Secondary school first XV rugby players’ perceptions of the coaching environment: A qualitative descriptive study
Sport provides a number of physical, social and psychological benefits for youth. These benefits do not come from sport participation on its own, as the effects are mediated by the actions and interactions of significant others in athletes’ lives, such as teachers, parents, and coaches. This qualitative descriptive study explores the perceptions 1st XV players have of their coaching environment and how this affects their experience of playing sport. There has been increased media attention on secondary school rugby in New Zealand and the impact that it is having on the wider rugby system. While research acknowledges the influence of coaches, there has been no research exploring coaching in the New Zealand secondary school context.
The participants in this study were secondary school rugby players, between the ages of 16 and 18, competing in the 1A, 1st XV competition in Auckland. Data was gathered via three focus groups. Using thematic analysis, five dominant themes were identified that influenced the participants’ experiences: 1st XV status, brotherhood, coach control, power relationship dynamics, and expectations and pressures. The 1st XV is held in high regard by those in the participants’ school setting and it gave participants social status amongst their peers. Having a sense of relatedness through the player brotherhood was something participants loved about playing rugby. Coaches controlled what sports participants played and dictated how they were to play on-field, which prevented players from being able to express themselves during games. Participants sometimes resisted this control through covert and overt displays of power. Participants found the expectation on performance often led to a fear of failure, while the expectation of commitment was too much when taking into account their rugby and school workloads.
The findings suggest that while at times coaches used autonomy-supportive behaviours, for the most part controlling behaviours were used which led to examples of player dissatisfaction, lack of understanding and reduced enjoyment of their sporting experience. There are a number of wider factors that may influence these behaviours, but the results suggest coaches need to be cognisant of how their actions influence the experiences of their participants. With the increased advocacy of athlete-centred, humanistic coaching, results suggest coaching behaviours in the 1st XV secondary school rugby space do not always align with this approach.