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

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

A question of ethics: right or wrong?

3.1 A case study approach

This next activity takes a closer look at the coach-athlete relationship and asks you to consider the balance of power within a case study.

Activity 4 Amy’s story

Allow about 30 minutes

Now read the case study in Box 2 and then answer the following questions:

  1. How has Amy’s view of the relationship she should have with her coach changed over the years?
  2. What observations did Amy make regarding her success and the power within the coach-athlete relationship?

Box 2 Amy’s story

When I was a junior and first started competing in athletics I would never question anything the coach said. I always did exactly what she asked me to do in training and during competition, even if sometimes I didn’t always agree. It wasn’t really because I didn’t have the confidence to, I just thought that she must be right and as my performance was good it seemed the best thing not to rock the boat. I suppose at the back of my mind I did worry that if I questioned things then the coach may influence the team manager and I wouldn’t get selected for the squad. My coach at the time kept training me harder and harder and if I ever said I was in pain she just ignored it and told me it was hard work getting to the top. Looking back now, many of the exercises used in training were contraindicated and I was probably overtraining as well. When I moved away to university I joined a new athletics club and again the coach simply told me what to do and I did it. However throughout my time at university doing my sports science degree I began to apply this to my own training and this lead me to want to know why I was being asked to do things. This caused lots of problems as the coach felt I was being deliberately awkward and so our relationship wasn’t that great. This affected my enjoyment of athletics and I decided to put my efforts into a different sport. After a couple of years I really missed athletics and decided to return to competing again. However, I decided to look at a few clubs and speak to the coaches as I started to realise that I needed a coach I could disagree with or discuss training with rather than simply being told what to do. I wanted some input in my training and performance and this is what I found in James, my current coach. He explains things to me and justifies why he wants to change something and we discuss it together. Sometimes we disagree but we have a good enough relationship to be able to work it out. It’s funny because as my performance is getting better I am now being approached by coaches who want me to swap coaches and work with them! I guess that’s what happens! The higher up you get the more say you have. James and I always joke about me sacking him if I don’t make the British Team next season.


  1. When Amy was younger she simply accepted what her coach said and followed orders. Amy also voiced concerns about not being selected, and this would suggest that the coach held the power in this relationship. There are many reasons for this and being young and inexperienced may account for Amy feeling a lack of power within the relationship. At university, Amy’s knowledge of the subject began to develop, although asking for explanations from her coach at the time led to an ineffective relationship. This may be because the coach didn’t like their power being challenged or questioned. Amy interviewed coaches to find one that she felt would work best and it seems that Amy and James have a good power balance within the relationship. It is also important to note that some people are more comfortable with the coach holding all the power rather than sharing power and some may feel that if the coach has no power they have no faith in the coach’s abilities.
  2. Amy made an interesting observation that as she became more successful rather than her looking for a coach, coaches approached her and wanted to work with her. This would suggest that as athletes become more successful the athlete develops the power within the relationship. Think about Andy Murray sacking his coach Miles Maclagan in 2010 or Lee Westwood opting not to work with Pete Cowan in 2012. It would be interesting to investigate further when and how the balance of power changes.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus