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Using an object relations model to understand positive coach-athlete relationships

Richard Decker Ginsburg, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this project, I used an object relations model to examine the benefits of the relationship between athletes and influential coaches. To accomplish this task, I examined the formative experiences of five men who were varsity athletes in college and focused on two questions: (1) In what ways can an athlete's relationship with his coach compensate for deficits resulting from parental inadequacies or empathic failures? (2) In what ways can an athlete's emotional bond with his coach enhance his self-esteem and facilitate his transition from adolescence to adulthood? In addition to interviewing these athletes, I interviewed the coach designated by each athlete as the most influential in his personal development. Subjects participated in a semi-structured interview, and the data from these interviews were qualitatively analyzed. Seven themes emerged from the stories told by these five athletes and their coaches: (1) the coach/player relationship as a "good fit" for the athlete, given his circumstances and psychological needs; (2) the coach/player relationship as reparative of the player's early childhood deficits; (3) the coach/player relationship as an opportunity to help the player to modulate his aggression; (4) the coach/player relationship as a facilitation of the player's experience of separation-individuation; (5) the coach/player relationship as a medium for identification with an important adult male role model; (6) the coach/player relationship as a means to enhance the player's achievement; and (7) the coach/player relationship as a context in which limits are set on the player's behavior. From these ten interviews, a template emerges in which the coach/player relationship can be seen as a therapeutic construct in which caring and strong role models can have lasting effects on the lives, values, and successes of young men.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Social psychology|Educational psychology|Recreation

Recommended Citation

Ginsburg, Richard Decker, "Using an object relations model to understand positive coach-athlete relationships" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841872.