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Sources of expectancy information among assistant coaches: The influence of performance and psychological cues.

In the burgeoning world of intercollegiate athletic competition, there appears to be an increasing number of coaches hired to develop athletic programs and teams. This is particularly apparent for team sports where one to 12 coaches might serve as assistants to a single head coach. More often than not on any give team, assistant coaches outnumber their boss, the head coach. Considering this disproportionate ratio of assistant to head coaches in college athletics, it is surprising to note that in the sport literature there is a notable absence of research regarding the assistant coach. As a profession, we know little about the assistant coach. The purpose of this investigation serves to ameliorate this dilemma. The goal of this project is to examine the expectancy sources assistant coaches rely on to assess athlete ability.

Expectancy theory, also called the self-fulfilling prophecy, suggests that through a series of phases coaches directly impact player ability by communicating their expectations of ability. Specifically, coaches develop expectations of athlete ability through impression cues (personal, performance, psychological) and they communicate this level of ability in verbal and nonverbal ways (Horn, Lox, & Labrador, 2001; Martinek, 1989; Solomon, 2001a). The athlete responds to this treatment and his/her behavior conforms to the original expectation, thus completing the expectancy cycle. There is abundant amount of research, which suggests that athletes are treated differently based on whether they are deemed high or low expectancy (Burton, Ludlum, Dieffenback, 1997; Horn, 1984; Sinclair & Vealey, 1989; Solomon, DiMarco, Ohlson, & Reece, 1998; Solomon, Striegel, Eliot, Heon, Maas, & Wayda, 1996). In college settings, athletes rated as high expectancy are offered more feedback and better quality feedback than their low expectancy teammates.

From an anecdotal perspective, athletes oftentimes rely on the assistant coaches as confidants, surrogate parents, and friends. Oftentimes assistant coaches are assigned duties, such as recruiting, which require the regular assessment of athlete ability. Previous research suggests that head coaches utilize a combination of personal, performance, and psychological cues to assess ability in athletes (Solomon, 2001a). However, it is the head coach's evaluation of psychological cues that predicts athlete performance. Conversely among a sample of assistant coaches, performance cues were prioritized over psychological cues and it was these performance cues that served to predict actual athlete performance (Solomon, 2001b).

The current study serves as a replication of the aforementioned investigation on assistant coaches. While Solomon (2001b) collected data before the middle point of the season, data for this study were collected during the latter portion of the season. This allowed for an a ditional variable, time of season, to be examined. The major purpose of this study was to examine whether perceptions of physical ability (performance impression cue) and/or confidence (psychological impression cue) served to predict actual athlete performance. It was hypothesized that the performance impression cue, assistant coach's expectation of athlete physical ability, would predict athlete performance.



Six Division I intercollegiate athletic teams were solicited to participate in the current study. Overall, six teams and ten assistant coaches along with 70 athletes served as sample members. The team sports of baseball, men's and women's basketball, men's and women's soccer, and volleyball were represented. The four female and six male assistant coaches ranged in age from 23 to 40 (M=29.60, S=4.81) and had 1 to 10 years of college assistant coach experience (M=5.90, S=2.8 1). Athletes (35 females and 35 males) were between 18 and 23 years old (M=20.04,S=1.45) and had 1 to 5 years of intercollegiate sport experience (M=2.42, S=1.19). There were 17 freshmen, 20 sophomores, l7 juniors, and 16 seniors.


To measure performance and psychological impression cues, two instruments were utilized. The selection of appropriate instruments to assess the performance impression cue (ERS) and psychological impression cue (TSCI) is mirrored in order to replicate Solomon (2001b). Furthermore, justification for instrument choice is provided in Solomon (2001a). Coaches and athletes also completed a background questionnaire. The variable of athlete performance was acquired by obtaining actual performance statistics maintained by the university Sport Information Office for one competitive season.

Background Questionnaire. Two different background questionnaires were developed, one for coaches and one for athletes. Data obtained from the coaches included gender, age, and years of college coaching experience; athlete data consisted of gender, age, and years of college playing experience.

