College athletes whose coaches cultivated a team environment centered around care and valuing the effort athletes put into their sport — rather than emphasizing competitive success and athlete ability — were able to cope better with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new research article published in the Journal of Sport Psychology in Action.
The sports psychology and exercise science doctoral students and professors at the University of Kansas and Fort Lewis College who authored the article surveyed about 700 athletes in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics during the spring 2020 semester. Athletes who perceived a more “caring and task-involving climate” on their teams “indicated they were able to express more positive thoughts related to their ability to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and use the time away for productive activities,” the article said.
These athletes fared better than those whose coaches fostered what’s known in sports psychology research as an “ego-involving climate,” in which coaches recognize athletes for their competitive performance, reinforce rivalries between teammates and punish mistakes more often, the article said. When the coronavirus pandemic caused the cancellation of college sports events and practices, some of these athletes felt they were “dropped” by their coaches because they were no longer contributing athletically to their teams, the article said.
The article went on to offer coaches, teammates and athletic directors strategies for cultivating more supportive team environments during the pandemic and beyond.
“When athletes feel that their coaches are receptive and care for them holistically, they may be more likely to report injuries, mental health concerns, and other difficulties that they may be facing,” the authors wrote. “Consistently checking in with athletes, truly listening, and responding empathetically to their concerns helps communicate to the athletes that their health is a priority.”