The diffusion and adoption of sport psychology by athletics coaches.

Authors: Wilding, A.

Conference: Bournemouth University, Faculty of Management


Since the 1980s, commonly referred to as the ‘golden era’ of sport psychology (Biddle 1989), there has been a consistent stream of evidence surrounding the usefulness and positive impact of sport psychology upon athletic performance (Zakrajsek et al 2013). However, the process and factors which impact upon the transference of such knowledge into the coaching environment has been limited. Thus, while sport psychology as an academic field is well established, its use in the applied setting is reported to be sporadic but with little understanding as to why.

This thesis examines the use of Rogers’ Theory of Diffusion of Innovations within the athletics domain. Specifically, the focus is to examine the process of diffusion and adoption and its associated constructs affecting athletics coaches’ decision-making process surrounding the learning about and subsequent use of sport psychology. Consequently, the aim of the study was to critically analyse and explore the diffusion process, and factors which influence the adoption of sport psychology, thus providing a synthesis of research in the form of a conceptual framework.

To achieve this, from the post-positivist standpoint, a mixed-methods multi-strand design was implemented to guide the methodological process. Phase 1 involved the undertaking of semi-structured interviews in order to establish initial insights into the understanding of coaches and the subjective reality of sport psychology in athletics coaching. Results from the representative sample of licensed athletics coaches authenticated the use of the Theory of Diffusion of Innovations as a mechanism for evaluating coaches’ decision-making surrounding the use of sport psychology. Information gathered informed the development of Phase 2 which incorporated the concurrent collection of quantitative data (strand A) and qualitative data (strand B) thus providing deeper insights into the process of diffusion and the driving forces that influence the adoption decision. 160 UK licensed athlete coaches completed the quantitative survey which was divided into five sections pertaining to each stage of the Innovation-Decision Process and additional information surrounding the driving forces affecting the process. Qualitative semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 24 participants representing the varying roles within the athletic social system.

The results showed there to be two component parts to the diffusion and adoption of sport psychology. The cognitive aspect incorporated knowledge, understanding and perception development and led to a decision for or against the use of sport psychology. The behavioural aspects included implementation and confirmation of previously made decisions regarding the use of sport psychology. Each stage of the Innovation-Decision Process was found to be affected by intra and inter personal and structural barriers. Those experiences were dependent on coaches’ classification as a participation or performance coach along with their level of educational background in sport. However, barriers could be overcome by facilitating factors. The study raises both theoretical and practical implications and recommendations for facilitating an improved diffusion and adoption process.

Source: Manual

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