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The Importance Of Clear Expectations For NCAA Coaches And Their Immediate Supervisors

By Seungmo Kim, PhD, Hong Kong Baptist University; Taeyeon Oh, PhD, University of Mississippi; Soonhwan Lee, PhD, IUPUI; Damon Andrew, PhD, Florida State University

Adapted from “Relationships between met-expectation and attitudinal outcomes of coaches in intercollegiate athletics” in press with Sport Management Review on June 28, 2018


Coaches are essential human resources in sport teams because they play critical roles in building effective teams by recruiting and training athletes (Turner & Chelladurai, 2005). In addition, since student-athletes spend a great deal of time with their teams (Donnelly, 1993), coaches as primary caregivers are very influential in the development of student-athletes’ physical and psychological well-being (Stirling & Kerr, 2013).


Given the important role coaches play in the development of successful teams, athletic directors devote great effort to recruiting and retaining the best coaches, a challenge for universities with limited financial resources. Thus, it is important for each athletic department to develop long-term relationships through strategic approaches with their skilled coaches, which may help sustain this important human resource (Turner & Chelladurai, 2005).


The purpose of our study was to examine direct and indirect relationships between met-expectation and coaches’ attitudinal work-related outcomes (job satisfaction and organizational commitment) through the mediating effects of perceived organizational support (POS). A total of 260 coaches at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I, II, and III institutions in the United States participated in the online survey. The results generally support the effects of met-expectation on coaches’ attitudes, highlighting the importance of clear expectations for coaches and their immediate supervisors.


In the organizational behavior literature, it has been found that job satisfaction and organizational commitment are crucial antecedents of long-term relationships between organizations and their employees (Meyer & Allen, 1997; Skinner & Stewart, 2017). For example, when a coach has developed high levels of job satisfaction and affective commitment in his/her current athletic department, he/she is less likely to be swayed by offers of heightened extrinsic rewards from competing athletic departments due to his/her strong emotional attachment with the current athletic department.


The concept of met-expectation, the “discrepancy between what a person encounters on the job in the way of positive and negative experiences and what he expected to encounter” (Porter & Steer, 1973, p. 152); and perceived organizational support (POS), employees’ views about how much an organization cares about their well-being and values their contributions and efforts (Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison & Sowa, 1986), served as the social exchange constructs of interest between coaches and athletic departments in our study.


We wanted to examine the effects of met-expectations of organizational justice on coaches’ work-related attitudinal outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction and organizational commitment) through the mediating effects of perceived organizational support. In organizational justice research, justice expectation is defined as “an individual’s beliefs that he or she will experience fairness in a future event or social interaction” (Bell, Ryan, & Wiechmann, 2004, p. 6). In an organization, an individual generally assesses his/her experiences by comparing them to his/her expectations about the specific issues or treatments (Bell, Wiechmann, & Ryan, 2006; Folger & Cropanzano, 2001). Given budget limitations, every athletic department must make difficult decisions regarding resource allocations among various teams, and those decisions often impact the welfare of its employees like trainers, coaches, and administrators. In turn, coaches may develop perceptions of met-expectation about resource allocation decisions made by an athletic director. Coaches could perceive the athletic director’s allocation decisions to be either fair or unfair. Thus, it is anticipated that unfair treatment can have more negative effects on individuals if it is not expected (Walker, van Jaarsveld, & Skarlicki, 2014).


The population of interest in our study consisted of head and assistant coaches at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) affiliated universities in the United States. A total of 1,200 coaches at Divisions I, II, and III institutions were chosen using a stratified random sampling method to include equally sized samples in terms of gender of sport, NCAA division, and type of sport and were subsequently asked to participate in an internet survey. The survey instrument included items designed to measure four constructs: (a) met-expectations, (b) perceived organizational support, (c) job satisfaction, and (d) organizational commitment. 270 coaches (22.5% response) completed the survey, and 260 were usable. Participants included 113 (43.5%) Division III coaches, 92 (35.4%) Division II coaches, and 55 (21.2%) Division I coaches. The sample included 94 (36.2%) coaches from high profile sports and 166 (63.8%) from non-high profile sports, as well as 177 (68.1%) head coaches and 83 (31.9%) assistant coaches.


