Attributional control processes in the coach-player interaction

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Industry has long been concerned about the supervisor-worker relationship and Green and Mitchell (1979) proposed a model of how supervisors process and respond to information regarding the cause for a subordinate's work failure. The model specifies a two-step process in which the supervisor first attributes a cause to the subordinate's behavior and then uses the causal attribution to aid in the selection of an appropriate disciplinary action.

In athletics the coach is the leader and, therefore, the same process that exists for leaders in organizational and industrial settings may also apply to the athletic settings.

This research examined whether the implementation of personal policy for a rule infraction would be influenced by the cause for the infraction, the severity of the penalty, and the importance of the offender to the group success.

The study was performed within the setting of intercollegiate athletics. One hundred and fifty-nine male and female coaches were divided into two groups based on the personal characteristic of orientation toward winning (high vs. low). Each coach responded to a scenario that described a curfew violation committed by a star or a substitute player. The cause for the infraction was either internal or external and the policy was either mild or severe. Duncan's New Multiple Range Test revealed that: (a) coaches focused significantly (p < .05) more on the player and showed a significantly (p < .05) greater intensity toward the player when the cause for the curfew violation was internal rather than external; (b) orientation toward winning interacted with status of the player in determining whether to reduce penalty; and (c) the severity of personal policy was not significant. The results extend the Green and Mitchell (1979) attributional model of leadership and confirm the importance of personal characteristics in control decisions.