The dyadic power-social influence model in the coach-athlete relationship

The dyadic model of power and social influence in relationships as proposed by Simpson et al. (2015) integrates and builds on the constructs and principles identified in six major theoretical frameworks reviewed. The model is known as the dyadic power-social influence model (DPSIM). Power within

Table 8.1 Major power theories (taken from Simpson et al„ 2015 with permission)


What is power?

Is power dyadic?

What are the sources or bases of power?

How is power expressed or communicated in interactions?

What are the outcomes of (not) having /rower?

Social power theory (French &. Raven, 1959)

Resource theory (Blood & Wolfe, 1960)

Interdependence theory

The potential for influence

The ability (potential or actual) of an ind ividual

to change the behaviour of other members in the social system The ability of one


Yes; theory


relative access

to resources



Yes; theory

Reward, coercive, legitimate,

referent, expert,


Relative access to important or valued resources


Through influence processes

Through power stra-

The more power-

(Thibaut &. Kelley, 1959)

person to



regies that elevate

ful partner can

Dyadic power theory (Rollins &. Bahr, 1976)

directly influence the quality of outcomes of another person The ability or potential to influence or control the behaviour of another person

relative dependence

between partners Yes; theory considers

relative power, authority, and control between partners

fate control, behaviour control, expertise

Perception of relative resources and authority

one’s own power and reduce others’


Increased perceived power —» increased control

attempts —+ increased power

dictate outcomes for both partners


What is power!

Is power dyadic?

W/iat are the sources or bases of power?

How is power expressed or communicated in interactions?

What are the outcomes of (not) having power?

Power within relation-

The ability to

Yes; theory con-

Reward, coercive,

Through intentional,

The more power-

ships theory

achieve one’s

siders the traits,

legitimate, referent,

deliberate influence

ful partner can

(Huston, 1983)

goals by intentionally influencing the partner

relationship norms, and environment of both partners

expert, informational


dictate outcomes for both partners

Power-approach theory

An individual’s

Yes; theory con-

Holding desired

Through providing or

Mood expres-

(Keltner et al., 2003)

relative capacity

siders relative


withholding resources

sion, threat sensi-

to modify others’

access and desire

being able to


tivity, auto-

internal states



administer punishments

Administering punishments

maticity of cognition, approach or inhibition,

consistency or coherence of


this model is defined ‘as the ability or capacity to change another person’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior so they align with one’s own desired preferences, along with the ability or capacity to resist influence attempts imposed by another person’ (Simpson et al., 2015, p. 409). It is important to note that this definition of power considers both the agent and target both of whom can influence and resist influence. Subsequently, both coach and athlete are agents and targets of power. There are four sets of constructs that are critical to understanding the operation of power and influence when DPS1M is applied to the coach-athlete relationship: (1) the specific characteristics of the coach and athlete in the relationship (e.g., each person’s resources, relationship quality, personality, culture, ethnicity, social class, goals, needs, motives); (2) the type of coach and athlete’s power potentially held and used (e.g., French and Raven’s (1959) six sources of power: reward, coercive, legitimate, expert, reference, and informational); (3) the type of strategies and their underlying tactics that the coach and/or the athlete is able to deploy (direct/explicit/direct vs indirect/passive to resolve issues/inspire change and using tactics with positive vs negative affect); and (4) the outcomes experienced after influence attempts from the either the coach or athlete or both (e.g., wellbeing, life/sport satisfaction, anxiety, depression, performance success/failure, relationship quality) (see Figure 8.1).

In accordance with the model both the coach and the athlete reside in a social environment (formulated by the sport organisation, its specific club or team culture, embedded in its vision and mission and so on) and they are likely to bring their unique characteristics and resources (personality, goals, motives, needs, desires and so on) to the relationship. These elements form

The dyadic power-social influence model Source

Figure 8.1 The dyadic power-social influence model Source: taken from Simpson et al., 2015 with permission.

the basis for the type of power that each member has and can use which is likely then to dictate the specific influence strategies and tactics that each member utilises to reach his or her way in decision-making situations. Strategies and tactics utilised affect subsequently attitude and behaviour change as well as important outcomes (e.g., performance, satisfaction). The example that follows illustrates parts of the model.

A coach and a gymnast have just started working together. The coach operates at the high-performance level of gymnastics; she is accomplished (won a number of accolades with other gymnasts nationally and internationally) and is known for being confident, well informed, knowledgeable, and very interpersonal (caring, understanding, loyal) in her coaching approach. The gymnast has had a successful career as a youth, however, an injury and transitioning to senior level has shaken her confidence though she remains fully committed to her sport and excited for the ‘new start’; nonetheless she feels extremely anxious as she desperately wants to impress her coach and do well. According to DSPIM, the coach’s and the gymnast’s characteristics separately and together affect the sources of power they may be available to them. From the coach’s point of view, all sources of power may be available (though due to her characteristics, coercive power may be a source that the coach does not utilise or under-utilise) in any given situation; however, knowing what she knows about the gymnast she may feel that reward and expert power may be the preferred source to influence her. From the gymnast’s point of view, some sources may be available (e.g., referent, information) to her than others (e.g., coercion) and her preference may be to utilise information power to influence. In this scenario, the coach enters the relationship able to use different sources of power and thus can communicate in ways that are convincing and influential so that she gets her way in most decision-making discussions with the gymnast.

