Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Leslee A. Fisher

Committee Members

J. Amos Hatch, Rebecca A. Zakrajsek, B. Joseph Whitney, Joy T. DeSensi


According to sport psychology literature, care is an important part of the coach-athlete relationship (e.g., Jowett & Poczwardowski, 2007; LaVoi, 2004; Poczwardowski, 1997; Wylleman, 2000). However, a systematic study of “exemplar” caring coaches is lacking. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to interview 12 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I head female coaches of female teams who were identified by others as “exemplar” carers. A semi-structured interview guide was developed using a modified version of Gilligan and colleagues’ (1989) Listening Guide. An adaptation of Hatch’s (2002) political analysis was used to identify major themes found in the transcribed interviews. Results suggest that four major themes (a) Team as “Family”; (b) Holistic Care of Student-Athletes; (c) Development of the Self-as-Coach; and (d) Institutional Care were found in the data. While coaches described relationships with and responsibilities for athletes and assistant coaches like a traditional, heterosexual family (e.g., coaches serve as “transitional parents”; athletes serve in the roles of children), relationships with university administrators and the NCAA were typically perceived as hierarchical and also complex. For these coaches, it was important to have in place caring coaching philosophies and behaviors that affected not only the short-term well-being and development of their athletes (e.g., make sure that athletes felt “heard” and “known,” help them reach their full potential both on and off the court, use “tough love” when necessary) but also their long-term well-being. Coaches measured their success based on the interactions they had with their athletes after graduation. Female identity development models (e.g., Layton, 1998) and feminist models of care (e.g., Noddings, 2005) are linked to sport in the discussion too. Further, suggestions are made for how to foster a caring environment in NCAA Division I sport.

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