Understanding Your Athletes, Part 3: The Final 5 Articles

“Alright, alright, alright,” said Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. We’re rounding third and heading for home in this, part 3 of 3, in our blog series on the sociology of coaching and athletic performance. In this post I’ve got the final 5 articles to discuss, and then I’ve got a special gift for you. Again, if you need a refresher you can click the links to find part 1 or part 2 in this series. Let’s get on with it by starting with an article by some guy named “Gearity.” 

6. "Discipline and Punish in the Weight Room."

Ok, so yes, I’ve included an article I co-wrote. My co-author, Joe Mills, is a brilliant scholar and I encourage you to search for his other articles published in the last couple of years. 
Joe and I draw upon the work of the social theorist Michel Foucault and show how typical strength and conditioning practices such as the control of time, flow, and space, and constant judgment and observation, turn athletes into docile bodies, which leads to several negative effects. 

If you think practices or workouts should run like a factory and athletes are machines, you’re probably doing some things that are leading to negative effects. Try disrupting discipline and start engaging with athletes differently, which is what Joe, Jim Denison, Tim Konoval, and Clayton Kuklick, and I have been working on the past couple of years. 

7. "Slim Bodies, Eating Disorders and the Coach-Athlete Relationship."

Many a coach bemoans the importance of creating a culture of hard work, relentless commitment, and rigorous and precise training of the athletic body. What if this culture leads to an athlete with disordered eating, such as bulimia nervosa (binge and purge), and the resulting negative effects include a decrease in performance, lifelong struggles with food and body image, and eventually dropout from sport? 

Extend this thought to other issues beyond eating disorders and dropout—how is your culture producing negative effects? Sociologists seek to understand how our social world produces these problems. It’s lazy thinking to just blame athletes, or any individual, without a more comprehensive understanding of the social forces that created these individuals. 

8. "The Role of High School Coaches in Helping Prevent Adolescent Sexual Aggression."

I wish I could include more on the coach’s role in preventing many crimes, and crimes against humanity, including sexual aggressions, assault, violence, abuse, and bullying. From scholarship to professional development to college curriculums, we need much more attention on these issues. Quite frankly, it’s unethical and shameful that we focus more on muscles and movements than our humanity. 

After reading this article you may be struck by the contradictory ideas coaches hold—sport builds character but rapists too; coaches have a profound positive influence on young people but it’s not my job to prevent sexual assault; coaches teach athletes a variety of sport and life skills but how could we ever teach them not to commit sexual assault? Will you continue that status quo or do something that seeks positive, meaningful change?

9. "It's All Very Well, in Theory."

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write this blog without offering at least one article on philosophy of science. Sorry, not sorry, but philosophy of science underpins all academic scholarship, and even coaching practice too because coaches make all sorts of claims that reflect how they see the social world and create knowledge about it. One purported challenge many people face learning philosophy of science is the specialized language, but the same people, particularly coaches, learn complex terminology related to the tactical, technical, and physical aspects of performance.  “Spread right 44 double tango option on 3, ready, go!” Huh?!

We often think all research is, or should be, carried out the same way, but this doesn’t jive with the multiple approaches outlined in this article. What about how the media reports research or how policymakers decide policy and laws based on research—whose research and what kind? Recently, I co-wrote a chapter on paradigms, theory, and qualitative methodology for a new book on women in sport coaching. In the chapter we provide an updated view on how to understand the multiple paradigms in sport coaching research. I think the chapter by Macdonald and colleagues, and our book chapter, are worth checking out. Click the book title (Women in Sports Coaching) below to get redirected to the corresponding website. 

10. "Women in Sports Coaching."

  • Gearity, B. T., Mills, J. P., & Callary, B. (2016). Women in coaching: Theoretical underpinnings among qualitative research. In N. LaVoi (Ed.), Women in Sports Coaching (pp. 234-252). New York, NY: Routledge. 

Consider this article in relation to the Macdonald article on science. A researcher does a study on video-based coaching and finds that providing video feedback to athletes increased their vertical jump height or 40-yard sprint time. Voila, everybody starts videotaping athletes to provide feedback and improve performance. However, along comes another researcher who does a study showing how video-based coaching can be detrimental and that the coach’s knowledge and practice was causing negative effects. Now, you should see how these two positions create a tension. As a reminder, these two researchers and the coaches’ practices, were all underpinned by their philosophy of science. I reiterate this because I’m trying to show again how important this stuff is! 

Back to video-based coaching—does the use of video depersonalize the coach-athlete relationship? We’re all now using cameras to overcome problems, but are new problems created from the use of cameras? Or are they a magical technology resulting in a utopian space of enhanced performance and tranquility? Let’s always keep thinking about how as society changes, new challenges and effects are created.  

I hope you’ve found this 3-part blog series stimulating. Notice I didn’t say words such as agreeable, or nice, or useful, or pleasant. Insert happy face emoji here (sarcasm intended). I didn’t write with these adjectives in mind, and if you’re evaluating this blog series on those terms, then check back to part 1 where I recommended not jumping to conclusions (that is, straight to evaluation without also describing and interpreting). We really need to understand arguments first—breathe life into them, then evaluate. We need to relearn our defensiveness to new ideas. Openness and the ability to hold multiple views is a sign of a more developed consciousness. 

I’m a scholar-coach and I’ve tried to stimulate thought. My goal, same as when I teach, is to help facilitate critical thinking, not mimicry, not confirming what you already believe, or to appeal to the masses. I want to have thoughtful, challenging conversations about sport coaching. 

The world needs more scholar-coaches, not clichés or over-generalizations on how people and society works. Coaching is always an ethical act. A brief interaction or comment in the coach-athlete relationship can trigger profound consequences. The sociology of sport coaching is one way we can help describe these nuances and to prepare the next generation of scholar-coaches. Who knows, just maybe we can make the world a better place with meaningful change. To get there, I think we will need to use our power ethically, establish caring relations, and get real on who wins and who loses in sport. As I step off my soapbox, I welcome your reactions to this blog series and engaging with you in a stimulating discussion. Hopefully we can identify some common themes from these readings, create some new interpretations, and set a course of positive change right now. 


Here’s the bonus content I promised too! Who doesn’t like bonus content? Check out the books entitled Sociology of Sports Coaching and Handbook of Research in Sport Coaching, and if you’re looking for some sociology of sport coaching scholars in the field to follow, here’s a list presented in alphabetical order:


This is beginning to feel a bit like an infomercial now. Regardless, here’s a recent paper I just published with Dr. Joe Mills. Be on the lookout for more research and commentary like this using sociology to understand coaching and athletic performance. This sort of work is cutting edge and steadily growing from a small number of scholars. We’re guided by creating ethical, effective, and creative understandings and applications. Quite an exciting time!  


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Dr. Brian Gearity, PhD, ATC, CSCS*D, RSCC, USAW, USATF level 3 sprints, is a guest contributor to the Volt blog. He is the founding Director, and Clinical Assistant Professor, of the Master of Arts in Sport Coaching program at the University of Denver. Brian is the Editor-in-Chief for NSCA Coach, and is Associate-Editor-in-Chief for the Strength & Conditioning Journal. Dr. Gearity’s research uses sociological and psychological theory to enhance effective and ethical coaching practice. Follow Coach Gearity on Twitter @DrGearity.