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Exploring Touch Communication Between Coaches and Athletes

Michael J Miller
Noah Franken
Kit Kiefer


In athletics, coaches and athletes share a unique and important relationship. Recently Jowett and her colleagues (Jowett & Cockerill, 2003; Jowett & Meek, 2000; Jowett & Ntoumanis, 2003, 2004; Jowett & Timson-Katchis, 2005) utilized relationship research (focusing on, for example, marital, familial and workplace relationships) from conjoining fields, and in particular social and cognitive psychology, to develop and test a four-component model (4 C’s) that depicts the most influential relational and emotional components (closeness, commitment, complementarity and co-orientation) of coach-athlete relationships. Proceeding from a review of the literature on human touch communication to examine research on the power of touch to exchange relational and emotional messages (Hertenstein et al., 2006), the present study explores coaches’ and athletes’ collective experiences of communicating via touch, utilizing in-depth interviews with
eight college coaches and athletes. A phenomenological approach was used to gather, analyze and interpret the data, drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s (1945/1962) philosophical exploration of perception and human experience, which emphasizes the body as a means of communicating with the world. The findings indicate that touch between coaches and athletes increased at major events when emotions and tensions ran high. In addition, touch involved showing appreciation, instructing, comforting and giving attention, and affected perceptions of relationships. The findings also show that touch communication is influenced by societal factors, such as gender, relational stage, and what spectators, parents and other athletes may think. By illustrating how touch is enacted and experienced by a group of college coaches and athletes, the study represents an initial step toward understanding touch communication in the coach-athlete dyad.

Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, Volume 7, Edition 2 September 2007