Expectancy Rating Scale (Solomon, 1993). The Expectancy Rating Scale (ERS) was utilized to assess assistant coaches' expectation of athlete physical ability, the performance impression cue. The ERS (a 5-item Likert-type scale) was completed by the assistant coaches for each athlete on their team. Sample ERS items include: This athlete possesses sound [soccer] fundamentals; and This athlete possesses the natural physical attributes necessary to become an exceptional [soccer] player. Adequate levels of content validity and reliability (alpha reliability coefficient .79) were established in previous research (Solomon, 2001a).

Trait Sport Confidence Inventory (Vealey, 1986) The Trait Sport Confidence Inventory (TSCI) was utilized to assess assistant coach's expectations of athlete confidence, the psychological impression cue. The TSCI (a 13-item Likert-type scale) was completed by the assistant coaches for each athlete on their team. Slight modifications were executed to allow coaches to rate athletes. For example, the words "compare your confidence" in each statement were changed to "compare your athlete's confidence". Vealey (1986) demonstrated adequate levels of concurrent and construct validity, and alpha reliability (r=.89). Due to the slight modifications in wording, internal consistency was measured via a Cronbach's alpha generating a coefficient of.91.

Performance. Actual athlete performance scores were obtained by accessing objective performance data systematically collected during the regular season of competition. Postseason statistics were not included. To create a score for each individual athlete, each athlete's performance data were tabulated to attain her/his performance contributions. In team sports there are multiple sources for establishing an athlete's contribution to the team. For example, in basketball the act of scoring alone does not demonstrate the entire picture for an individual's effort. Thus, various performance statistics were considered in order to derive a score. The basketball player's performance score was generated from various statistics including points, assists, blocks, and rebounds. This tabulation was performed for each member on each team via the following formula for each statistic included (player score / team score). When these scores were obtained, the individual performance data were standardized via convening them to z scores in order to allow for meaningful comparisons within and across sports (Solomon, 1999).


Prior to conducting this study, permission was sought from the following groups in the order presented here: University Human Subjects Committee, the athletic director, the head coaches, the assistant coaches, and the athletes. A proposal letter was sent to all head coaches and they were asked to solicit interest among their staff of assistants. Of the 15 assistants on the six teams, 10 agreed to participate (66.7% acceptance rate). Of the 106 athletes on these six teams, 70 completed the demographic questionnaire (66.0%). Upon gaining approval, appointments were scheduled with the assistant coaches and athletes during a practice session. At that time, assistant coaches were administered a consent form, the background questionnaire, the ERS and the modified version of the TSCI. Athletes were issued a consent form and the background questionnaire.


The purpose of this study was to replicate the methodology from a recent study to distinguish the influence of performance and psychological impression cues on intercollegiate athlete performance. The previous study by Solomon (2001b) found that in contrast to head coaches, assistant coaches rely predominantly on performance-based impression cues when assessing athlete ability. This finding was re-tested among a sample of 10 assistant coaches and 70 of their athletes. To obtain expectancy information the ERS was used to assess assistant coaches' perception of athlete physical ability (performance cue) and the TSCI was used to assess assistant coach's perception of athlete confidence (psychological cue).

To determine the predictive capability of these two forms of expectancy cues, a multiple regression statistical procedure was performed (Pedhazur, 1982). These two predictor variables were entered with the intent to determine whether one or both variables best predicted the outcome variable, actual athlete performance. Initial results suggested that the overall regression significantly predicted athlete performance, [R.sup.2] = .30, p <.001, indicating that 30% of the variability in athlete performance was explained by the two impression cue predictor variables (Marascuilo & Serlin, 1988). The follow-up coefficients show that, similar to the previous study (Solomon, 200 lb), assistant coach expectation of athlete physical ability predicted performance while assistant coach expectation of athlete confidence did not. It should be noted that while this finding was not statistically significant (p = .056) it approached significance. Considering the smaller sample size in the current study, (Solomon (2001b) assess ed 15 assistant coaches and 142 athletes) this finding demands attention. Table 1 presents the beta coefficients and t-values among the predictor and outcome variables.


