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?

5 Power relationship: reflection and application

So far the discussions have focused on practitioners holding the power and athletes being submissive to this power relationship. However, this is not always the case. In a study of elite soccer coaches (Potrac et al., 2002) the power held by the players was evident as one of the coaches described:

‘They [the players] usually pump you with questions. They’ll say they’ve never done that before, and if I can’t say why I want it done that way, if I can’t give a good reason, then I’ve got trouble. You can’t afford to lose players. If they have no respect for your coaching ability then you’ve had it, you’ve lost respect and coaching sessions become very difficult.’

(Potrac et al., 2002, p.192)

The coaches within this study also revealed that asking the players for their opinion was considered ‘risky’ and could be perceived as lacking knowledge or control. This links to literature discussing coaching as a performance and managing impressions, as to maintain power within the relationship the coach feels they must hide any behaviour that may be considered weak. This continual power struggle can often lead to conflict. Think how quickly a coach’s fate can turn, such as football coaches who bask in the glory of victory and then after a few poor results get cast aside.

Shogan (1999) describes how in some cases teams of ‘experts’ (e.g. coaches, biomechanists, nutritionists, etc.) all work together to decide what is best for the athlete with little input from the individual themselves. The athlete is treated almost as an object with little or no consideration for them as an individual and their own thoughts and feelings. This causes some athletes to become compliant whilst others rebel against or resist this power, which can be demonstrated in a number of ways. Think back to when you were a child. How many times did you pull a face behind someone’s back to protest against something?

Activity 6 Power imbalances

Allow about 20 minutes

Consider some of the imbalances of power mentioned in this course so far and note down possible consequences of a power imbalance in the following three scenarios:

  1. A coach and a 14 year old swimmer; the coach provides only negative feedback and favours another squad member over them.
  2. A wealthy client employs a personal trainer but constantly changes the times/dates of sessions at the cost of the trainer having to cancel other commitments. However, she has also recommended the trainer to her friends so he is gaining lots of new business.
  3. An adult semi-professional football team has a new coach but the players are still disgruntled that their last coach was fired as they all liked and respected him. They do not feel the new coach has the experience and they do not like the fact that he has signed some new players to the club.

Now consider whether you think that an imbalance is always present within a relationship in a sport/fitness context? Do you think each party in a relationship can achieve equal power?


  1. The coach in this situation could be considered to be creating a negative culture and possibly being unfair to the individual. Favouring one participant above another and demonstrating this is not treating the participants equitably. We would need to know more about the nature of the coach’s behaviour to determine if there was any bullying or emotional abuse occurring here. This may have an impact on the individual’s enjoyment of their sport and could cause confidence and motivation problems. However, distributing too much positive feedback can also be detrimental. Interestingly, one of the module team discussed a school athletics coach who only provided positive feedback and a far more experienced club coach who provided only negative feedback. They felt this second coach was more effective/successful as they worked so much harder to try and impress him.
  2. The personal trainer is reliant upon this customer’s business and so the individual holds the power here. The personal trainer may also be worried that if he fails to keep this client happy the client’s friends may also withdraw their business. However, if this situation becomes unmanageable the trainer may have to start implementing the cancellation policy that they had signed as rescheduling other clients could also result in a loss of business.
  3. This scenario posed lots of questions as from one perspective the players could be seen to have the power and to unite in not following instructions. However the fact that the coach has signed new players may mean that the coach has the power to cast out any players that do not comply.

The final question is one that poses many different responses and Touraine (1981, p. 33) states ‘[a]ll social relations are relations of power.’ The module team felt that the important point is that power is not static within a relationship and can vary between situations and contexts and the life/duration of the relationship. Throughout a relationship the power is moving along the continuum and at some points the power can balance when both parties are working towards the same goal, such as using client-trainer agreements where both parties commit to certain actions to work towards the client’s goal.


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