Athlete basic psychological needs and coaches' contribution to their satisfaction : a case study of a high-performance sports team : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sport & Exercise Science at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Massey University
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A significant and robust body of research has led to a general consensus that sports coaches play a significant role in influencing a range of athlete experiences and outcomes. In this regard, self-determination theory and basic psychological needs theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985) are two major frameworks within which to consider and understand human motivation, psychological needs, performance and well-being. The primary aim of this study was to investigate athlete perceptions of and experiences regarding their basic psychological needs and to examine their coaches’ contributions towards meeting such needs within the context of a high-performance sports team. The team concerned involved female athletes competing within a New Zealand national competition. A wider purpose was the projected intention of identifying practical insights for coaches into high performance athletes’ basic psychological needs, based on (1) athletes’ interpretations of how coaches impact on their need satisfaction through need-supportive and need-neglecting behaviours, and (2) how athletes experience each of the needs within the bounds of a team setting. Given such objectives, the investigation utilised a qualitative case study approach that involved participant interviews and extended researcher observations of team activities encompassing meetings, practices and games throughout a seven-month (playing season) period. The observations undertaken sought to provide a fuller understanding of the context of the case being studied, as well as providing the researcher with a rich exposure to relevant coaching attitudes and behaviours and athlete responses to these, with such elements underpinning the perceptions adopted and their expression by the athletes. Utilising interpretative phenomenological analysis as the analytic method (Smith, 1996), the data revealed the athletes’ perceived importance of experiencing satisfaction of their basic psychological needs within their team environment. Furthermore, the data identified coaching attitudes and behaviours that the athletes perceived as supporting and those that that they perceived as neglecting of such needs. The behaviours observed were consolidated into themes that coaches might utilise or avoid when working with athletes in a high-performance context. The findings obtained extend the extant literature in a number of ways. Firstly, they deepen an understanding of the significance of basic psychological needs to athletes within a high-performance sport environment. Additionally, they pull together a number of distinctive coaching behaviours that were identified by participants as being need-supporting or need-neglecting in their effects. Furthermore, various attitudinal elements, such as trust in the coach, were identified as influencing the ways through which the athletes interpreted their coaches’ contributions to supporting or neglecting their personal psychological needs. The study design capturing unique elements of a specific case restricts any extended generalisation of the findings. However, it is important to note that the focal point of athletes’ perceptions of coaches’ attitudes and behaviours in relation to basic psychological needs universally held and experienced (Deci & Ryan, 2000) enables the potential for degrees of relevance across settings. Given the specifics of the participants and the setting, this relevance is particularly likely in regard to female high-performance athletes operating within a team context. The conclusions can enhance an understanding of the importance of basic psychological needs for athletes in high-performance settings and even more widely, and the various ways through which coaches attitudinally and behaviourally can support or neglect the satisfaction of such needs.
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Athletes, New Zealand, Psychology, Attitudes, Coaching (Athletics), Psychological aspects