In any achievement setting, leaders are responsible for the production of their underlings. Thus, it is imperative that leaders are able to effectively, accurately, and consistently judge the abilities of those under their tutelage. Expectancy theory is often used in sport and other achievement environments to explain how those judgments are made and also how leader judgments influence subsequent performance behaviors. The original theory stated that through personal cues, such as age, gender, and height, and performance cues, such as past performance and effort, expectations about subsequent achievement behavior are developed (Hom, Lox, & Labrador, 2001; Martinek, Crowe, & Rejeski, 1982; Rosenthal, 1974). Interestingly, this psychological theory fails to include psychological factors as sources of expectancy formation. Solomon (2001 a) reported on this omission and subsequently determined that not only do head coaches use psychological cues to assess athlete ability, but that this type of cue was the only pr edictor of actual athlete performance.

Solomon (2001b) followed this important investigation by also assessing the use of psychological cues by assistant coaches. The results were in direct contrast to those reported from head coaches; assistant coaches use of performance-related cues predicted athlete performance. The purpose of this study was to repeat the investigation on assistant coaches recently conducted by Solomon (200 lb). In order to do this, six teams were invited to participate and 10 assistant coaches and 70 athletes served as sample members.

The results demonstrated that the current study produced comparable findings. Specifically, performance impression cues used by assistant coaches served to predict athlete performance; the psychological cue of confidence did not. This finding verifies again that assistant coaches rely on different information sources when they judge athlete ability than do head coaches. Considering the scant research on assistant coaches in the sport science literature, this verification offers a sound contribution to the further understanding of the unique position of the assistant coach.

This result, now achieved two times, reveals some information about the tendencies of the intercollegiate assistant coach. Although the prioritization of a performance cue over a psychological cue only approached significance, 30% of the variability in performance was explained by the overall regression. Clearly there are other sources of information that assistant coaches rely on to assess athlete ability. It is quite possible that other psychological cues, aside from confidence, might be salient for these assessments. This has yet to be determined.

Recall that the Solomon (2001b) study queried assistant coaches in the early part of the season. The current study assessed perceptions in the latter part of the season. Thus regardless of time of season, assistant coaches are consistent in their preference of performance cues. This finding coincides with previous work, which demonstrated that coaches, both head and assistant, are inflexible in their expectations of athlete ability (Solomon, Golden, Ciapponi, & Martin, 1998; Solomon & Kosmitzki, 1996). Once an expectation is developed, coaches are not likely to alter that perception.

It is certainly not surprising that head and assistant coaches differ in their expectancy cue preferences. The roles of head and assistant coaches are different. From salary levels to job security, the head coach both holds more responsibility and is more vulnerable to the demands of the athletic department. Coach education might consider these distinctions in the preparation of future coaches. With this training might come a better understanding of the influence of coach expectations on athlete behaviors, particularly athlete performance.
Table 1

Beta Coefficients and t-Values Among Predictor and Outcome Variables

 Beta Coefficient t-Value

Performance Cue
Athlete Ability .34 1.94 *
Psychological Cues
Coach Confidence .24 1.35

* p=.056


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Solomon, G.B., & Kosmitzki, C. (1996). Perceptual flexibility and differential feedback among intercollegiate basketball coaches. Journal of Sport Behavior, 19, 163-177.

Solomon, G.B., Striegel, D.A., Eliot, J.F., Heon, S.N., Maas, J.L., & Wayda, V.K. (1996). The self-fulfilling prophecy in college basketball: Implications for effective coaching. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 8, 44-59.

Vealey, R.S. (1986). Conceptualization of sport-confidence and competitive orientation: Preliminary investigation and instrument development. Journal of Sport Psychology, 8, 221-246.

Address Correspondence To: Gloria B. Solomon, Ph.D., Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, California State University, Sacramento, 6000 J Street, Sacramento, CA 95819-6073. Telephone: 916-278-7309. Fax:916-278-7664. E-mail:
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Author:Solomon, Gloria B.
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2002
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