Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Craig A. Wrisberg

Committee Members

Susan Speraw, Sky Huck, Jeff Fairbrother


Throughout the history of sport, a select number of individuals have emerged from their peers as superior coaches. We have come to know these individuals as the coaching greats: Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers, Pat Summitt of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, and John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins to name a few. The context of sport lends itself to the study of coaching greatness; however, no studies have directly explored this phenomenon. More often than not, society identifies coaches as “great” based on two criteria: win/loss records and public attention that is garnered through the media. This narrow definition limits the study of coaching greatness in two ways. First, the media focuses its coverage on high visibility sports and on coaches that work at higher levels of competition. Second, a winning record may not necessarily mean that a coach is great. As a result, we cannot rely on external resources (i.e., win/loss records and the media) to define greatness or to gain a thorough understanding of the factors that underlie great coaching. To truly explore this phenomenon, we must examine coaches from a variety of sports and competitive levels. If coaches are not winning championships or getting media attention, perhaps the only way to accurately determine their greatness is through the athletes that play for them. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to explore athlete experiences of great coaching. This was achieved by conducting a total of 18 in-depth phenomenological interviews with elite level athletes (9 female; 9 male) representing a variety of sports (i.e., baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball, and water polo). Participants ranged in age from 22 to 42 years. All interview transcripts were typed verbatim. Analyses of the transcripts revealed a total of 1,553 meaning units that were further grouped into sub-themes and general themes. This led to the development of a final thematic structure revealing six major dimensions that characterized these athletes’ experiences of great coaching: Coach Attributes, The Environment, Relationships, The System, Coaching Actions, and Influences.

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