A Different Voice

Submitted by by Cory Dobbs, Ed.D., The Academy for Sport Leadership

As a coach I always considered it a privilege to participate in the growth and development of student-athletes.  Today I find myself in the unique role of trying to help student-athletes become better team leaders and thereby prepare for the leadership challenges of life.  If you were to take part in one of my workshops you’d notice very quickly that I try to get student-athletes to unlock their voice—that is to learn how to solve leadership problems through discussion and dialogue.  The voice of a student-athlete holds incredible potential to create, shape, and influence one’s self-concept and interpersonal relationships.

This article aims to give voice to a young student-athlete who cares enough to do his homework.  Concerned with what he was observing from the sideline, Jake Young, a high school student-athlete, crafted a research project to explore and describe the positive and negative effects coaches can have on athletes.

Whether or not you agree with Jake’s findings is not the point, this is simply an opportunity to hear the voice of a young athlete willing to invest time and energy in crafting a point-of-view.  As a student, Jake has taken sufficient steps to better understand his world.  As an athlete, he is challenging coaching methods with his research and my hope is that the insights resulting from his efforts will be appreciated.  –Cory Dobbs, Ed.D., The Academy for Sport Leadership

Site Editor’s Note from Brian.  I believe that as coaches, we can have high expectations, push and challenge athletes, hold athletes accountable, confront when necessary, and be intense, without being verbally abusive.  In short, we can have discipline and be demanding without being demeaning (Don Meyer).  It is also my opinion that coaching respectfully does not always mean that you will win a championship, but that it will help them to come nearer to reaching their potential.  And, more importantly, have a rewarding experience in many other ways.

A Different Voice
Respectful Coaching and the Respected Coach
by Jake Young, Student-Athlete

Throughout my life I have been very fortunate to experience many different coaches through my participation in sports and my brother’s too. These experiences include track and field, golf, power lifting, baseball, and football.  My brother has had the opportunity to play for some of the greatest select baseball programs in Texas, many with a reputation for winning. However, both of us have also had the opportunity to play on teams that were not as successful and lacked a successful reputation. Through these experiences of watching and participating in sports I have noticed that the coaching techniques of the coach have a direct positive or negative effect on their athletes.

In these relationships I began to notice a trend; the higher the respect for the coach the greater the team’s performance and success. As I began to focus even more on this relationship I noticed the coaches that were more respected by their athletes seemed to use different coaching techniques than the coaches who were not respected.

I believe that some coaches feel that they have to be rough and tough to be respected by their athletes and to have a successful team. It is a kind of mentality that may be referred to as “hard-nosed” or in a sense “old-school” type coaching. My beliefs about becoming a successful program do not include “old-school” coaching, even though this still may be viewed as a respectable coaching technique. I believe that coaches need to be respected by their players to be successful in any sport.

One coaching technique that I believed caused the athlete’s respect for their coach to decrease was verbal aggression, which is defined as a verbal message sent to hurt the receiver. The reason for my choice of focusing on coaches’ verbal aggression is because of a personal experience as a brother. I watched my brother play baseball for at least eight years where he participated in select, high school, and collegiate leagues. Throughout all of these seasons he had coaches that fell into three different types of verbal aggressive categories: not verbally aggressive, somewhat verbally aggressive, and extremely verbal aggressive.

I mention these categories to show the relationships between the coach’s verbal aggression and the team’s success, the respect for the coach, and my brother’s motivation to play.

The teams he played on where the coaches were partially verbally aggressive, the players respected their coach but were not as successful as they could have been. In these seasons my brother’s motivation to play was somewhat skewed, although the drive to play in college kept him motivated.

The team where the coach was extremely verbally aggressive, there was no respect for the coach and the success of the team was far from where they would like it. In addition, on this team my brother’s motivation to play the sport was depleted.

The team in which the coach was not verbally aggressive the players all respected the coach and the team won the national championship and became ranked number one in the nation. In addition, on this team my brother’s motivation to play the sport was at its highest. I believed that the reason for the difference of respect, success, and my brother’s motivation to play had a great deal to do with the differences in the coaches’ verbal aggression on all of these teams.

This past year I have done a great deal of research in the field of sports psychology. Through the process of researching I began to focus on the coach-player relationship and more in-depth, coach’s verbal aggression, defined earlier as a verbal message sent to hurt the receiver.

