Athletic Coaching

A Communication Perspective

by Gregory A. Cranmer (Author)
Textbook XII, 166 Pages


Each year, millions of youth athletes participate in organized sport under the guidance of a coach, who is entrusted with overseeing their development and performance, as well as providing a safe environment. A communicative approach to coaching recognizes that the skills, lessons, values, and experiences that athletes gain are determined by how coaches interact with athletes and structure their sporting environments. Athletic Coaching: A Communication Perspective provides a foundation for a communicative perspective of coaching in an effort to better understand and promote coach effectiveness. As part of this effort, this book conceptualizes coaching as a communicative endeavor, provides a framework from which to understand coaching effectiveness, and explicates four common perspectives (i.e., instructional, organizational, group, and interpersonal) utilized by communication scholars to examine coaching. Moreover, this book forwards a scholarly agenda for building a holistic framework of coaching and increasing the applied value of coach communication scholarship via methodological and theoretical considerations. Athletic Coaching is of benefit to many audiences, including communication students and scholars who are developing their understanding of coaching literature, interdisciplinary scholars who seek a representation of a communicative perspective of coaching, and coaches who may use this text as a self-reflective tool for pedagogical refinement.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: A Communicative Approach to Athletic Coaching
  • Chapter 2: Defining Effective Coaching
  • Chapter 3: The Instructional Perspective: Coaches as Instructors
  • Chapter 4: The Organizational Perspective: Coaches as Managers
  • Chapter 5: The Group Perspective: Coaches as Group Members
  • Chapter 6: The Interpersonal Perspective: Coaches as Relational Partners
  • Chapter 7: Setting a Scholarly Agenda: Building Toward a Holistic Framework
  • Chapter 8: Building Athletic Coaching Theory: Extending Confirmation Theory to Athletic Coaching
  • Series Index

← viii | ix →


I owe so much to the scholars who influenced me. Thank you to Dr. Scott A. Myers and the faculty at West Virginia University for encouraging me to follow my passion. Thank you to Jeffrey Kassing and Paul Turman, whose work brought respect to the academic pursuit of coaching within Communication Studies and established the foundation upon which I built my research. It would be impossible to fill your shoes, but following in your footsteps has been quite an enlightening experience. Finally, thank you to Kristine Maul (M.A., Stockton University) for assisting in the copy editing of this monograph. ← ix | x →

← x | xi →


← xii | 1 →

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To me, the coaching profession is one of the most noblest and far-reaching in building [adults]. No [person] is too good to be an athletic coach for youth.—Amos Alonzo Stagg1

The role of sport in society has grown throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. Sport is a ubiquitous component of social discourse and shapes how we come to understand our societal structures, as well as our roles and experiences within those structures (Kassing et al., 2004; Pedersen, 2013a; Wenner, 2015). The influence and presence of sport is only possible through a complex web of interactions between interdependent stakeholders (i.e., participants, media, organizations, and fans), known as the community of sport (Billings, Butterworth, & Turman, 2018). Each member of this community has a vital role in the communicative performance of sport. The value of sport as a context of human achievement and development, however, would be significantly lacking if it were not for athletic coaches. Coaches are the conduits of knowledge that allow athletes to refine their abilities, sources of inspiration and support that keep athletes involved in sport, and organizers of sporting activities and team climates. As such, coaches are central figures in sport participation, influencing athletes’ physical performances, relationships with teammates, and development (Kassing et al., 2004; Potrac, Denison, & Gilbert, 2013). ← 1 | 2 →

Perhaps the importance of their roles is why coaches are viewed as mythical figures, who warrant admiration (Billings et al., 2018). Reverence for coaches permeates popular and sporting culture. We, the public, canonize coaches’ motivational speeches (e.g., Knute Rockne’s “Win one for the Gipper” halftime speech) through committing them to memory and commemorating them in social artifacts (Maisel, 2003). We revere and recite their teams’ accomplishments, like Dan Gable’s record at the University of Iowa (i.e., 355-21-5), which included 21 straight Big Ten team titles and 15 NCAA team titles (Turman, 2017). We utilize their coaching philosophies as guides for our non-sporting lives, such as John Wooden’s famous Pyramid of Success (Edelhauser, 2007). We position them as social and religious leaders that shape our youth, like University of Colorado’s former football coach Bill McCartney and his organization, Promise Keepers (Hoffer, 1995). We immortalize them within film, including the likes of high school coaches Ken Carter (i.e., a former basketball coach from Richmond High School, CA and subject of Coach Carter) (Gale, Robbins, Tollin, & Carter, 2005) and Gary Gaines (i.e., a former football coach at Permian High School, TX and subject of Friday Night Lights) (Grazer & Berg, 2004).

Surprisingly, despite the historical and social significance given to coaches, athletic coaching—whether voluntary, part-time, or full-time—has garnered little consideration within academia until the late 20th century (Gilbert, 2002; Gilbert & Trudel, 2004; Potrac et al., 2013). Since the 1970s, scholars from a group of Western nations (i.e., United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) have increasingly pursued research on coaching (Duffy et al., 2011; Gilbert, 2002). This body of scholarship, known as coaching science, is comprised of disconnected studies that span multiple fields, including sport management, psychology, and sociology (Gilbert & Trudel, 2004). The limited and fragmented nature of coaching science research is of concern because training programs and innovations in coaching practice are dependent upon the cultivation and synthesis of empirical knowledge. As such, scholars have engaged in efforts to expand upon and unify understandings of coaching (e.g., Jones, 2006; Lyle & Cushion, 2010; Potrac et al., 2013).

