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«Abstract Peer coaching is a peer mediated strategy that places the onus on the student-athlete to serve as both a player coach and a coached player. ...»

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Peer Coaching in American Intercollegiate Athletics: An

investigation of team dynamics, confidence and studentathlete learning

Daniel Z. Merian, Michigan State University, USA.

Eric M. Snyder, University of Oklahoma, USA.

Contact Email: Eric.Snyder@ou.edu


Peer coaching is a peer mediated strategy that places the onus on the student-athlete to serve as both a

player coach and a coached player. This exploratory study examined the effects of peer coaching among 18

student-athletes within a NCAA Division III institution located in the United States. To the author’s knowledge, this is the first peer coaching study ever conducted in intercollegiate athletics. Findings suggest that peer coaching is an effective learning tool that positively contributes to the student-athletes experience. The initiative improved team dynamics, encouraged reflective ideas, built confidence and enhanced the student-athletes learning. Implications are discussed.

Keywords: Peer coaching, student-athletes, NCAA, athletic coaching Introduction Intercollegiate athletic participants face a unique set of challenges and circumstances as they transition to and navigate an institution of higher education. Student-athletes, as they have been classified since the 1950’s (Branch, 2011), are a subgroup of the general student body who at times experience the neologism “athletication” while attending their chosen institution. Athletication as defined by Snyder (2009) is the education that a student-athlete receives while attending an institution of higher learning which is unquestionably different from a non-student-athlete’s education (these differences could be viewed negatively or positively). For example, many student-athletes are provided additional resources through educational services, health services, financial opportunities, and personal development programming (NCAA, 2015).

Student-athletes differ in that they balance athletic and academic workloads that often times rivals that of a fulltime worker who is also a fulltime student (Gaston, Gayles & Hu, 2009). Other potential disadvantages of being a student-athlete may include: sport injuries, increased time commitment, pressure to perform on the field and in the classroom, class time missed, and limitations regarding obtaining and maintaining external employment opportunities while participating in intercollegiate sport (Calhoun, 2012) (see NCAA Bylaw 12.4.1 for further elucidation).

Recently, the disadvantages of being a student-athlete have been highlighted by major media outlets in the United States. In January of 2014 the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) petitioned the National The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at http://ijebcm.brookes.ac.uk/ International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching andMentoring Vol. 13, No. 2, August 2015 Page 81 Labor Relationship Board (NLRB) on behalf of football student-athletes at Northwestern University. Revenue generation, time commitments, special rules and academic experiences were listed as complaints by CAPA (Northwestern, 2014). In August of 2014, the O’Bannon v NCAA case further substantiated claims by studentathletes that their academic and athletic experiences could be augmented (Solomon, 2014). Given these recent student-athlete actions, the authors of this study, in conjunction with a current NCAA Division III athletic coach developed and implemented a coaching model that could potentially improve the student-athlete’s educational and athletic experiences. The result was the creation of a peer coaching model that recognizes the importance of peer-assisted learning (Boyle, Mattern, Lassiter & Ritzler, 2011; Catanzarite & Robinson, 2013; Newton & Ender, 2010; Shiner, 1999; Toppings, 2008) and is defined as a peer mediated coaching strategy that involves student-athletes serving as both a player coach and a coached player.

The peer coaching model (See Figure 1) evolved from peer education research that has been empirically supported to improve academic performance amongst the general student body (Bowman-Perrott, et al. 2013;

Cloward, 1967; Cohen, Kulik and Kulik, 1982; Mastropieri, Spencer, Scruggs & Talbott, 2001). However, it should be noted that distinctions exist between the proposed model and previous peer education models. The first distinction is that peer education focuses on academic tasks while peer coaching focuses on athletic tasks.

According to Bergmann-Drewe (2000) this distinction is evident when reviewing academic sports journals where coaches are always referred to as “the coach” and never as a teacher or educator. As such, peer education allows individuals to support the growth of those who are less skilled by educating those individuals regarding ways to master academic content (i.e. human anatomy, math, etc.). Peer coaching on the contrary can be understood as a developmental exercise in which individual student-athletes work to “coach” their teammates regarding ways to improve their athletic performance. The coach in essence, designs the exercises for the athletes but does not necessarily teach the exercises (i.e. require endurance activities, conduct throwing drills, etc.). The coach is also not superior at the exercise which is often the case when referring to someone as an educator.

A second distinction between the peer coaching and peer education research is the reciprocal nature of the model. As adopted from the work of Zwart, Wubbels, Bergen and Bolhious (2007), the peer coaching initiative required the student-athletes to take turns as the player coach and coached player. This reciprocal peer coaching technique was found to be successful when utilized in teacher training environments (Ackland, 1991; Joyce & Showers, 2002).

The third distinction between peer education and peer coaching is the hierarchical status of the individuals involved. Peer education models often-times adopt “big brother/big sister” approaches where an individual with more experience tutors a less advanced individual. Peer coaching, on the other hand, allows student-athletes regardless of college classification, age, or leadership position to coach their teammates. College studentathletes have advanced athletic skills; many are in the 95th percentile among their high school athletic peers (NCAA, 2013). Hence, the proposed peer coaching model allows freshman athletes to coach seniors and vice versa.

