The sideline behaviour of coaches at children’s team sports games

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This study aimed to establish the prevalence, pattern and nature of coaches’ verbal behaviour at children’s (ages 6–12 years) team sports events. The study draws upon the motivational model presented by Mageau and Vallerand (2003) to examine the influence of global (gender), contextual (sport related), and social (athlete gender) factors on coach comments.


A cross-sectional observational study of coaches stratified across four team sports: Rugby Union, Netball, Association Football and Touch Rugby.


The Observation Instrument at Sports Events was used to categorise covertly recorded verbal comments made by coaches at organised team sports games.


Overall, 10,697 comments were recorded at 72 games at a rate of 3.71 comments/minute; 35.4% were categorised as positive, 21.6% as negative, and 43.0% as neutral. Significant differences in negative comments were identified between sport (p < .001) with rugby coaches recording the highest percentage of negative comments and the lowest percentage of positive comments; by coach gender (p < .001), with male coaches recording higher rates of negative comments; and by athlete gender (p < .001), with coaches of male-only teams recording higher rates of negative comments. When simultaneously included in a Poisson regression model the difference in negative comments between sports remained statistically significant (p < .001) whereas coach gender was no longer significant.


The ratio of negative coach comments for all sports gives cause for concern. These findings suggest that sports of national and cultural significance are a key driver of coaching behaviours in a competitive environment.

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