided insightful information regarding the significance of the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral ties that develop between dyad members. Nonetheless, little is currently known regarding the specific contribution of coaches’ and athletes’ relational efficacy beliefs in promoting these desirable ties, as well as how the tripartite perceptions are formed in these contexts. Given the importance of understanding the factors that may promote successful (i.e., high-performing) and effective (i.e., stable and satisfying) coach-athlete relationships (see Jowett & Poczwardowski, 2007), the overall purpose of the current study was to examine the primary (i.e., most prominent) antecedents and consequences associated with other-efficacy, RISE, and self-efficacy within coach-athlete dyads. International-level dyads were selected, primarily because these types of dyads (vis à vis their level of performance) invest a considerable amount of time, effort, and personal resources in their relationships and, as such, relational efficacy beliefs are likely to be salient. This study drew from a social constructionist perspective (Schwandt, 2000) to understand in coaches’ and athletes’ own words the antecedents and consequences of self efficacy, ther-efficacy, and RISE in such settings. Social constructionism is concerned with uncovering the subjective and unique perceptions that are manifested within social contexts (Gergen & Gergen, 2003), and acknowledges that individuals’ cognitions, and the meanings they attach to them, are shaped via their interactions with others (Cresswell, 2003).



Six international-level athletes (Mean age = 22.5, SD = 3.62) and their coaches (Mean age = 42.17, SD = 6.49) from the sports of tennis, triathlon, track and field (two dyads), figure skating, and bob skeleton were recruited to take part in the study. Dyads comprised one all-male, one female coach-male athlete, and four male coach-female athlete partnerships. Coaches reported an average of 13.33 years coaching experience (SD = 5.13), and athletes had 10.5 years experience in their respective sports (SD = 5.32). The average relationship length was 3.45 years (SD = 3.04, range 1.3–9.3), and athletes reported spending on average 10.33 hr (SD = 4.96) training each week with their respective coaches. To protect participant anonymity, all participants were assigned a letter according to their role (A for athletes, C for coaches) and a number designating their dyad (1–6, e.g., A3, C5).


Upon receiving approval from the human subjects ethics board at the lead author’s institution, information letters were posted to national governing organizations (NGOs) of individual sports in the United Kingdom. Elite athletes and their coaches were subsequently contacted by respective NGOs, and those that wished to take part registered their interest with the lead author. Information letters were sent to coaches and athletes informing them of the nature of the study, that their involvement was entirely voluntary, and that their anonymity would be protected. Prospective interviewees were also informed that they could choose not to answer any question and/or to withdraw from the project at any time without suffering any negative repercussions. Interviews with coaches and athletes were conducted separately and consecutively, at a time and place of their choosing. Before each interview, coaches and athletes were (1) reminded of the assurances presented in the information sheet, (2) asked to give their permission for the conversation to be audio recorded, and (3) given the opportunity to provide an appropriate contact address for future correspondence. Finally, before commencing interviews, individuals were requested to provide their informed consent to take part in the research. At the completion of interviews, participants were invited to ask any questions related to the nature of the study, and were thanked for their time.

Interview Guide

A semistructured interview guide (available from the first author upon request) was developed and initially piloted with members of two university-level coach athlete dyads, to assess the breadth and depth of questions, as well as to identify any problematic wording or phrasing. Before conducting each interview, all participants were informed that the conversation would focus upon different types of confidence (the term confidence was used rather efficacy to facilitate participant comprehension) held by themselves and the other dyad member (i.e., coach or athlete), hereafter referred to as “the other.” Participants were first asked to provide information regarding the number of years experience in their respective sports, the amount of time spent together each week, as well as the origin and length of the relationship. Given the task-specific nature of each of the tripartite efficacy beliefs (cf. Bandura, 1997; Lent & Lopez, 2002), athletes and coaches were then asked to describe, and write down, the main skills required of both themselves and “the other” (i.e., “Could you describe the main skills required of you as a coach [athlete] in your sport?”, “Could you describe the main skills required of your athlete [coach] in your sport?”). For both coaches and athletes, emergent skills included not only technical requirements (e.g., effective instruction, display correct technique), but also psychological (e.g., motivate the athlete, remain calm) and relationship-specific considerations (e.g., clear communication, providing social support, listening to advice). Once participants had outlined the requisite skills for themselves/”the other,” the first question for each efficacy construct subsequently asked participants to describe their confidence in relation to the skills listed. For example, with respect to self-efficacy, coaches and athletes were first asked “Could you describe your confidence in your own ability to carry out those skills listed for yourself?” Similarly, in the section on other-efficacy beliefs, athletes were first asked, “Could you describe your confidence in your coach’s capabilities with respect to those skills listed for your coach?”, and coaches were asked “Could you describe your confidence in your athlete’s capabilities with respect to those skills listed for your athlete?” In relation to RISE perceptions, athletes were asked, “Could you describe how confident you think your coach is in your capabilities, with respect to those skills listed for yourself?”, and coaches were asked “Could you describe how confident you think your athlete is in your capabilities, with respect to those skills listed for yourself?” For self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and RISE, this was followed by a second question designed to tap into the antecedents of that belief (e.g., “Can you explain what gives you this confidence?”) and finally, a third question which explored the implications of each perception (e.g., “Can you explain how your confidence in your coach’s capabilities affects you and your relationship?”). Over the course of the interview, clarification and elaboration probes were used to maximize investigator understanding (Whittemore, Chase, & Mandle, 2001). All interviews were conducted by the first author and lasted for an average of 40 min for athletes and 48 min for coaches.