Finally, peer coaching allows the student-athlete to coach the entire team rather than one teammate. This is an additional difference between much of the peer education literature because often individual academic sessions are conducted (Boyle, Mattern, Lassiter & Ritzler, 2011; Catanzarite & Robinson, 2013; Newton & Ender, 2010; Shiner, 1999). The thought behind the development of the model is fourfold: (a) peer education is said to improve academic performance, hence, peer coaching may improve athletic performance, (b) the use of peer coaching requires formal contact with fellow teammates and may improve team dynamics, (c) peer

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Figure 1: Peer Coaching Model Statement of Purpose The purpose of this convergent parallel mixed method study is to investigate the NCAA Division III student-athletes’ perceptions of peer coaching. It is the intent of the study to understand if peer coaching affects team dynamics, confidence levels, and the athlete’s overall learning experience. The knowledge gained from this study can provide the NCAA, athletic departments, coaches, and athletic administrators with valuable information pertaining to the use of the peer coaching technique and the student-athletes’ perceptions of peer coaching.

Research Questions

At the outset of the study the researchers’ objective was to determine whether the peer coaching model provided additional benefits to the student-athletes’ beyond the traditional athletic experience. To study the effects of instituting a peer coaching model during an athletic season, our research was guided by the following research questions which were previously investigated among various populations and within different environments (Andrews, Clark, & Davies, 2011; Boyle, Mattern, Lassiter & Ritzler, 2011; Catanzarite, J. A., &

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1. What were the student-athletes’ perceptions of the peer coaching experience?

1a. As a result of the student-athlete coaching experience, do student-athletes build a closer relationship with teammates?

1b. As a result of the student-athlete peer coaching experience, do student-athletes confidence levels increase?

1c. Was participation in the peer coaching experience a valuable learning experience for the studentathletes?

Nexus between Intercollegiate Athletic History and Peer Coaching

It is important to acknowledge the evolution of collegiate athletic coaching because it provides support that students within institutions of higher education at one time were, in fact, capable and able to coach each other.

The idea of peer coaching, led by student-athletes, at these institutions has since diminished with the continued struggle to discover the perfect governance model for intercollegiate athletics (Savage, Bentley, McGovern, & Smiley; 1929). The initial formula, which placed the onus on the student to organize training, schedule events, and raise support, has evolved from alumni control, to faculty control, to current day coaching control.

Seemingly, the conviction has been that student control of intercollegiate athletics was inappropriate and continues to remain far from re-occurring within intercollegiate sport.

The first peer coaching initiatives in intercollegiate athletics appeared on the campuses of Oxford and Cambridge. According to Smith (1988), a rowing competition occurred in 1829, organized, scheduled, and coached by Charles Wordsworth of Oxford, and Charles Merivale of Cambridge. Both individuals were students who inevitably trained their fellow students for competition (Smith, 1988).

In perhaps the earliest example of peer coaching in American higher education, Harvard and Yale student rowing crews trained for the first athletic event on Lake Winnipesaukee (Smith, 1988). The history of this event, which occurred in 1852, includes no mention of “coaches,” townsmen, or faculty liaisons to oversee the students. In fact, the only mention of support for the students was that of the railroad tycoon James Elkin who funded and helped organize the entire eight-day jaunt (Smith, 1988). Given the success of the event, the passion to participate in sport continued to grow among the student population for more than a decade before the first peer coaching initiatives concluded in American higher education. In 1864, Yale is credited with hiring the first professional coach to train their rowing team. William Wood, who studied gymnastics and physical education, would start a trend that continues to exist in collegiate sport today, that of the full-time coach who has the authority to train the athletic team in ways that they deem appropriate (Smith, 1988).

Peer Education

Peer educating programs are widely represented within academic support service programs at universities throughout the United States. The literature contains several variations of peer education including international peer education practices, peer education for students with learning disabilities, and peer education for students who are “at-risk” in postsecondary education (Munley, Garvey & McConnell, 2010). Within the higher education literature, strong evidence exists regarding the positive impact that college peers have on each other

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Peer to Peer Coaching Showers and Joyce (1996) can be credited with creating the first peer to peer coaching model. The model differentiated from the traditional unidirectional coaching model where the coach is seen as an authoritative figure with power over the coachee. Showers and Joyces’ (1996) peer coaching model removed the authoritative differentiation by engaging peers in the corporate setting to coach one another. Because of the absence of the power dynamic during the peer coaching sessions, partnerships evolve and learning became based on trust and respect for one another (Ladyshewsky, Baker, & Jones, 2001; Ladyshewsky & Varey, 2005;

Zeus & Skiffington, 2000). Conversations amongst peers helped surface individuals’ thoughts and reasoning into an open forum that allowed for discussion and restructuring of knowledge. van Nieuwerburgh and Tong (2013) made a significant impact to the peer to peer coaching literature by (1) implementing the model into an education setting and (2) accessing the outcomes of the coach, which is contrary to previous studies which focused on the results of the coached students. As a result of peer coaching in an education setting, the student coaches reported a number of positive outcomes as a result of their coaching experience including improved self-confidence, communication skills, and relationships with peers and teachers. While the benefits of this type of peer coaching model are documented in the corporate, education, and healthcare environments (Sommers,

2013) to the researcher’s knowledge no empirical research exists that investigates the effect of peer coaching, as defined in this study, among the student-athlete population.

Student-Athletes in Higher Education

The existing literature has provided a great deal of information about the experiences of student-athletes in higher education (Adler & Adler, 1985, 1987, 1991; Pascarella & Smart, 1991). Some authors have tried to isolate the disconnect in student-athlete academic success by analyzing variations of demographics, precollege, and social factors (Bowen & Levin, 2003; Pascarella, Edison, Hagedorn, Nora, & Terenzini, 1996; Ryan, 1989;

Sellers, 1992; Shulman & Bowen, 2001). Others have considered non-cognitive variables (Gaston-Gayles, 2004; Parham, 1993; Petrie & Russell, 1995; Simons, Van Rheenen, & Covington, 1999) in addition to characteristics of the college environment (Comeaux, 2005; Gaston-Gayles & Hu, 2009; Pascarella et al., 1999;

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