A question of ethics: right or wrong?
A question of ethics: right or wrong?

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A question of ethics: right or wrong?

3 Where does the power lie?

One of the key themes throughout these codes of conduct is the relationship between the practitioner and the individual, and a key aspect of this is power. In this instance we are referring to power as the amount of control or influence one party has over another, such as influencing decision making. Think about a relationship you have with someone, either professionally or personally; does one person hold more power in the relationship than the other? The relationship between coaches and athletes, and the power balance within that relationship is important. Jones (2009) looks at coaching as an exchange relationship, with coaches contributing knowledge and expertise, and athletes a willingness to learn, and a high level of effort and compliance. In this view it is the coaches that hold the power in the relationship. However, in practice this is not always the case. For example, high level athletes may hold higher levels of power and interestingly it is often the other way round in personal training when people of high status employ a trainer. A relationship where one individual is fully compliant to the other is one that can be seen to have an imbalance of power and control and can lead to the potential for abuse of power. The next activity encourages you to think about this further.

Activity 3 The balance of power

Allow about 45 minutes

Consider the following relationships and think about who has the most power over decision making and behaviour. Place these at some point on the continuum below:

  • child athlete of individual sport and the coach
  • elite adult athlete of individual sport and the coach
  • child athlete of team sport and the coach
  • professional adult athlete of team sport and the coach
  • personal trainer and wealthy client
  • yoga teacher and client from adult class
  • fitness instructor in gym and adult client
Described image
Figure 1 Power continuum


We felt that power was a feature in all relationships, although it was not a static entity but one that fluctuated depending upon the situation and context. In a child athlete-coach relationship we felt the coach held the power to influence the relationship but as the age of the athlete increases the power balance often begins to level out, and in cases involving elite adult athletes they often hold more power as they employ the coach. Within team sports there is the possibility that players/athletes will unite to increase their power within the relationship.

In a fitness context we felt a wealthy client employing a personal trainer had more power as the trainer may be reliant on the income. A yoga class teacher would need customers and so in this instance the client could hold more power; however, the teacher holds the skill and thus still holds a degree of power. It could be argued that in a class setting the teacher may hold more power than in one-to-one or coaching sessions because the content of the classes are likely to be less flexible. Interesting discussions arose over the fitness trainer and client in a gym and we felt that possibly the trainer may have more power as the individual would be reliant upon their knowledge and support.

In all cases where a financial exchange is involved, the client has the power to withhold payment or end the relationship if they don’t have the influence they want. Likewise, the trainer has the power to end a relationship but it is an issue of income for them that may keep them in the relationship. In all instances these are simply opinions and specific cases in each scenario may lend themselves to different power relations.


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