Responses of track and field coaches to athletes with eating problems

This study aimed to explore how track and field coaches respond to athletes with eating problems. Eleven experienced coaches participated in semi-structured interviews exploring their responses to, and challenges faced when, working with athletes with eating problems. The analysis revealed three themes relating to the strategies employed by coaches. The first theme indicated a supportive approach, where coaches were proactive in seeking support and in reducing training at the early stages of an eating problem. The second theme outlined an avoidant approach, characterised by coach reluctance to be involved in managing eating problems, and a lack of confidence in their knowledge of eating disorders. The third theme involved a confrontational approach, where coaches employed strict rules and engaged in coercion to persuade athletes to seek treatment. All of the coaches reported facing challenges in persuading athletes to seek treatment and were frustrated by a lack of available support. The study highlights the importance of providing resources and support services where coaches can seek advice. Coach education packages can utilise the findings to highlight the strengths and limitations of different coach strategies, and to reinforce the importance of their role in identification and intervention when eating problems in athletes are suspected.