From the Athletes’ Perspective: A Social-Relational Understanding of How Coaches Shape the Disability Sport Experience

Veronica Allan, M. Blair Evans, Amy E. Latimer-Cheung, Jean Côté

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to explore athletes’ perceptions of how coaches shaped their experiences in disability sport throughout development. Athletes with physical disabilities (N = 21) participated in life history interviews. Participants outlined their sport history and responded to questions targeting the roles that coaches played in their development, which laid the foundation for broader conversations about how coaches shaped the disability sport experience. Using thematic analysis, patterns in coach knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors were captured in 4 themes. Three themes were discussed in relation to positive experiences in disability sport (consideration, collaboration, professionalism), and 1 theme was related to negative disability sport experiences (prejudice). The findings of this work are analyzed through the lens of the social-relational model of disability, thus challenging the dominant discourse that underpins understandings of (dis)ability in the sport context. Practical recommendations for disability sport coaches include reflective practice and introspective examination of implicit biases and assumptions, as well as a focus on interpersonal skills that assist coaches in collaborating with athletes—thus encouraging the integration of sport- and disability-specific knowledge. Lay Summary Athletes with physical disabilities were interviewed about how coaches shaped their experiences in sport over time. Differences in how coaches created positive experiences were identified at each stage of development, reflecting varied combinations of knowledge and behaviors. Negative experiences stemmed from perceptions of unfair treatment and inequality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)546-564
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Applied Sport Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology


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