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Realising the Olympic dream: vision, support and challenge

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The sporting arena is replete with examples and anecdotes of great inspirational coaches that have led teams to success, often in the face of adversity and against seemingly better opponents. The role of the coach in developing and motivating athletes has also been the focus of much research in sport psychology (e.g., Challaduria 1990; Smith & Smoll, 2007). Despite the ease with which one readily accepts that coaches can be inspirational, the sport coaching literature is somewhat devoid of research on inspirational coaches and the effects of such coaches on athletic success. The purpose of the current paper is to theoretically delineate the inspirational effects of coaches in sport. Given the relative paucity of inspiration-related research in sport we draw upon contemporary theories of leadership from organisational and military psychology (e.g., transformational and charismatic leadership theories). We propose a sport-specific model of leadership that centres around the vision, support, and challenge meta-cognitive model developed by Arthur and Hardy in military contexts. The model posits that ‘great’ coaches inspire their athletes by: (a) creating an inspirational vision of the future; (b) providing the necessary support to achieve the vision; and (c) providing the challenge to achieve the vision. The underlying proposition is that the vision provides meaning and direction for followers’ effort. That is, the vision serves as the beacon around which all the sweat, pain and sacrifice involved in achieving success at the highest level in sport is directed. At the heart of this model is the notion that athletes can achieve their dreams provided they are inspired to do so; this is because all other things being equal the person who is motivated to practice longer and train harder will ultimately be the best. The current paper will delineate the coach’s role in inspiring the athlete to train harder and longer.

Keywords: challenge; coaching; leadership; support; vision

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Sport Health & Exercise Sciences, Institute for the Psychology of Elite Performance, Bangor University, George BuildingWales,Bangor,LL57 2PZ, UK

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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