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Relationships are important to our health and wellbeing and we ought to be paying more attention to them. Research I have led at Loughborough University in both sport and exercise settings has shown that healthy relationships among coaches and athletes, parents and athletes, partners and athletes, sport science providers (e.g., physiotherapists) and athletes as well as instructors and exercisers and PE teachers and pupils are enabling, nurturing, supporting, rewarding, comforting, motivating, and fulfilling. Such social and personal relationships have been found to be linked with low levels of depression and stress and high levels of vitality and satisfaction. Healthy relationships in sport and exercise have the potential to improve one’s overall health and wellbeing. Better health and wellbeing has also been linked to optimal functioning such as higher levels of performance and achievement.
Our research not only has contributed knowledge relevant to what is this rather elusive concept that we call relationships but has also generated understanding about how the relationships people develop in sport and exercise settings influence important outcomes such as health, wellbeing and performance.
The coach-athlete relationship has been at the centre of this research as has been considered by sport scientists to be at the heart of effective coaching and successful performance. However, the coach-athlete relationship like any type of two-person relationship is challenging – sometimes exhausting at best. The practical aim of the research conducted at Loughborough University is to empower coaches and athletes to develop better relationships, sound communication channels and strong collaborative behaviours. This research work has recently culminated in the development of a software app namely Tandem (see review conducted by ConnectedCoaches member Chris Chapman). Tandem is a diagnostic, prognostic and diagnostic tool that can be easily used by coaches and athletes, or delivered through coaches and athletes’ performance and life-style consultants.
The value of relationships within the context of competitive sport:
Q: Why do we seek out relationships?
Answer: We are social creatures by nature. One of our basic psychological needs is to feel connected with other people. Relationships – whether social or personal – make people happier and contribute to joy in our lives. They constitute a vital part of our health and wellbeing. In sport, neither the coach nor the athlete can do it alone both need one another to achieve high levels of performance. Feeling connected with one another helps coaches and athletes reach stardom quicker, easier and healthier – just have a look at high profile sporting examples: Jessica Ennis-Hill and Tony Minchiello, Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alex Ferguson.
Q: How do relationships affect our health?
Answer: When relationship members are in a constant state of conflict, it is detrimental to their health and wellbeing (e.g., blood pressure can rise). Individuals in conflictual relationships can suffer emotionally by feeling lonely, unsupported, and unwanted and psychologically by feeling less motivated, satisfied and confident. It may give rise to psychosomatic disorders as well, like eating disorders. Thus a coach and an athlete who argue, disagree and misunderstand one another on a continuous basis are very likely to suffer in terms of ill-health and low levels of wellbeing as well as performance slumps in the long-term.
Q: What are some ways to improve and maintain relationships?
Answer: One way to nurture a healthy relationship is to express appreciation for the other relationship member, display trust and show respect (closeness). Expressing these qualities can boost positivity for both relationship members (e.g., coach and athlete). Moreover, we mustn’t forget that relationships are hard work; they would be many ups and downs and so investing time and effort are vital (commitment). For example, spending time with one another talking, discussing, disclosing, debating, finding out one’s likes/dislikes, preferences, accepting or understanding one another’s point of view, practicing forgiveness, compromising and even sacrificing own time to help and support may be critical in both developing and maintaining good quality relationships. Creating an environment where both the coach and the athlete are responsive and receptive and where roles are clear and rules are met provides an excellent platform from which relationship members interact freely without feeling the pressure of being constantly judged (complementarity).
Communication is key to developing purposeful, successful and healthy relationships in both sport and exercise settings.
What are your thoughts about this blog post?
How does the quality of the coach-athlete relationship add value to your coaching?
Why do some coaches find it hard to connect with their athletes or some athletes find themselves to be disconnected from their coaches? What are the consequences of feeling or being disconnected?
Look forward to your input!
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