Study: aggressive coaching isn’t the best coaching
Posted by Dean Holden at June 6th, 2013
by Nicole Auerbach, 16 April 2013
College athletes respond poorly to verbally aggressive coaches — behavior epitomized by former Rutgers coach Mike Rice — according to a study conducted by researchers at Clemson University. The research, which took place in spring 2012 well before the Rice videos surfaced and is scheduled to be published in June in the International Journal of Sport Communication, found that the participating athletes were less motivated by hostile interaction with coaches, and that athletes found coaches who utilized these methods to be less credible, meaning they didn’t trust them, find them competent or caring.
Rutgers went 44-51 (16-38 Big East) during Rice’s three seasons, and at least a handful of players have transferred out of the program in the last calendar year, including Gilvydas Biruta, a surprising departure following the 2011-12 season in which he started every game.
“The research we found now lends in many ways empirical support for the fact that athletes were transferring out of Rutgers because they may have been reacting negatively to Mike Rice’s behavior as a coach and were significantly less motivated and as a result did not want to be on the team,” said Dr. Joseph P. Mazer, an associate chair of Clemson’s communication studies department and lead researcher of this study, which he ran alongside undergraduate students Katie Barnes, Alexia Grevious, and Caroline Boger.
The study, which originated as an undergraduate class project, was designed to test how coaches interact with players, and its effect, if any, on athlete motivation and coaches’ credibility. Last spring, 130 student-athletes participated in the study. Some were exposed to a narrative of a verbally aggressive coach (which included profanity, screaming and condescending language — still, not nearly as bad as what was shown in the Rice videos, Mazer said) and others to an affirming, positive coach.
“We asked survey respondents (and they were all D-I athletes), we asked them if they imagined this was a coach of theirs and that person was using that language with them, put themselves in that situation and really develop a strong impression,” Mazer said.
Researchers found that athletes reported statistically significant results, negatively reacting to the verbally aggressive narrative, being less motivated by that kind of coach and also questioning the coach’s credibility.
One aspect of the study that was not explored but could potentially lead to further research on this topic, is the role of the visual. Instead of merely telling players or having them read about a scenario involving a verbally aggressive coach, participants could see video footage. Mazer believes adding a visual aspect to study like this would “absolutely” confirm the same hypotheses as this study did, just as ESPN airing video footage of Rice’s practices stirred visceral reactions within many.
“There are always areas for future research, and I think one is to incorporate the visual element, especially in light of the incident at Rutgers,” Mazer said. “Also, to begin to look at the role of social media and see how that plays in an organizational athletics crisis like this.”