3 Coach developers in control
The first example of a power imbalance is a stark case and makes uncomfortable reading. In the example, a coach developer exerts power to regulate and control a coach as he assesses the coach for a qualification.
As you undertake the activity reflect on whether or not you have been confronted with a similar experience in the past.
Activity 3 Case A: Do it like this
Case A is drawn from a study of the relationships between mentors and beginner coaches (mentees) in the sport of swimming (Zehntner and McMahon, 2018). Read Case A about the mentor–mentee relationship in the context of a coaching certification process – the mentor is also assessing the coach. The trainee coach has noticed that a swimmer is having problems adopting the right breathing technique. Once you have read Case A, answer the following questions:
- Where is the power the mentor is using coming from?
- What are the consequences of the power being used in this way?
As I approach the little girl, my mentor clicks his fingers like a person … in a restaurant … I turn towards him and he points to the same swimmer that I have already noticed. His face is screwed up and looks angry. ‘Fix that’ he says, ‘That needs to be corrected now!’ I nod and smile. I feel like I am in trouble. I quickly scan the parents on the pool deck and they have all heard the interaction between my mentor and I. At this stage I am holding back tears, there are three other coaches on pool deck and everyone’s attention seems to be on me so I just try and hold my emotion in.
I stop the little girl … and talk her through what she is supposed to be doing. My mentor calls out from his chair, ‘You need to hold her head and do it for her!’ I feel panicky again. I do not feel comfortable with manipulation of the little girl’s head. I know that he wants it done like that, but it does not sit right with me. But, I do it anyhow. I don’t want to get into trouble anymore. It all feels incredibly awkward, I want this job, I want to coach, I need to do these hours here otherwise I will have to start over somewhere else. If my mentor refuses to sign off my hours, I won’t get certified.
I gently hold the swimmer’s head .... the boss [mentor] gets up off his chair and strides up behind me. He bends down onto one knee and pushes my hands away. He calls out with unnecessary loudness, ‘that’s not how you do it. Do it like this!’. He grabs the girl’s head aggressively and turns it to the side. I cringe as he does it. I feel a knot in my stomach … This is not how I want to coach but I know I have to do it his way to get though …
- The power that is being exerted by the mentor over the mentee coach stems from two sources. First, we assume the mentor is a more experienced and more highly qualified coach appointed by the sport’s governing body. Second, power also stems from the context: the mentor’s dual role of mentor and assessor is accompanied by the power to pass or fail the coach.
- The consequences create a discordant relationship that does not appear to be conducive to learning and development. The direct action of the mentor illustrates how the mentor has a different way of approaching the coaching of the swimming technique, and he forcibly imposes his solution. The mentee reluctantly submits to the power of the mentor and doesn’t challenge the mentor. He accepts this is how it must be in order to achieve his certification.
Zehntner and McMahon (2018) use concepts developed by Michel Foucault, a social theorist and critic of modern societies, to explain the social effects of power. According to this approach coaches are subtly regulated, disciplined and controlled so that their coaching practices become incorporated into established and dominant ideas about coaching. In Case A, the mentee feels relatively powerless to rebel or resist the power invested in the mentor and so they feel compelled to conform.
In the next section you’ll explore similar ideas but in a different context. You’ll read about the power and influence of individuals tutoring on coaching qualification courses.