Autonomy-supportive Coaching: An Autoethnographical Account of the Coaching Process.


  • Michelle Smith School of Science & Sport University of the West of Scotland
  • Hayley McEwan University of the West of Scotland


Motivation, Athlete-Centred, Autoethnography, Reflection, Behaviour


Existing literature suggests that coach behaviours can influence the motivation of an athlete. More speci!cally, the creation of an autonomy-supportive environment is believed to nurture the athletes’ psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Embedded in self-determination theory, the aim of the present study was to provide an in-depth examination of the development of autonomy- supportive coaching behaviours. An autoethnographical approach was adopted to explore and chart this process. Data were drawn from field notes, reflective journals, and critical conversations during the seven week study. Data are represented in three progressive stories – Athlete Input, Provision of Choice for All, and Self-Awareness of the Autonomy- Supportive Coach, which raise awareness of the contextual and social influences on the development and sustainment of autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours. Difficulties in creating a motivational climate are reflected upon (e.g., the implications of providing an A-S environment to children). A reflective examination of the process, and product of autonomy-supportive coaching is provided, bringing the unexplored and mundane aspects of the coaching process to life. To fuel the development of autonomy-supportive coaching behaviours, coaches are encouraged to adopt a research-oriented approach to practice.

Author Biographies

Michelle Smith, School of Science & Sport University of the West of Scotland

Michelle Smith is a PhD student at the University of the West of Scotland. Michelle’s research examines sport psychologists’ training experiences through a professional judgement and decision-making framework.

Hayley McEwan, University of the West of Scotland

Hayley McEwan is a lecturer in Sport Psychology at the University of the West of Scotland and teaches on the BSc (Hons) Sport Coaching. She is a British Association of Sport & Exercise Sciences (BASES) sport scientist specialising in Sport Psychology.


Abraham, A. and Collins, D. (2011). Taking the Next Step: Ways Forward for Coaching Science. Quest. 63. p.366-384.

Adie, J. W., Duda, J. L. and Ntoumanis, N. (2008). Autonomy support, basic need satisfaction and the optimal functioning of adult male and female sport participants: A test of basic needs theory. Motivation and Emotion. 32(3). p. 189-199.

Allen-Collinson, J. (2012). Autoethnography: Situating personal sporting narratives in socio-cultural contexts. In: K. Young and M. Atkinson. Qualitative Research on Sport and Physical Culture. Research in the Sociology of Sport. Bingley: Emerald Press.

Amorose, A. J. and Anderson-Butcher, D. (2007). Autonomy-supportive coaching and self-determined motivation in high school and college athletes: A test of self- determination theory. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 8(5). p.654-670.

Anderson, A. G., Knowles, Z. and Gilbourne, D. (2004). Re#ective Practice for Sport Psychologists: Concepts, Models, Practical Implications, and Thoughts on Dissemination. The Sport Psychologist. 18. p.188-203.

Bartholomew, K. J., Ntoumanis, N. and Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C. (2010). The controlling interpersonal style in a coaching context: development and initial validation of a psychometric scale. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 32(2). p.193-216.

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 3 (2). p.77-10.

Brown, K. W. and Ryan, R. M. (2007). Multilevel Modelling of Motivation. In: Ong, A. D. and Van Dulmen, M. H. M. (eds). Oxford Handbook of Methods in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bryman, A. (2012). Ethnography and participant observation. Social research methods. 4th Ed. Oxford: University Press Inc. p.430-467.

Cowan, D. T., Taylor, I. M., McEwan, H. E. and Baker, J. S. (2012). Bridging the Gap Between Self- Determination Theory and Coaching Soccer to Disadvantaged Youth. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 24. p.361-374.

Creswell, J. W. and Miller, D. L. (2000). Determining Validity in Qualitative Inquiry. Theory into Practice. 39(3). p.124-130.

Cury, F., Biddle, S., Famose, J. P., Gouda, M., Sarrazin, P. and Durand, M. (1996). Personal and Situational Factors In#uencing Intrinsic Interest of Adolescent Girls in School Physical Education: A structural equation modelling analysis. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology. 16(3). p.305-315.

Cushion, C. J., Armour, K. M. and Jones, R. L. (2003). Coach Education and Continuing Professional Development: Experience and Learning to Coach. Quest. 55(3). p.215-230.

Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour. Springer Science and Business Media.

Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist. 55 (1). p.68-78.

Deci, E. L., Egharari, H., Patrick, B. C., and Leone, D. R. (1994). Facilitating Internalisation: The self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality. 62(1). p.119-142.

Deci, E. L., Schwartz, A. J., Sheinman, L. and Ryan, R. M. (1981). An instrument to assess adults’ orientations toward control versus autonomy with children: Re#ections on intrinsic motivation and perceived competence. Journal of Educational Psychology. 73. p.642-650.

Ellis, C., Adams, T. E. and Bochner, A. P. (2011). Autoethnography: an overview. Historical Social Research. p.273-290.

Ferrer-Caja, E. and Weiss, M. R. (2000). Predictors of Intrinsic Motivation among Adolescent Students in Physical Education. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 71(3). p.267-279.

Gibbs, G. (1988) Learning by Doing: A Guide to Teaching and Learning Methods. Further Educational Unit.