Data Analysis

Interview recordings were transcribed in full and then data were initially content analyzed by the first author. Lent and Lopez (2002) proposed, within their conceptual model, a number of antecedents and consequences associated with self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and RISE (see p. 262 for a summary table). Accordingly, meaning units (Tesch, 1990) that were consistent with this theoretical model, and reflected these antecedents and consequences, were initially deductively coded into themes (i.e., clusters of conceptually congruent meaning units). However, in instances where meaning units did not correspond directly with Lent and Lopez’s a priori conceptualization, themes were created via an inductive process. For both the deductive and inductive approaches, conceptually similar meaning units were first assigned to themes and thereafter to subsequent higher-order categories that reflected either antecedents or consequences of each tripartite construct (See Tables 1 through 6 later in this article). During analysis, all data were organized and stored using the QSR NVIVO software program (see Bazeley, 2007). Figure 1 illustrates those themes that were derived deductively using Lent and Lopez’s original model, as well as those themes that were inductively formed. Themes were only created in instances where more than one athlete or coach highlighted a particular phenomenon. This method of inclusion was selected as the purpose of the current study was to provide a general representation of the most prominent antecedents and consequences of efficacy beliefs in dyadic contexts.

Trustworthiness Procedures

A number of prominent qualitative researchers (e.g., Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Marshall & Rossman, 1999) have highlighted the importance of ensuring ‘trustworthiness’ within content analysis, and have recommended the use of a series of safeguards to ensure that the final results accurately reflect participants’ responses. In this study, athletes and coaches were first sent copies of their individual interview transcripts, and were asked to comment on the accuracy of their accounts. Specifically, they were provided the opportunity to add to and, where appropriate, edit information provided in the transcripts. Second, following data analysis, participants were sent a summary of the study findings and were asked to comment on the degree to which the analyses were concordant with their interpretations. In some instances, participants reported that certain themes did not apply to them (but may have done for others). Importantly, however, all respondents felt able to locate their experiences in the summarized findings. In addition, the second and third authors also conducted a peer review of meaning units, themes, and categories, to ascertain the degree to which all authors shared a ‘mutual construction’ (Morrow, 2005) of the data provided by athletes and coaches. Specifically, the two coauthors were provided with descriptions of the preliminary themes and categories identified by the first author, and were subsequently invited to code all meaning units from four interviews (two with athletes and two with coaches) with respect to these themes. Where appropriate, the coauthors were also asked to highlight instances whereby the theme descriptors needed to be revised, or where themes needed to be further subdivided or even “merged” with other themes. Upon completion of this initial review process, a consensus rate of 86% was found across the three researchers. In those instances of interrater disagreement, consensus was ultimately achieved through debate among the three coders regarding (1) lower- and higher-order ‘theme conceptualization’, and (2) intertheme distinctiveness and similarity. In light of this process, some meaning units were reassigned (from the first author’s original coding), and some theme names/descriptions were revised to ensure all clusters of meaning units were conceptually distinct. At the end of this discussion process, all meaning units were appropriately assigned to conceptually distinct lower-order themes, and consensus had been reached on the allocation of all themes into higher-order categories.


Interviews yielded 136 pages of 12-point, single-spaced text, which resulted in a total of 178, 253, and 165 meaning units for self-efficacy, other-efficacy and RISE, respectively. For each construct, themes that were highlighted by both athletes and coaches are presented first, followed by themes that were unique to either coaches or athletes. All themes and categories are displayed in Tables 1 through 6 later in this article, including examples and frequency counts of meaning units. Frequency counts are not intended to denote the particular importance of a given theme, rather they are provided to enable insight into the relative frequency with which athletes and coaches described specific themes and categories (Berg, 2007). The antecedent and consequent themes, as identified by coaches and athletes, corresponding to each of the tripartite efficacy beliefs are also presented Figures 1–3

Themes that were described as antecedents of efficacy beliefs were categorized as (1) perceptions regarding oneself (e.g., one’s own physiological and emotional factors), (2) perceptions regarding “the other” (e.g., the coach’s experience), or (3) perceptions regarding the dyad (e.g., experience as a dyad).


