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Exploring the social construction of coaching and its development within Paralympic sport

posted on 28.07.2021, 14:35 by Tabo Huntley
The purpose of this thesis was to explore the socially constructed nature of coaching and its development within the context of Paralympic sport (Para coaching). The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) positioned the Paralympic Games as a global celebration of elite athletic prowess through which society’s perceptions of disability can be challenged. In doing so, the IPC recognises that currently and historically people with disability are often marginalised by society (Brittain, 2016). Despite the social significance of the Paralympic games there is a dearth of research foregrounding Para coaching and this body of work lacks in-depth sociological analysis. To overcome this historical, cultural and social omission shaping our understanding of Para coaching, a critical sociological framework drawing on critical disability studies (CDS) and Pierre Bourdieu was employed to analyse interview data gained from coaches and athletes. Fourteen coaches and thirteen athletes (27 in total) participated in this research and represented different countries (e.g., US, SA, AUS & UK), sports (e.g., individual linear, racquet, team-based, target and riding) and impairment groups (Amputee, Spinal cord, Cerebral Palsy, Visually Impaired, Les Autres).
Three key findings were identified from the data. First, Para coaching was revealed to be a commodity orientated, semi-autonomous field structured hierarchically according to an elite performance doxa emanating from the field of power. This meant participants contested for the unequal availability of differing species of capital - such as status, knowledge and experience, which implicitly worked to legitimise their position within the social hierarchy, of which, medals held the highest form of symbolic capital. Consequently, coaches held dominant positions over their athletes and ensured they submitted to the demands of high-performance sport. Against the elite performance doxa, disability was framed by medical model discourses and perceived to hold negative capital and therefore rejected. Second, the findings illuminated how through symbolic violence and associated temporal related strategies (e.g., planning a perpetual improvement, hard work and challenge, reconstructing disability, and misrecognition of empowerment) in pursuit of the forthcoming, coaching practice and knowledge served as a legitimised mechanism of athlete control, rather than empowerment. This meant disability was refashioned to serve coaches’ practical necessity as they faced the reality of impairment effect. Finally, the findings relating to coach development identified the emergence of an ableist primary class habitus through early socialisation within sport, family and coaching. The class habitus then set the boundaries for future learning, development and knowledge by legitimising tastes and strategies associated with coaches’ symbolic worth, position and dominance within the field. As a result, in the absence of effective coach education, coaches valorised learning from tertiary education, experts within the field and through their own practice. Therefore, learning and development was an act of social reproduction which refined the class habitus towards the class of conditions. This meant, learning to coach disabled athletes was an act of perceived symbolic worth mediated through taken-for-granted ableist technocratic practices and medical model discourses. The thesis closes with recommendations which offer a heuristic framework to develop coach’s reflexive habitus and calls for formal and non-formal coach education to be infused with social relational understandings of disability.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© Tabo D. Huntley

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Chris Cushion

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