Place: Digitalt NIH

Formal title

The Need for Relatedness? A Study of Relationship Dynamics and Psychological Mechanisms in the Coach-Athlete Relationship at the World-Class Level


The Master-debrief project's overall purpose is to examine the significance of various mental aspects for elite athletes who have performed at a high international level over time.

The athletes participating in the project have achieved a minimum of three international medals. The coaches participating in the project have been coaches for athletes who have achieved the medal requirement set for the athletes in the project.


There is a lack of systematic qualitative collections of elite athletes and elite coaches' experiences in world-class sport. 15 former world-class athletes and coaches will therefore participate in an interview with career transitions in sports, social support, mental training, the team's role, and the coach-athlete relationship as central topics. In addition to the retrospective interviews, two dyadic studies will also be conducted consisting of 1 coach and 2 athletes who still perform at the world-class level. The topics in these interviews will be the coach-athlete relationship and communication.

The doctoral thesis «The Need for Relatedness? A study of Relationship Dynamics and Psychological Mechanisms in the Coach-Athlete Relationship at the World-Class Level" is based on the qualitative data material in the Mester-debrief project involving the coach-athlete relationship and communication within this relationship.


The thesis comprises five studies. The first two studies investigated antecedents of need satisfaction of basic psychological needs of athletes (n=6) and coaches (n=4) in relation to each other. In the first study, to be seen as a “whole person” and acknowledged in the planning and execution of training represented antecedents of satisfaction of autonomy among the athletes. Help to improve skills and feeling supported as an athlete was important for the need satisfaction of competence and relatedness. For the coaches in the second study, feedback on the quality of their work was an antecedent of need satisfaction of competence. Information about their athletes’ life situation and insight into their thoughts and feelings in different competitive situations provided them with a sense of security. It thus represented antecedents of need satisfaction of relatedness. Potential antecedents of need thwarting for both athletes and coaches were also illuminated.

In the third study, we explored the meaning of the coach-athlete relationship for two male super-elite athletes. The results provided us with insight into the relational consequences of the coach being perceived  as a stressor and potential disturbance to performance, and how super-elite athletes can use their accumulated power to distance themselves from their coach.

In the fourth study, we investigated the interpersonal knowledge of two serial-winning coaches and how they used this expertise to build a collaborative partnership with their athletes. The main findings were that the basic premise for the coaches’ interaction with the athletes was the recognition that their perception of a situation did not necessarily represent the only reality or correct answer. Further, building high-quality coach-athlete relationships was, in many ways, a buffer for unnecessary risk-taking and disruptions in a context marked by uncertainty.

In the fifth study, we sought to get detailed insight into the use of communication, its meaning and purpose in two coach-athlete dyads. The findings revealed that both dyads perceived the quality of their communication process as essential for building and sustaining relationship quality. They also perceived the quality of their communication as a crucial performance-enhancing factor and thus they explicitly trained on their communication to be optimally prepared in competitions.