For self-efficacy, five themes emerged under perceptions regarding oneself (see Table 1). Two of these were highlighted by both athletes and coaches, two were unique to athletes, and one theme was identified solely by coaches. In addition, five themes emerged that related to perceptions regarding “the other.” Two of these themes were common to athletes and coaches, two applied only to athletes, and a single theme was unique to coaches. Perceptions Regarding Oneself. First, athletes and coaches discussed past mastery achievements (associated with enhanced self-efficacy) as well as an absence of mastery experiences (associated with lowered self-efficacy), which were collectively termed past performances. For example, athlete A5 commented, “when you get [good] results that brings you confidence”. In relation to past negative performances however, A1 explained that, “if you’re going from week to week losing first round then . . . your confidence takes a bit of a knock.” Second, athletes and coaches reported that their experience underpinned their self-efficacy perceptions. For athletes, this reflected their level of experience in their sport, however for coaches this incorporated their experience both as a coach and as an athlete (see Table 1). Athletes, but not coaches, also highlighted a number of physiological and emotional factors as antecedents of self-efficacy, including their level of fitness, speed, strength, injury status, as well as pain-related factors. For instance, athlete A6 identified the role of pain in relation to her self-efficacy, stating, “if my coach said ‘I want you to do them in 45 seconds,’ which is race pace . . . I’d be like ‘I’m going to die,’ and it’s the thought of the pain I think that kills your confidence.” In addition, athletes reported that their precompetition preparation contributed to self-efficacy, and this included the time devoted to practice, as well as the rehearsal of specific skills before competition. Athlete A3 noted the impact of successful rehearsal, commenting, “my coach has given me sessions, I’ve done them and then it’s stored away . . . you can take confidence from that”, while A6 illustrated the effect of insufficient preparation, “if you haven’t done the work then you’re not going to be confident.” Finally, coaches reported that self-efficacy beliefs stemmed from their education and training, in particular, attending academic and vocational courses. For example, coach C2 highlighted “formal coach background and coaching courses and degrees, stuff like that, all the education side of things” as a contributor to his confidence in his own ability. Perceptions Regarding ‘The Other’. Coaches and athletes both reported that favorable self-efficacy perceptions developed from positive other-efficacy and RISE beliefs (see also the intrapersonal consequences for other-efficacy and RISE, Tables 5 and 6 later in this article). For example, in relation to other-efficacy, coach C4 noted, “it’s given me the confidence [in my own ability] knowing that he’s got the ability . . . I’ve coached him and now everyone can see that I can coach.” Similarly, with respect to RISE perceptions, A1 said that, “to help get that [self-]confidence I think you need your coach believing in you”. Meanwhile, coach C3 felt, “I think her confidence in you gives you the confidence [in your own ability] . . . and you just see it spiraling when that happens.” The first group of meaning units cited solely by athletes reflected their coaches’ compatible coaching style (see Table 1), where athletes felt at ease with the coach, as well as being allowed input into decisions. This was evident in the way athlete A1 described his coach, “He realizes what I’m like . . . I think that gives me confidence knowing that I can just be myself around him and he’s not going to judge me.” The second perception highlighted solely by athletes reflected verbal persuasion from the coach. For instance, athlete A1 suggested, “if things aren’t going well . . . he’ll say just the odd thing to get my confidence up and to get me feeling confident.” Finally, analyses showed that athletes’ past performances were an antecedent of coaches’ self-efficacy perceptions. For example, coach C6 illustrated how his athlete’s poor performances were associated with decreased confidence in his own ability, “at the moment, when [my athlete] isn’t doing as much as she could there are things that make you think ‘well, should I be doing better’, so . . . that makes you self-critical.”


Participants reported (see Table 2) seven perceptions regarding ‘the other’ in relation to other-efficacy, of which four were common to athletes and coaches, two were unique to athletes, and one was specific to coaches. For athletes, two further perceptions regarding the dyad were evident. Perceptions Regarding ‘The Other’. Athletes and coaches both noted that otherefficacy beliefs emerged out of comparisons with past “others.” For example, athlete A6 felt, “I’ve never seen [current coach] show me how to run properly, but [former coach] would . . . actually demonstrate how it would be done, so I don’t know about [current coach’s] ability to improve my technique, as much as I did with [former coach].” In addition, athletes and coaches also reported that “the other’s” past achievements contributed to their other-efficacy beliefs. That is, prior successes for “the other” were associated with enhanced other-efficacy perceptions (see Table 2). The penultimate theme reported by both dyad members was termed third party comments. This contained meaning units that reflected the effects of receiving feedback from individuals outside the dyad regarding “the other’s” ability. Specifically, individuals reported enhanced confidence in “the other’s” ability when they received positive feedback from outside the dyad about that person (see Table 2). Finally, athletes and coaches identified that they were confident in ‘the other’ when s/he displayed a high level of effort and determination, as well as a desire to succeed and improve; this theme was termed motivation. For example, athlete A5 suggested that her other-efficacy was due, in part, to the perception that her coach “works really hard and puts a lot of energy and effort into everything.” In addition, coach C4 recalled one particular practice session in relation to her favorable other-efficacy beliefs by stating “there was no question of whether he would or wouldn’t do it, and that session really was the one where I saw the determination.”

Unique to athletes, compatible coaching style emerged as an antecedent of other-efficacy, whereby athletes reported feeling at ease with their coaches, being able to communicate effectively, and contributing to decision-making. For instance, athlete A2 highlighted that her favorable other-efficacy beliefs resulted partly from her ability to communicate with her coach, saying, “You can always talk to him, he doesn’t care what you say.” Conversely, athlete A6 noted how an inability to communicate had negatively affected a former relationship, and her other-efficacy, “If . . . you can’t talk to somebody then you’re going to not have much confidence in their ability as a coach.” Aside from communication issues, athlete A3 outlined that her positive other-efficacy resulted from “his approach toward coaching,” adding, “He’s really considerate, he understands and . . . he knows I run, but I have a life too.” In addition, athletes reported favorable otherefficacy when coaches had greater coaching and competing experience. For example, athlete A5 described the effect of her coach’s competing experience in her sport, “he’s obviously been . . . a top athlete so that gave me confidence really that he’s been there.” The single theme in this category that was unique to coaches illustrated that favorable other-efficacy beliefs stemmed from coaches’ perceptions of their athletes’ psychological state. Specifically, coach C4’s confidence in her athlete was reported to be due to her perception that “he’s very quick to learn,” and C6 added, “she’s always switched on and focused, which is a good thing.” Perceptions Regarding the Dyad. Athletes revealed that mastery achievements as a dyad contributed to their other-efficacy beliefs. This was encapsulated by athlete A4, who commented, “I was so confident in [my last coach] . . . because he took me to international level . . . I was just so confident in him as a coach, because I’d had success with him.” In addition, athletes noted that the degree of face-toface contact time as a dyad underpinned their other-efficacy perceptions. For example, athlete A6 commented that, “in the end [former coach] would only coach me one day a week . . . so I think not seeing him as much decreased my confidence in him.”