I then conducted a study with my offseason program consisting of athletes who play football, basketball, track and field, and baseball. The study investigated the relationship of the athlete’s perception of the coach’s verbal aggression and its affect on the athlete’s motivation and attitude toward their coach. My hypotheses in the research were both null stating that there would be no relationship between the coach’s use of verbal aggression on the athlete’s motivation and attitude toward the coach, and there would be no relationship between the athlete’s motivation and attitude toward the coach.

I used three different surveys/scales to measure the coach’s verbal aggression, motivation of the player, and attitude of the athlete toward the coach. The surveys are listed respectively: Verbal Aggressiveness Scale (Infante & Wigley 1986, Martin 2009), Sport Motivation Scale – 6 (Mallet 2007), and a seven point Likert scale that asked the question: My overall attitude toward my coach is….

The Verbal Aggressiveness Scale measured the athlete’s average perception of the coach’s verbal aggression. The Sport Motivation Scale – 6 measures the athlete’s motivation to play the sport broken down into six types of motivations: Amotivation, Introjected Regulation, Integrated Regulation, External Regulation, Identified Regulation, and Intrinsic Motivation. The seven point Likert scale that asked the question “My overall attitude toward my coach…” measured the athlete’s attitude toward their coach using four seven point differentials: Good – Bad, Positive – Negative, Valuable – Worthless, Fair – Unfair.

As I mentioned earlier I asked team members from my offseason sport program to participate in the study. I handed out about fifty envelopes of surveys and received back thirty three. With the data that I analyzed I discovered three significant relationships. There was a positive relationship between the coach’s use of verbal aggression on the athlete’s amotivation (unwillingness to play the sport), which means that the higher the player perceives their coach to be verbally aggressive the more they do not want to participate in the sport.

The second relationship was a negative relationship between the coach’s use of verbal aggression on the athlete’s attitude toward their coach, which means the higher the player perceives their coach to be verbally aggressive the lower their attitude toward their coach(Attitude of bad, negative, worthless, and unfair).

The final relationship was a negative relationship between the player’s amotivation and the player’s attitude toward their coach. This relationship shows that the higher the player’s attitude toward their coach the lower their amotivation (unwillingness to play sport), which suggests that the lower the athlete’s attitude (bad, negative, worthless, and unfair) the more they do not want to play the sport.

This research has helped me learn how a coach can affect his athletes with the negative coaching technique of verbal aggression. Coaches use verbal aggression at many different times and in many different ways; whether it is to intentionally hurt the player or whether the coach does not realize what he is saying. The research that I have conducted has shown me that verbal aggression truly does have an effect on an athlete. I believe if coaches could realize this fact and adjust their coaching techniques to stop their verbal aggression, their athletes’ amotivation (unwillingness to play the sport) would decrease and their athlete’s attitude toward them (the coach) would increase.

Name: Jake Young             Status: Junior at Cameron Yoe High School, Texas
Possible College Major: Sports Psychology Project Title: Relationship Between the Coaches Use of Verbal Aggression on the Motivation and Affect on the Player
Project Results: The project placed first in its category of Behavioral Sciences at the Central Texas Science and Engineering Fair and third overall for all categories.  The project also won an award from the Naval Research Association at the State Texas Science and Engineering fair.


To find out more about and order Sport Leadership Books authored by Dr. Dobbs including Coaching for Leadership, click this link: The Academy for Sport Leadership Books

About the Author

A former basketball coach, Cory’s coaching background includes experience at the NCAA DII, NJCAA, and high school levels of competition. While coaching, he researched and developed the transformative Becoming a Team Leader program for student-athletes. Cory has worked with professional athletes, collegiate athletic programs and high schools teaching leadership as a part of the sports experience and education process. Cory cut his teeth as a corporate leader with Fortune 500 member, The Dial Corp. As a consultant and trainer Dr. Dobbs has worked with such organizations as American Express, Honeywell, and Avnet.

Cory has taught a variety of courses on leadership and change for the following universities:

Northern Arizona University (Graduate Schools of Business and Education)

Ohio University (Graduate School of Education / Management and Leadership in Sport)

Grand Canyon University (Sports Marketing and Sports Management in the Colangelo School of Sports Business)

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