Grolnick, W. S. and Ryan, R. M. (1989). Parent Styles Associated with Children’s Self-Regulation and Competence in School. Journal of Educational Psychology. 81(2). p.143- 154.

Jang, H., Reeve, J. and Deci, E. L. (2010). Engaging students in learning activities: It is not autonomy support or structure but autonomy support and structure. Journal of Educational Psychology. 102(3). p.588-600.

Jones, R. L. (2006). Dilemmas, Maintaining “Face,” and Paranoia: An Average Coaching Life. Qualitative Inquiry. 12(5). p.1012-1021.

Jones, R. L. (2009). Coaching as caring (the smiling gallery): accessing hidden knowledge. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. 14(4). p.377-390.

Kidman, L. (2005). Being Athlete-Centred: The Empowering Coach. Athlete- Centred Coaching- Developing Inspired and Inspiring people. IPC Print Resources.

Klein, G. A. and Ho"manm R. R. (1992). Seeing the Invisible: Perceptual- Cognitive Aspects of Expertise. In: M. Rabinowitz. Cognitive science foundations of instruction. p.203-226.

Knowles, Z., Gilbourne, D., Borrie, A. and Neville, A. (2001). Developing the re#ective sports coach: A study exploring the processes of re#ective practice within a higher education coaching programme. Re#ective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives. 2(2). p.185-207.

Knowles, Z., Gilbourne, D., Tomlinson, V. and Anderson, A. G. (2007). Re#ections on the Application of Re#ective Practice for Supervision in Applied Sport Psychology. The Sport Psychologist. 21. p.109-122.

Kutnick, P., Ota, C. and Berdondini, L. (2008). Improving the e"ects of group working in classrooms with young school-aged children: Facilitating attainment, interaction and classroom activity. Learning and Instruction. 18. p.83-95.

Mageau, G. A. and Vallerand, R. J. (2003). The coach-athlete relationship: A motivational model. Journal of Sports Science. 21. p.883-904.

Mallet, C. J. (2005). Self-Determination Theory: A case Study of Evidence-Based Coaching. The Sport Psychologist. 19. p.417-429.

McMahon, J. and Dinan-Thompson, M. (2011). ‘Body work—regulation of a swimmer body’: an autoethnography from an Australian elite swimmer. Sport, Education and Society. 16(1). p.35-50.

Morrow, S. L. (2005). Quality and Trustworthiness in Qualitative Research in Counselling Psychology. Journal of Counselling Psychology. 52(2). p.250-260.

Nelson, L. J. and Cushion, C. (2006). Re#ection in Coach Education: The Case of the National Governing Body Coaching Certi!cate. The Sport Psychologist. 20. p.174- 183.

Papaioannou, A. and Kouli, O. (1999). The e"ect of task structure, perceived motivational climate and goal orientations on students' task involvement and anxiety. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 11. p.51-71.

Pensgaard, A. M. and Roberts, G. C. (2002). Elite athletes' experiences of the motivational climate: the coach matters. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports. 12 p.54-59.

Potrac, P. and Cassidy, T. (2006). “The coach as a more capable other.” In: Jones. R.L. The Sports Coach as Educator: Re-conceptualising Sport Coaching. p.39-50.

Purdy, L., Potrac, P. and Jones, R. (2008). Power, consent and resistance: an autoethnography of competitive rowing. Sport, Education and Society. 13(3). p. 319-336.

Reeve, J. (2009). Why Teachers Adopt a Controlling Motivating Style Toward Students and How They Can Become More Autonomy Supportive. Educational Psychologist. 44(3). p.159-175.

Reeve, J., Jang, H., Carrell, D., Jeon, S. and Barch, J. (2004). Enhancing Students’ Engagement by Increasing Teachers’ Autonomy Support. Motivation and Emotion. 28 (2). p. 147-169.

Richardson, L. (2000). New Writing Practices in Qualitative Research. Sociology of Sport Journal. p.17, 5-20.

Ryan, R. M. (1982). Control and information in the intrapersonal sphere: An extension of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 43. p. 450-461.

Ryan, R. M. and Connell, J. P. (1989). Perceived locus of causality and internalisation: Examining reasons for acting in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 57. p.749-761.

Ryan, R. M. and Deci, E. L. (2008). A self-determination theory approach to psychotherapy: The motivational basis for e"ective change. Canadian Psychology. 49(3). p.186-193.

Scarfe, S. V. and Marlow, C. (2015). Overcoming the fear: an autoethnographic narrative of running with epilepsy. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health. 7(5). p.688-697.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The re#ective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic books.

Sparkes, A. C. and Smith, B. (2014). Representing qualitative !ndings. Qualitative research methods in sport, exercise and health: From process to product. Routledge.

Standage, M., Duda, J., L. and Ntoumanis, N. (2003). A model of contextual motivation in physical education: Using constructs from self-determination and achievement goal theories to predict physical activity intentions. Journal of Educational Psychology. 95(1). p.97-110.

Tessier, D., Smith, N., Tzioumakis, Y., Quested, E., Sarrazin, P., Papaioannou, A., Digelidis, N. and Duda, J. L. (2013). Comparing the objective motivational climate created by grassroots soccer coaches in England, Greece and France. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 11(4). p.365-383.

Vallerand, R. J. (1997). Toward a hierarchical model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 29. p.271-360.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.