RISE antecedents emerged across all three categories, namely in relation to oneself, “the other,” and the dyad (see Table 3). A single theme regarding oneself was common to athletes and coaches, while two themes were unique to athletes. Four themes regarding ‘the other’ emerged that included one for athletes and coaches, one solely for athletes, and two that were unique to coaches. Finally, two perceptions regarding the dyad were identified, one of which was highlighted by athletes and coaches, and another that was reported solely by coaches. Perceptions Regarding Oneself. For athletes and coaches, RISE estimations developed most frequently from their own self-efficacy beliefs (this relationship is also highlighted as an interpersonal consequence of self-efficacy for athletes and coaches, Table 4). For instance, athlete A6 highlighted this assumption in relation to her present coach, “I think that I’m bad, so I think that he thinks that I’m not too good.” Athletes also reported that their past performances provided a basis to enhance RISE beliefs, whereas an absence of performance success contributed to weakened RISE appraisals (see Table 3). In addition, athletes also believed that their personal motivation affected their coaches’ confidence in their ability. In this theme, when athlete A4 was asked to explain the origins of his positive RISE appraisals, he noted, “[my coach] knows the kind of strong will that I have, she knows the kind of personality that I have, she knows that I don’t give up.” Perceptions Regarding ‘the Other’. Athletes and coaches both described the impact of “the other’s” verbal behavior, referring to the content of feedback, as well as the way in which messages were delivered (e.g., tone of voice, raising voice). With respect to the content of ‘the other’s’ feedback, athlete A6 stated that her previous coach “had confidence in me because he always gave really positive feedback”. Similarly, coach C1 recalled that “the times where he says no to me in training is next to none, so that shows me that he has got confidence in what I do with him.” The second perception regarding ‘the other’ revealed that athletes estimated their coaches’ confidence in their ability via the goals set by the coach. For instance, A6 described, “at the start [my coach] and I set goals that I would get down to 56 seconds this summer, which is pretty quick, whereas now he’s not setting goals . . . I think that knocks my belief in his confidence in me.” Two further themes emerged solely for coaches. First, in addition to verbal inferences, coaches also estimated RISE via athletes’ nonverbal behavior (i.e., body language, see Table 3). Second, coaches perceived that their athletes’ affective states contributed to coach RISE appraisals. That is, where coaches perceived their athletes were happy they inferred positive RISE beliefs. For example, coach C2’s positive RISE beliefs were reported to stem from the fact “she [the athlete] seems very happy, so you know, I think she’s confident in what I’m doing.” Perceptions Regarding the Dyad. Athletes and coaches both reported that greater experience as a dyad was related to favorable RISE estimations. For example, athlete A6 commented, “I’m not sure that [coach] has much confidence in me . . . because we haven’t worked with each other for so long.” In the final theme, athlete’s achievements during the time as a dyad, coaches estimated that athletes were confident in their ability as a result of their successes during the relationship. This was evident in one quote from coach C5, who thought, “after we as a team have had a good race then their confidence in me would increase.”


All consequence themes were assigned to one of two categories. First, where meaning units related directly to a personal outcome (e.g., one’s own motivation, performance, affective state) that did not refer to ‘the other’ or the dyad, themes were categorized as ‘intrapersonal.’ However, where meaning units involved thoughts, feelings, and behaviors directed toward ‘the other’ (e.g., responsiveness to the coach) or the dyad (e.g., relationship persistence intentions, closeness), these were termed ‘interpersonal’ consequences.


Self-efficacy beliefs were associated with six intrapersonal themes (five for athletes, one unique to coaches), and three interpersonal themes (one common to athletes and coaches, and two unique to coaches), as shown in Table 4. Intrapersonal. Athletes consistently described how self-efficacy beliefs were positively related to their own performance levels and, conversely, low levels of self-efficacy were associated with diminished performance. As one example, athlete A6 recalled, “I stood on the start line and I was like ‘I am . . . going to come last in this race,’ and I did.” In the second theme, athletes identified a willingness to attempt difficult and novel skills as a result of their self-efficacy beliefs, and this theme was termed behavior during competition and training. For example, athlete A1 commented that during his tennis matches, “I think that’s the whole thing with confidence, you believe in yourself and you hit shots that you wouldn’t hit if your confidence was low.” Third, self-efficacy was reported to be related to elevated athlete motivation, in which athletes identified greater levels of effort and determination. For instance, athlete A1 said, “If I’m feeling confident, I’m wanting to train.” Fourth, athlete self-efficacy was associated with general affective responses, including elevated feelings of happiness and relaxation, as well as diminished perceptions of anxiety. For example, athlete A3 suggested that “being confident . . . relaxes you and you can focus on being relaxed.” Finally, athletes felt that complacency may result from over-estimating one’s ability. Athlete A4 recalled a specific period of “over-confidence”, saying, “throughout the preparation period for that competition my coach was saying ‘you’ve got to train properly and be focused’, and that was going in one ear and out the other.”