Subsequently, if the coach and the athlete were to set goals for the foreseeable months or the entire season, the coach would use or may access expert, informational, or potentially reward sources of power while the athlete would choose or access informational and potentially referent power to influence the course of the discussion and decision making. During this process, the coach may' use a combination of direct and positive strategies and tactics while the athlete may use indirect and positive strategies leading to influence (e.g., the coach fills the gymnast with confidence and the gymnast accepts the influence on the basis that she feels that the coach has her best interest at heart - she admires her coach and believes she has positive intentions for her) and experience positive outcomes (e.g., I like/trust this coach/gymnast and want to work with her to achieve performance goals) from this process. The outcomes experienced by the coach may depend on the reaction (positive or negative) of the gymnast and on how important the issue was for her and how hard the coach had to work to influence (types of strategies/ tactics utilised) the gymnast.

If the gymnast is viewed as having fewer sources of power from which she can influence the coach - especially when it comes to decisionmaking domains that are important to the coach for ensuring progress and development (e.g., intensity, length, content of training, selection of competitions, and attending training camps), then her coach’s characteristics and preferences are likely to restrict what she can say and do. However, as their relationship develop over time, the gymnast may gradually assume more domain-specific decision making which may increase her general power in the relationship and as such the opportunity to influence and achieve the outcomes she desires. It is then likely to develop a more equitable relationship and become more dependent on one another because what is good for the gymnast is good for the coach. The gymnast may choose to seize the opportunity to access greater power and not simply ‘hand over’ her power to the coach (coaches need support from their athletes and athletes have access to resources that coaches may not have). Last but not least, it is important to appreciate that coaches whose role may be seen as that of being the more powerful member in the coach-athlete relationship do not inherently have more power because they have resources. It is the athletes whose role may be seen as that of being the less powerful member in the coach-athlete relationship who usually give their coaches the power.

In summary, this process model outlines that each relationship member (coach &. athlete) and relationship characteristics (dyad) affect the capacity and use of each member’s potential sources of power, strategies, and tactics, and personal and/or relationship outcomes. Moreover, Simpson and colleagues explain that the broader context (social environment) within which coach-athlete dyads operate may affect the personal characteristics each brings to the relationship. Power, according to the DPSIM, is a dyadic construct and this is captured in the proposed actor and partner effects model (see Figure 8.1). The actor effects are reflected in the parallel lines running from left to right in the centre of the model. Actor effects refer to the ways in which an actor’s (athlete or coach’s) characteristics affect his or her own access to power bases, use of specific influence strategies and tactics, and personal or interpersonal outcomes (statistically controlled for the other relationship member’s attributes). The partner effects are reflected in the nonparallel lines running from left to right. Partner effects refer to how, for example, an athlete’s characteristics affect the coach’s access to power bases, use of specific influence strategies, and tactics (statistically controlling for the other relationship member’s attributes).

Guided by the proposed model, we would be more likely to generate important knowledge and understanding around such questions as: how do coaches and athletes trade-off the various personal characteristics they contribute to their relationship (e.g., status, roles, needs, desires, closeness) or how do these trade-offs affect the power and influence within relationships as they develop? What happens when the characteristics of an athlete change (e.g., becomes an Olympic champion, suffers from an injury, or underperforms) over the course of a relationship and how may this change the sources of power or influence tactics utilised by the athlete for example? How (when) do the different sources of power (French &. Raven, 1959) lead to the deployment of specific strategies and tactics, especially in established coachathlete relationships, where repeated use of certain tactic (coercion vs. reward) may become ineffective as athletes, for example, assume more domain-specific decision-making roles and become more interdependent (from dependent)? What happens when coaches decide to use certain power bases or sources of power rather than others and how or why they interchange different strategies and tactics over time to generate behaviour change in their athletes with the least negative outcomes for them? Furthermore, there is a need to explore the nature (quality and quantity) of influence strategies and tactics that coaches and athletes employ and how these affect important outcomes including performance and wellbeing.

Alongside the above questions, there are other issues that this area of research would need to consider. First, measures of power and influence in sport psychology are non-existent and more broadly are complicated with measurement challenges. For example, Simpson et al. (2015) explained that self-reports measures have been central to this research but most of these are atheoretical and thus theoretically grounded scales assessing power in relationships are needed. Observations and priming are also measurement methods that can generate useful knowledge around how members communicate and interact to influence one another and make important decisions. Having the right measurement tools would help investigate desired versus actual power balance in the coach-athlete relationships. For example, as noted coaches may have greater power in the relationship than athletes. However, within the relationship coaches and athletes play different roles and have different duties and so athletes by default must possess power in order to engage in decision-making in certain decision domains (e.g., organising daily tasks so to allow for training, attend strength and conditioning sessions or physiotherapy sessions, eat healthily, fully engage in team meetings). The effects of high versus low power within the context of the coachathlete relationship is critical to understand too. Previous research shows that members who have more power (believe to have more power or are given more power) are less inclined to take the other’s perspective, to understand the other and take the other’s point of view on board, or read their feelings (Galinksy, Magee, Inesi, &. Gruenfeld, 2006; also see Lorimer

&. Jowett, 2010). In addition they are less likely to be influenced by the lower power member because their focus is on acting in line with their own beliefs and preferences than those of others (Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Magee, 2003). In contrast, some other research suggests that the greater power assumed in one’s role (coach) can make them more interpersonally sensitive, empathic, understanding to the wants and needs of other’s (athlete) who assume less power (cf. Schmid, Mast, Jonas, & Hall, 2009). There is clearly research scope within the context of sport coaching in order to unravel the power dynamics in the coach-athlete relationship.

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