Loughborough University
Ella Tagliavini PhD Thesis - Understanding the Interpersonal Dynamics of Parent-Coach Relationships in Youth Tennis.pdf (13.69 MB)

Understanding the interpersonal dynamics of parent-coach relationships in youth tennis

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posted on 2023-10-27, 13:17 authored by Ella Tagliavini

Over the last two decades, relationship science in sport has grown considerably. Relationship science as a field of research has become an important area for applied researchers and sport psychologists looking to optimise the benefits of sport participation for children and adolescents. Despite this growth, there has been a lack of knowledge about how parents and coaches build and maintain positive relationships with each other. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis was to address this limitation by examining the qualities and processes that underpin parent-coach relationships in youth tennis. Given the parent-coach relationship is situated within the parent-athlete-coach (PAC) triad, the first study of this thesis used a collective case study design to examine how the PAC triad functions in British youth tennis. Semi-structured interviews, pre-interview tasks, personal documents and conversational threads were used to gather the perspectives of parents (n = 9), coaches (n =10), and athletes (n =10) in nine PAC triads. Findings indicated that triadic functioning was underscored by the quality of the relationships within the triad (characterised by commitment, trust, respect, and parent-coach proximity) and how effectively the triad worked as a team (characterised by shared goals, collaborative and adjusted roles, support, and role-specific communication). Using these findings, study two employed an online questionnaire to tennis parents (n = 284) to explore how parent-coach responsiveness and relationship quality mediated the association between four parent-coach behavioural characteristics (i.e., support, investment, collaboration, and communication) and parents’ basic psychological needs satisfaction in the PAC triad. It was found that these characteristics directly predicted parents’ basic psychological needs satisfaction. Additionally, parents’ perceptions of the responsiveness and quality of their relationship mediated this association in slightly different ways. Finally, the third study of this thesis utilised an action research design to assess how parent-coach relationships could be improved across the British youth tennis pathway. Underpinned by working alliance theory (WA), pre and post-intervention interviews were conducted with parents (n = 4), athletes (n = 3), and coaches (n = 3) across three PAC triads in three developmental stages (i.e., U10s, U12s, and U16s). Parents and coaches also completed a series of online modules and formal meetings and were asked to provide audio diaries over a five-month period. During this time, participants set mutual goals related to self-assessed weaknesses (i.e., strains) in their relationship and engaged in a series of task-based behaviours (e.g., support) in pursuit of these goals. At the conclusion of the study, participants believed that the bond (i.e., closeness, care, commitment, appreciation, and understanding) between parents and coaches had improved or was reinforced. Positive outcomes related to participants’ lives inside and outside of tennis and changes to other relationships within the triad (i.e., parent-athlete and coach-athlete) were also reported. Collectively, the findings from this thesis address important gaps in the relationship literature by highlighting the qualities, characteristics, and outcomes associated with positive parent-coach relationships in youth tennis. In doing so, this body of research provides several important implications and recommendations for practice to improve the functioning of relationships between parents and coaches in youth sport.


Lawn Tennis Association

International Tennis Federation



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© Ella Francesca Tagliavini

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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.


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Chris Harwood ; Sophia Jowett ; Sam Thrower

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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