For coaches, in the theme instruction, meaning units illustrated that coaches felt a high degree of confidence in their own ability enabled them to provide decisive instruction, diagnose technical faults, and devise strategy for competition. For example, coach C4 highlighted that being self-efficacious enabled him “to know just exactly what to say to [athlete] . . . and point him in the right direction”. In relation to low self-efficacy however, coach C6 noted, “when you’re not so sure, you maybe don’t have it clear in you mind where you should take their training, and you might, um and ah a bit on plans for racing.” Interpersonal. Athletes and coaches both reported more positive RISE appraisals when they were highly self-efficacious (this relationship is also reflected in the antecedents of RISE beliefs in Table 3). For instance, when athletes were highly confident in their own abilities, this was associated with the assumption that their coaches would also be confident in their (i.e., the athlete’s) abilities (see Table 4). For coaches, elevated levels of self-efficacy were also associated with elevated perceptions of their athlete’s self-efficacy beliefs. Specifically, coaches assumed that athletes’ self-efficacy beliefs would reflect coaches’ own self-efficacy beliefs. For instance, coach C6 noted how his confidence may transmit across to his athlete, “If I wasn’t [self-]confident . . . then that would affect the athlete psychologically, they’d be thinking, ‘this isn’t normally how my coach is,’ and then that creates [self-] doubts, so I think the two reflect.” Furthermore, results showed that coaches forecasted that their relationship may break down as a result of low selfefficacy beliefs; this theme was termed relationship termination. As an example, coach C1 suggested, “It would be wrong to continue working with a player that you felt you couldn’t help further . . . that would be taking that player down the wrong road.”


For other-efficacy (see Table 5), three intrapersonal (all common to athletes and coaches), and eight interpersonal themes emerged. One interpersonal theme was common to athletes and coaches, while four were unique to athletes and three were unique to coaches. Intrapersonal. The first theme illustrated how other-efficacy beliefs were related to self-efficacy (also indicated in antecedents of self-efficacy, Table 1), for both athletes and coaches. The majority of meaning units in this theme highlighted a positive relationship between other-efficacy and self-efficacy. For example, athlete A4 felt, “being confident in my coach sort of inspires me to be confident in what I’m doing.” However, a second group of meaning units emerged in this theme where coaches identified that high other-efficacy may actually engender lowered self-efficacy. For example, coach C1 described how a high degree of confidence in his athlete’s ability was related to personal self-doubt, whereby “I wonder whether there’s going to be a time when [my athlete] may need somebody who can deliver this . . . level of coaching better than I can.” For both athletes and coaches other-efficacy beliefs were also reported to facilitate personal motivation. For example, coach C6 discussed, “If you have massive confidence in your athlete, you will perhaps even give more time.” On the other hand, athlete A2 documented the effects of low other-efficacy, “I’d have no confidence in [coach] and then I wouldn’t want to go out and race”. The final
intrapersonal consequence for athletes and coaches was termed general affective responses. Specifically, participants indicated that high other-efficacy was related to reduced anxiety and frustration as well as enhanced relaxation and enjoyment. Athlete A6 discussed the consequences of low other-efficacy, noting, “My coach thought he was good and I didn’t, it just made me . . . angry . . . and frustrated.” However, athlete A3 extolled her coach’s ability, explaining, “You’ve got confidence in him and it’s kind of . . . you have no negativity”. In addition, when asked to identify the implications of his confidence in his athlete, C3 said, “you’re enjoying it . . . you feel much happier.” Interpersonal. The first theme, athlete/coach selection, showed that both coaches and athletes were more likely to initiate a relationship with each other when holding positive other-efficacy beliefs. Athlete A4 noted, “I think if you don’t have confidence in someone then you’re not going to approach someone”, and coach C4 also said, “It was purely natural, raw talent and that’s why I agreed to take him on at an early age because I could see that was there.” In responsiveness to the coach, athletes were more likely to listen to and act upon advice from coaches when reporting positive other-efficacy (see Table 5). For instance, athlete A2 noted, “if I didn’t think my coach was any good, I just wouldn’t listen, I would just let it go over my head and go ‘yeah, yeah, yeah.’” The second group of meaning units unique to athletes was termed verbal behaviour toward coach, which highlighted that athletes were more willing to communicate with, and seek advice from coaches in whom they were highly confident. As athlete A5 commented, “if I wasn’t confident in [my coach] I probably wouldn’t phone him up and say ‘look I’m not sure about this’ or ‘how can I work on this.’”

