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Sports’ Disciplinary Legacy and the Challenge of ‘Coaching Differently’

Be empowering. Be athlete-centered. Be autonomy supportive. These are three related topics currently being promoted by sport psychologists and sport pedagogists in an effort to recognize athletes’ unique qualities and developmental differences and make coaching more holistic and coaches more considerate. This has led us to ask, how likely are such initiatives to lead to coaches putting their athletes at the center of the coaching process given that coaches’ practices have largely been formed through relations of power that subordinate and objectify athletes’ bodies through the regular application of a range of disciplinary techniques and instruments [e.g. Barker-Ruchti, N., & Tinning, R. (2010). Foucault in leotards: Corporeal discipline in women’s artistic gymnastics. Sociology of Sport Journal, 27, 229–250; Heikkala, J. (1993). Discipline and excel: Techniques of the self and body and the logic of competing. Sociology of Sport Journal, 10, 397–412; Gearity, B., & Mills, J. P. (2012). Discipline and punish in the weight room. Sports Coaching Review, 1, 124–134]? In other words, to try to develop athlete-centered coaches capable of coaching in ways that will empower their athletes without also problematizing the discursive formation of coaches’ practices concerns us [Denison, J., & Mills, J. P. (2014). Planning for distance running: Coaching with Foucault. Sports Coaching Review, 3, 1–16]. Put differently: how can athlete empowerment initiatives be anything more than rhetoric within a disciplinary framework that normalizes maximum coach control? It is this question that we intend to explore in this paper. More specifically, as Foucauldians, we will argue that coaching with greater consideration for athletes’ unique qualities and developmental differences needs to entail coaching in a less disciplinary way and with an awareness and appreciation of the many unseen effects that disciplinary power can have on coaches’ practices and athletes’ bodies.