Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Kinesiology and Sport Studies

Major Professor

Dr. Rebecca A. Zakrajsek

Committee Members

Dr. Jeff L. Cochran, Dr. Jennifer A. Morrow, Dr. Kristen D. Dieffenbach


Scholars have consistently identified a secure relational base as a key contextual enabler for thriving—success and well-being—in sport. In turn, person-centered theory is a viable, evidence-based framework for coaches and support staff to cultivate a secure relational base with their athletes. Drawing from this literature, the continuing professional development program Thriving Through Being was developed to improve professional coach and support staff knowledge, awareness, and skills related to person-centered theory concepts (unconditional positive regard, empathy, and authenticity). This program was implemented with professional coaches and support staffs from 17 NCAA Women’s Basketball programs. The purpose of the current study was to evaluate the context, resource mechanisms (program inputs and outputs), reasoning mechanisms (participant perceptions and learning), and outcomes (self-reported self-regard, thriving at work, perceived stress, and way of being) using a realist evaluation design. Results revealed that a favorable context for engagement included participants’ perceived helpfulness of the program to their professional practice, perceived alignment between program concepts and professional needs and/or professional identity, and available time with access to opportunities to apply concepts. Key resource mechanisms included the placement of participants into communities of practice, an introductory workshop, six self-paced educational modules, and a synchronous closing discussion. Key reasoning mechanisms included perceptions that the program content was both relevant and enjoyable, and that program activities (i.e., reflection, application, and discussion) were useful. Participants also demonstrated a statistically significant improvement in scores on a post-program learning assessment compared to a pre-program assessment. Assessment of discussion board posts and synchronous discussions provided further evidence that participants who engaged in program activities met the program’s learning objectives related to understanding and demonstrating person-centered theory concepts. Key outcomes included an increase in self-reported unconditional positive self-regard that maintained at a follow-up assessment as well as higher levels of self-reported thriving during program participation. Results culminated into 10 context-mechanism-outcome configurations which are represented in a validated program logic model. Results provide new insight into the delivery continuing professional development in the context of NCAA WBB as well as the applicability of person-centered theory as a framework for coach-athlete and support staff-athlete relationships.

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