Analyses also revealed that athletes’ other-efficacy beliefs were related to their relationship persistence intentions. Indeed, Athlete A5 said, “I’m confident in what he does for me, I’m confident in the plan of what he’s set out, so I want to stay as a partnership.” Finally, closeness meaning units illustrated that favourable athlete other-efficacy beliefs were related to enhanced perceptions of trust, respect, and support within the dyad. Athlete A5, for example, described, “if you did not believe in your coach . . . you perhaps wouldn’t trust them”. Similarly, when asked to explain the implications of other-efficacy, athlete A4 commented, “[It makes me] kind of look up and respect her.” It emerged that coaches set more challenging goals for the athlete when they were confident in their athletes’ abilities, and less challenging goals in response to low other-efficacy expectations. For example, coach C6 reported low targets for his athlete due to unfavorable other-efficacy, “I just want her to keep training . . . I have no real expectations. Do I think she’ll do much this year? No, I don’t.” In the second coach theme, relationship termination, coaches forecasted their relationship may break down as a result of lowered other-efficacy beliefs. For instance, coach C2 felt, “if you thought she was a no-hoper, I think there’s a natural wastage there”. Finally, in relationship satisfaction, coaches’ described how other-efficacy beliefs were related to their feelings about their relationship. Specifically, coaches reported greater satisfaction with their relationship when they were confident in their athletes (see Table 5).


Analyses revealed four intrapersonal themes for RISE (see Table 6), one of which was reported by athletes and coaches, two that were unique to athletes and one that was identified by coaches alone. In addition, one interpersonal theme emerged for both athletes and coaches, one for athletes alone, and a final theme was apparent that was specific to coaches. Intrapersonal. For athletes and coaches, RISE was related to one’s own self-efficacy. Specifically, positive RISE appraisals were related to elevated levels of self-efficacy (see Table 6, RISE is also indicated as an antecedent of self-efficacy in Table 1). Conversely, negative RISE inferences were associated with lowered self-efficacy. For example athlete A4 noted, “You question whether they believe in you and then you start to believe, you know ‘well are they right?’” Athletes also reported that RISE appraisals influenced their own motivation, as athlete A5 outlined, “it’s good, because . . . it sort if spurs me on, I think well he believes in me.” On the contrary, athlete A4 described how amotivation may result from low RISE beliefs, “I think you would struggle to want to get up in the morning and go to the ice rink and put on your skates and work hard.” In the third theme, athletes’ positive RISE estimations were associated with adaptive affective responses, such as seeling ‘positive’ and ‘happy’ (see Table 6). Conversely, negative RISE inferences were associated with an array of maladaptive affective responses (e.g., worry), as reported by athlete A6, who felt, “if I knew my coach was watching me then it would worry me that what he was going to think about my race”. The final intrapersonal outcome, no effect, contained meaning units drawn from two of the six coaches who explicitly felt that RISE perceptions were not associated with any intrapersonal outcomes. Specifically, coach C1 said, “I think as you progress . . . you really don’t care what the athlete thinks of you, if you really have your own confidence”. In addition, coach C6 suggested, “It [low RISE] wouldn’t concern me . . . the only person that challenges my confidence is me.” Interpersonal. Athletes and coaches both reported that unfavorable RISE perceptions would likely lead to the breakdown of their partnership, and this theme was termed relationship termination. As C2 noted, “if she didn’t have confidence in me I would pick up on it and I would have to do some things pretty drastic or maybe go our separate ways”. In relationship persistence intentions, athletes described their desire to continue working with their coach when they felt their coach was confident in their ability. For example, A1 commented, “I want to carry on working with [my coach] in the future . . . because I know that he believes I am a good player.” Finally, a number of coaches identified that they were likely to initiate communication with their athlete when they perceived unfavorable
RISE perceptions. For example, C2 felt that, “from my personal point of view to be able to resolve something like [low RISE beliefs] I’d want to know the reasons why”, also remarking, “I think if I felt those vibes I’d want to know what the reasons


Despite the prominence of coach-athlete dyads in sport, the factors that underpin successful and satisfying relationships are not yet fully understood (Jowett & Wylleman, 2006). Consistent with Lent and Lopez (2002), the results of the current study provide preliminary evidence that, in elite coach-athlete contexts, the tripartite efficacy constructs may be associated with a number of salient relationship perceptions (e.g., relationship persistence intentions) as well as task-related outcomes (e.g., performance, motivation, instruction). In addition to identifying salient outcomes, this study also provides specific insight into the interrelationships between self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and RISE, as well as the unique antecedent variables relating to athletes’ and coaches’ efficacy beliefs. Lent and Lopez (2002) suggested that the tripartite efficacy constructs play a fundamental role in the healthy development and sustenance of mutually beneficial relationships. Consistent with this, the results of this study revealed that in elite coach-athlete contexts efficacy perceptions may be closely associated with relationship formation, maintenance, and termination. First, with respect to formation, coaches and athletes reported initiating relationships with each other, only when they held strong beliefs about the other’s capabilities. Interestingly, this finding is consistent with previous research conducted with athlete dyads (Jackson et al., 2008), whereby members of elite competitive partnerships indicated that relationship formation was dependent upon favorable other-efficacy perceptions. With regard to maintenance, consistent with Jackson et al. (2008), athletes in this study were more likely to persist with a relationship if they held high levels of other-efficacy and RISE. Interestingly, when athletes were confident in their coaches’ capabilities, they also reported being more likely to communicate effectively (e.g., initiate communication, seek advice, pay attention to coach feedback) and feel close to their coaches. Perceived closeness has been conceptualized as a key facet of the coach-athlete relationship (Jowett, 2007) and has consistently been found to be related to coach-athlete relationship longevity (e.g., Jowett, 2003). Finally, the results of this study also suggest that the tripartite efficacy beliefs may play an important role in relationship termination. For example, coaches repeatedly reported that their relationships would end if they lacked confidence in themselves or their athletes, or believed their athletes were not confident in them. In a similar regard, athletes forecasted that their relationship may breakdown if they felt their coach was not confident in their abilities. In addition to shaping relationship development, the tripartite efficacy beliefs were reported to influence task-related outcomes. Consistent with theory (Bandura, 1997) and previous relationship-based efficacy research, athlete self-efficacy was associated with improved performance and motivation (cf. Beauchamp & Whinton, 2005; Jackson et al., 2008), as well as behavior during competition (e.g., attempting challenging skills), while coaches reported delivering more decisive instruction when they were self-efficacious. In a similar vein, Feltz et al. (1999) indicated that “coaching efficacy should have an influence on how one coaches. . . . High-efficacy coaches are hypothesized to . . . use more effective . . . feedback techniques” (1999, p.767). Beyond holding favorable beliefs about one’s own capabilities, holding positive beliefs about the significant other’s capabilities was also reported by both coaches and athletes to be associated with enhanced motivation and effort. This finding is again consistent with the Jackson et al. study involving elite athlete dyads. Furthermore, when athletes in this study believed that their coaches were confident in them (i.e., high RISE), this was reported to promote greater athlete motivation to work harder (interestingly this finding did not emerge the other way round).