Attempts to unify and synthesize coaching science research have excluded the communicative perspective of coaching, which originated within the field of communication studies during the end of the 20th century (Kassing & Infante, 1999; Rocca, Martin, & Toale, 1998), and is now a component of the emerging subfield of sport communication (Wenner, 2015). For instance, the Routledge Handbook of Sports Coaching features no communication scholars ← 2 | 3 → and only two chapters even tangentially related to communicative behavior (i.e., Becker, 2013; Ronglan & Aggerholm, 2013). Further, the behavioral approaches within coaching science research reference general qualities of communication (e.g., supportive, individualized, fair, appropriate, consistent) rather than specific behaviors or messages (Becker, 2009, 2013). These approaches also rely on understandings of behavior that vary by study in lieu of formalized understandings of human interaction (Becker & Wrisberg, 2008; Potrac, Jones, & Armour, 2002). In contrast, researchers who operate from a communicative perspective identify and empirically examine the effectiveness of specific messages or nonverbal behaviors (e.g., Cranmer, Anzur, & Sollitto, 2017; Cranmer & Brann, 2015; Kassing & Pappas, 2007; Turman, 2003b, 2008; Webster, 2009). The nuance and specificity of communicative scholarship, in conjunction with its emphasis on generalizable results, provides it with a degree of applicability that is missing from other bodies of coaching literature (Duffy et al., 2011; Potrac et al., 2002). In other words, communication research offers prescriptive value because it provides coaches with specifics regarding what to say or what to do to be more effective. These practical implications are missing from coaching science literature at large.

A formative barrier to the integration and application of coach communication research is that this literature lacks synthesis. The disconnected nature of coach communication research hinders its growth and accessibility for scholars and practitioners. In recent decades, researchers within sport-related fields—including those in coaching science (Gilbert, 2002; Gilbert & Trudel, 2004; Potrac et al., 2013) and sport communication (Abeza, O’Reilly, & Nadeau, 2014; Ishak, 2017; Kassing et al., 2004; Pedersen, 2013b; Wenner, 2015)—have faced similar situations and resolved these problems through reviews of published research. These efforts are imperative as:

The absence of literature reviews and analyses of published research on coaching seriously limits the ability of (a) researchers to set research agendas and situate their work in the larger content of coaching science, (b) coaches to access and realize the potential of coaching research, and (c) coach educators to integrate the full scope of coaching research into coach education programs. (Gilbert & Trudel, 2004, p. 388)

Analyzing and synthesizing the empirical record on coach communication is a crucial first step toward the continual development and application of academic knowledge.

The purpose of this text, therefore, is threefold: (a) to provide an account and forward an agenda that helps develop scientific exploration of coach ← 3 | 4 → communication, (b) form connections between existing coach communication perspectives, and (c) maximize the practical value of communicative research for coaches through promoting applied and generalizable means of inquiry. This purpose benefits many audiences, including emerging coach communication scholars who are developing an initial understanding of this literature, established coach communication scholars who are negotiating the structure and direction of our efforts, interdisciplinary coaching scholars who seek a representation of a communicative perspective of coaching, and coaches who may use this text as a self-reflective tool for pedagogical refinement.

This chapter aims to answer three preliminary questions as a means of providing a foundation upon which the purpose of this text may be accomplished. The first question is why should anyone, regardless of field of specialization, consider the examination of athletic coaching as a scholarly, worthwhile pursuit? The second question is why is a communicative perspective to coaching appropriate and, more importantly, needed? The third question is what is the scholarly context in which the communicative perspective of coaching is embedded?

Need for Coaching Research

The scientific inquiry into coaching is a meaningful pursuit for a multitude of reasons. The foremost of which is that the athlete-coach relationship is a significant context of human interaction. Coaches are entrusted with the social, cognitive, physical, and moral development of their athletes (Super, Verkooijen, & Koelen, 2018). As such, coaches are agents of influence, who inspire interest in participating in sport (Coakley & White, 1992; Fraser-Thomas, Côté, & Deakin, 2008; McPherson, 1981) and impart information that shapes athletes’ social schema for years to come (Cranmer & Myers, 2017; Kassing & Pappas, 2007). More specifically, interactions with coaches directly or indirectly account for numerous facets of athletes’ emotions, relationships, physical skillsets, psychological processes, and self-perceptions (Vella, Oades, & Crowe, 2011). Coaches’ control over sporting environments (e.g., practice schedules and routines) and the dissemination of information may explain their influence. Meân (2013) argued that the manner in which sport is structured and managed by coaches determines the outcomes experienced by athletes. Meân’s argument underscores that coach education and training are imperative to organizing sport in a manner that maximizes the potential benefits of athletic participation. ← 4 | 5 →


XII, 166
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XII, 166 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Gregory A. Cranmer (Author)

Gregory A. Cranmer (PhD, West Virginia University, 2015) is Assistant Professor of Sport Communication at Clemson University and a fellow of the Robert H. Brooks Sports Science Institute. His research focuses on optimizing the function of task-oriented groups, principally sports teams, via highlighting the underlying social dynamics that facilitate group performance and member experience. His efforts center around aiding (a) social exchanges and distributions of interpersonal and organizational resources (e.g., social support, information, or influence), (b) individuals’ integration into novel tasks, roles, and groups (i.e., socialization), and (c) the development of members through leadership and communicative strategies. His contributions to the subdiscipline of sport communication are evident in the reception of multiple early career awards from the National and International Communication Association and numerous publications within outlets such as Communication & Sport, International Journal of Sport Communication, Communication Studies, Communication Quarterly, Western Journal of Communication, Communication Research Reports, and the forthcoming Handbook of Communication and Sport.


Title: Athletic Coaching