An Examination of the Stress and Mental Ill/Well-Being Experiences of Elite Football Coaches

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


To build on the evidence base regarding the stress experiences of elite coaches, the purpose of this thesis was to provide an in-depth examination of the stress and mental ill/well-being of elite football coaches. Specifically, this programme of research consists of three empirical studies that sought to:(a)examine the holistic stress experiences of elite football coaches and how these experiences influenced their professional and personal lives and their mental well-being; (b) investigate how elite football coaches’ stress and mental ill/well-being experiences might fluctuate over time and particularly, how stress-related components and their relationships might influence mental ill/well-being fluctuations; and,(c) explore how elite football coaches might be better prepared and/or supported to cope more effectively with the demands associated with their roles and design a supportive, stress and mental ill/well-being intervention. In study one, interviews were conducted with professional football coaches to comprehensively explore their stress experiences and the associated influence on their mental well-being. In this study coaches reported to ineffectively cope with most of the stress experiences reported, irrespective of how they appraised and responded to stressors, and this appeared to have detrimental implications for their mental well-being. However, a cross-sectional research design was adopted meaning that no consideration was afforded to how coaches’ stress experiences might change over time and influence their mental well-being. Coaches also appeared to report stress experience implications that were more representative of mental ill-being. Consequently, in study two a concurrent mixed-methods research design was adopted to longitudinally explore the stress and mental ill/well-being of elite football coaches. Findings provided support for the importance of: (a) longitudinally exploring stress and mental ill/well-being given that coaches reported decreased mental well-being scores at the beginning of the season and increased emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation scores at the end of the season, with stress process components appearing to influence these fluctuations; (b) coaches being able to effectively cope with high severity stressors to maintain or improve their mental well-being; and, (c) coaches being able to positively appraise and respond to stressors (particularly those high in severity) to avoid the development of burnout symptoms.The findings of study one and two collectively substantiated the need for further efforts to be made to help elite football coaches better cope with role-related stress. Therefore, a multipart, sequential mixed-methods research design was adopted in study three to better understand elite football coaches’ perceptions on how coaches might be better prepared for, or supported with, the demanding nature of their roles, and then to use these findings to develop a supportive, stress and mental ill/well-being intervention.In part one, coaches provided numerous suggestions on how they might be better prepared and/or supported and particularly alluded to the role that coach education might play in this process, with these suggestions subsequently considered during the following development of a proposed coach education stress and mental ill/well-being intervention.In part two, through a Delphi approach, the intervention components were then iteratively evaluated and amended to enhance their potential efficacy, leading to an intervention deemed theoretically, contextually, and practically suitable. The research presented in this thesis offers novel empirical insight into the relationship existing between the concepts of stress and mental ill/well-being. It also exemplifies how further efforts need to be made by national governing bodies, coach education programmes, clubs, and coaches themselves to support football coaches with the demanding nature of the role at the elite level.Such efforts might lead to coaches functioning more effectively, experiencing increased mental well-being, and avoiding experiences of mental ill-being.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBrendan Cropley (Supervisor), Rich Neil (Supervisor) & Stephen Mellalieu (Supervisor)

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