In addition to the consequences associated with self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and RISE, the current study also sought to explore the antecedents of athletes’ and coaches’ tripartite efficacy perceptions. First, as evidence of the interrelationships within Lent and Lopez’s (2002) model, other-efficacy and RISE beliefs emerged as antecedents of self-efficacy for both coaches and athletes. These findings are consistent with previous qualitative (Jackson et al., 2008) and quantitative (Jackson et al., 2007) investigations in sport. Self-efficacy beliefs, for both athletes and coaches, were also reported to be underpinned by previous mastery achievements as well as one’s experience in sport. A number of antecedents were also apparent for other-efficacy, including comparisons with past ‘others,’ third party comments, “the other’s” past achievements, and “the other’s” level of motivation. Finally, regardless of dyad members’ roles (i.e., coach or athlete), RISE appraisals were reported to stem from inferences regarding “the other’s” verbal behavior, as well as experience as a dyad, and one’s own self-efficacy beliefs. With regard to this latter theme, this meant that when athletes and coaches were confident in their own abilities, they inferred that “the other” was also confident in their abilities (high RISE). Kenny and Acitelli (2001) refer to this phenomenon as assumed similarity, whereby individuals assume that their partner views them in the same way that they view themselves. Despite evidence of common tripartite efficacy antecedents for both dyad members, analyses also revealed unique variables for athletes and coaches in relation to self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and RISE. For example, verbal persuasion (from ‘the other’) was reported to underpin self-efficacy for athletes, but not for coaches. This finding supports the notion that verbal persuasion may be more salient when the feedback provider is in a superordinate status position and perceived as a knowledgeable source of information (e.g., a coach; Feltz, Short, & Sullivan, 2008). Athletes also reported enhanced confidence in their own and their coaches’ ability when their coaches adopted a ‘compatible style’ (e.g., being made to feel at ease, contributing to decisions). These attributes were not described in Lent and Lopez’s (2002) model, however they do mirror selected characteristics from Mageau and Vallerand’s (2003) notion of autonomy-supportive coaching behaviors. In particular, Mageau and Vallerand proposed that autonomy-supportive coaches acknowledge athletes’ feelings, allow initiative and input, and avoid controlling feedback. The results of this study suggest that these behaviors may also be beneficial to athletes’ self- and other-efficacy perceptions. A further antecedent theme also emerged for coaches’ other-efficacy beliefs that was not conceptualized within Lent and Lopez’s model. In particular, coaches reported that other-efficacy beliefs developed from their perception of their athletes’ psychological characteristics (e.g., being mentally strong versus being mentally fragile). In support of this finding, Horn’s (2002) model of coaching effectiveness asserts that coaches who believe their athletes are less “psychologically capable . . . in sport contexts . . . might treat their . . . players as low-expectancy athletes” (p. 320). With respect to RISE, it was particularly noteworthy that athletes estimated positive RISE beliefs when their coaches provided challenging goals (cf. Lent & Lopez, 2002). Indeed, coaches reported that they set more demanding goals when they were highly confident in their athletes, and thus it is plausible to suggest that the goals set by a coach may provide some insight for athletes when inferring their coaches’ confidence in their abilities. In spite of the contributions of this study, limitations should also be noted. First, the methodological approach used in this study did not enable insight into either causality or the relative influence (i.e., magnitude of effects) of antecedent variables in actually engendering changes in self-efficacy, other-efficacy, and RISE. Experimental research that builds on the antecedents that emerged in this investigation could provide important information about possible cause-and-effect relationships between these antecedents and the focal tripartite efficacy constructs. For instance, by tapping into the various autonomy-supportive behaviors that coaches exhibit (e.g., providing choice and requesting feedback during training), it may be possible to observe the impact that such coaching actions have on athletes’ self- and other-efficacy beliefs. Similarly, although coaches and athletes described a number of important outcome themes, it was not possible to examine the extent to which efficacy perceptions causally impacted upon intrapersonal and interpersonal consequences. Moreover, although the results provide important information relating to coaches’ and athletes’ tripartite perceptions in elite contexts, caution should be exercised before generalizing these findings to coachathlete dyads at other competitive levels (e.g., coaches working with youth athletes). Notwithstanding these limitations, the results of this study reveal a number of important directions for future research. In particular, further investigation is required that explores the mechanisms underlying the major contradictions that emerged in relation to Lent and Lopez’s (2002) model. For example, two coaches described how other-efficacy beliefs may actually undermine, rather than bolster, self-efficacy perceptions. One particular avenue for research, therefore, would be to test the notion that adverse consequences (e.g., lowered self-efficacy) may result when other-efficacy perceptions are considerably higher than self-efficacy beliefs (cf. Bonito, 2002). As Lent and Lopez noted, the extent to which efficacy beliefs are “harmonious and complementary . . . may have important implications for each individual and their relationship” (p.276). Thus, in addition to identifying the independent predictive effects for each efficacy construct it would also be advantageous to explore whether, or the extent to which, the ‘network’ of tripartite efficacy beliefs may act in an interactive manner to predict salient individual/ relationship perceptions in dyadic settings. A second important area for investigation revolves around the finding that negative RISE estimations for coaches may not be associated with any intrapersonal outcomes (see ‘no effect’ theme). Relationship theorists (e.g., Snyder & Stukas, 1999) have previously asserted that the effect of metaperceptions (i.e., RISE) is likely to be most pronounced when ‘the other’ is perceived to have comparatively higher levels of status. Bearing this in mind, it would be particularly interesting to determine the extent to which intradyadic status discrepancies might moderate the effects of RISE beliefs within coach and athlete populations. That is, does the position of relative power that one occupies within a dyad (i.e., superordinate, subordinate, or equal power) influence the extent to which RISE beliefs predict individual and relational consequences?

