The Coach As A Moral Leader And Exemplar For College-Aged Youth

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The old aphorism says, "sport builds character," but research by Bredemeier (1984, 1986), Hall (1986), and Stoll (1995) suggests that athletes have a lower morality than non-athletes, that sport somehow stunts moral development, possibly at all levels of participation. Recent headlines in the world of sport, about illegal steroid use in several professional leagues and the Olympics, about tremendous marriage infidelity by golfer Tiger Woods, and about college athletes accepting gifts from wealthy boosters would perhaps corroborate this finding. But stories, like that of Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace, who carried an injured opponent around the bases allowing her to get credit for a home run in a crucial game, hint at a more complex issue, with underlying factors. Some coaches like Duke's Mike Krzyzewski are able to seamlessly integrate moral lessons with their functional, sport-specific lessons, and in doing so help their players become more mature reasoners, in addition to better athletes. In effect, they serve as a moral exemplar for their student athletes. In this thesis, I explored the coach as a moral leader of college-aged youth. I found that most coaches' conception of athletic leadership reflected Colby and Damon's (1992) definition of the moral exemplar: 1. A sustained commitment to moral ideals or principles that include a generalized respect for humanity; or a sustained evidence of moral virtue 2. A disposition to act in accord with one's moral ideals or principles, implying also a consistency between one's actions and intentions and between the means and ends of one's actions 3. A willingness to risk one's self-interest for the sake of one's moral values 4. A tendency to be inspiring to others and thereby to move them to moral action 5. A sense of realistic humility about one's own importance relative to the world at large, implying a relative lack of concern for one's own ego (pp. 29) The coaches I interviewed largely felt it was not only their place to teach values, morals, principles, or ethics, but it was very important to do so, ranking it alongside the teaching of technical skills, and recruitment of new student-athletes as the most important aspects of their job. They were, however, inconsistent in their intentions and actions, with some considerable differences in the values that coaches say they teach and students say they learn. Both groups reported the value of hard work/doing your best was taught and learned, while coaches said they also emphasized honesty/integrity, respect, and teamwork. On the other hand, student-athletes said they most learned perseverance, attitude, commitment/dedication, mental strength, and teamwork. I also found that coaches were inconsistent in their willingness to risk selfinterest (e.g. winning) to teach a moral lesson. While most of them felt like they wanted to do so, they found it more difficult, in reality, to do so when choosing to suspend or reprimand a star player, or when assigning playing time to favorite, hardworking players who are not as talented as other players on the team, and dealing with institutional pressure, job politics, parents, and emotions. Overall, coaches reported believing they should inspire their student-athletes to act in a more moral fashion, but were humble about their relative importance, and understand they were just one moral exemplar in their lives. Ultimately, the coaches I surveyed wanted to set a positive moral example for their student-athletes, and in doing so, help them develop into more mature moral reasoners, but many of them expressed some uncertainty about whether they actually observe their student-athletes consistently practicing those values. While it is unclear if athletics actually impedes or fosters moral development, it is clear that a coach who is a mature moral reasoner, and acts as a moral exemplar, can help their studentathletes develop a stronger moral identity by serving as what Colby and Damon might consider morally exemplary, and what Walker and Frimer (2007) refer to as a "significant mentor" and developing "secure attachment" among athletes during their formative years.

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Moral Exemplar; College-Aged Youth; Coaching


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Schrader, Dawn Ellen

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Hamilton, Stephen Frederic

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M.S., Education

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Master of Science

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dissertation or thesis

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