Aside from status considerations, it may also be interesting to explore within future research the possible individual (e.g., personality traits) and relationship factors (e.g., low satisfaction, suboptimal performance) that lead coaches to dismiss their athletes’ confidence in them, as well as explore how this perception may influence the manner in which coaches’ subsequently interact with their athletes (e.g., verbal feedback). Finally, it is worth noting that the number of meaning units that emerged for other-efficacy in this study, both in terms of antecedents and consequences markedly exceeded the number of meaning units for either self-efficacy or RISE. Underlying this, it is possible that in elite sporting contexts individuals become particularly attuned to the abilities of those with whom they work alongside, and are thus able to identify an extensive range of (1) reasons for their confidence in their partners, as well as (2) implications for their confidence in these significant others. This observation does not in any way reflect the relative importance of other-efficacy in comparison with the other two tripartite constructs. Rather, it provides a finding that may inform future relational efficacy research. That is, it would be useful to identify in future investigations the full range of potential antecedents of each of the tripartite constructs, the strength of their effects, as well as the spectrum of cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes that might derive from these social cognitions.

Beyond the theoretical and empirical contributions advanced by this investigation the results of the current study also provide a number of practical implications for coaches, athletes, and applied practitioners in elite sport contexts. First, drawing from the antecedents that emerged in the current study, sport psychology consultants would be encouraged to target relational efficacy perceptions (otherefficacy and RISE) in coach-athlete dyads, as these were found to be positively related to self-efficacy beliefs for both dyad members. Moreover, given the importance of adopting a ‘compatible style’, elite coaches would be encouraged to implement autonomy-supportive behaviors. Indeed, by incorporating relatively simple techniques such as providing choice and acknowledging athletes’ feelings, it may be possible to reinforce athletes’ self- and other-efficacy perceptions. Furthermore, although two coaches felt that negative RISE beliefs had no intrapersonal consequences, athletes reported a number of maladaptive outcomes resulting from depleted other-efficacy perceptions (e.g., diminished self-efficacy, motivation, relationship persistence intentions). Thus, if a coach is able to detect that an athlete lacks confidence in his/her ability (i.e., low coach RISE), s/he would be advised not to overlook this but rather to initiate communication to attempt to reverse their athletes’ diminished other-efficacy. For athletes, on the other hand, results suggest two important techniques that may be adopted to maximize their coach’s RISE beliefs. In particular, given the importance that coaches attributed to nonverbal and verbal behavior in estimating RISE, athletes would be advised to display positive body language (e.g., making eye contact, maintaining upright posture), as well as conveying favorable verbal messages to their coaches. Indeed, this may serve to preserve their relationship, given that some of the coaches in this study reported that low RISE beliefs were associated with relationship termination. In summary, in addition to highlighting a number of key antecedent variables, results revealed that efficacy beliefs were associated with adaptive relationship perceptions (e.g., relationship persistence intentions) and task-related outcomes (e.g., motivation) for coaches and athletes. Although relationship research in sport remains “a fairly new area of scientific enquiry” (Poczwardowski, Barott, & Jowett, 2006, p.126), the present findings suggest that the tripartite model may represent an invaluable conceptual framework in developing a more comprehensive understanding of what makes relationships ‘work’ in coach-athlete sporting contexts.

Very interesting read, has there been research on how many of the coach athlete relationships that end up in the bedroom.