We found coaches’ commitment to their athletic departments would directly depend on both a) the congruence between the coaches’ expectations and actual experiences regarding resource allocations that they received for their teams, and b) their perceived quality of the exchange relationships with their athletic departments for their contributions and efforts in the universities. Each individual may develop various expectations based on his/her own sources as he/she joins a new team regardless of whether he/she is working for a high school or university team, professional or amateur team, or local or international team. A sport team should seek ways to better align coaches’ expectations with actual experiences to enhance coaches’ job satisfaction and organizational commitment.


Given the increased attention for male sports and high-profile sports in intercollegiate athletics, we expected coaches in male and high-profile sports would perceive higher levels of met-expectation regarding resource allocation fairness. However, the findings of the study revealed coaches generally indicated high levels of met-expectation perceptions as all of the means of each group based on gender of sport and type of sport were above the mid-point of the scale. Since the current study measured coaches’ perceptions of met-expectation regarding resource allocation fairness in intercollegiate athletics, the high levels of the perceptions of met-expectation from each group indicates coaches in female and non-high profile sports might not have high expectations regarding resource allocations based on various sources when they joined their teams. For instance, coaches of non-high profile sports could develop more realistic expectations regarding resource allocations among teams because they were already well-aware of the situation that football and basketball typically receive more resources from their athletic departments than other sports.


In addition, the met-expectation scale in his study was developed based on four types of organizational justice (e.g., distributive justice, procedural justice, interpersonal justice, and informational justice). While distributive justice refers to the perceived fairness toward actual allocated resources, the other three types of justice are related to justice perceptions toward process, treatment, and information in making the resource allocation decision, which are more related to the quality of social exchange relationships between coaches and athletic departments (Masterson et al. 2000). Thus, this study examined coaches’ perceptions of met-expectation regarding not only the actual allocated resources, but also the procedure, treatment, and information in making the allocation decision. The high levels of met-expectation revealed a relative congruence between coaches’ expectations and actual experiences, which illustrates the importance of high quality social exchange relationships between coaches and athletic departments.


Next, this study uncovered differing paths between high profile and non-high profile sports. Based on the results, met-expectation had both direct and indirect effects on coaches’ organizational commitment through POS only for the non-high profile group, while it had only indirect effects on coaches’ job satisfaction for both groups and organizational commitment for the high profile group. Therefore, the results suggested that met-expectation was a critical predictor of coaches’ organization commitment in non-high profile sports.


There are several important implications from the findings of this study. First, the critical mediating role of POS uncovered in the present study highlights the need for athletic departments to both increase POS and also moderate expectations through appropriate framing methods. In regard to the latter, athletic departments should provide prospective coaches with accurate information regarding their jobs and organizations (e.g., resource allocation mechanism among teams) to ensure new coaches develop realistic expectations, which should result in meeting expectations and, eventually, positive attitudinal and behavioral outcomes of the coaches. For example, it is important for athletic directors to appropriately frame realistic expectations for their coaches through the development of fair processes and transparent communication of information to their coaches in order to avoid low levels of met-expectations, which can cause conflicts within departments (Moliner et al., 2017).


Second, met-expectation had indirect effects on both job satisfaction and organizational commitment through POS, which indicates the important role of organizational support for workplace attitudes and provides an important message to athletic departments. Athletic departments should explore ways to improve coaches’ perceptions of organizational support. Based on social exchange theory (Blau, 1964), when coaches recognize and appreciate organizational support, they are more likely to exert more effort to compensate for favorable treatments that they receive from the department. These perceptions can be enhanced by providing coaches more opportunities to participate in decision making (Allen, Shore, & Griffeth, 2003), supervisory support and fair organizational procedures, favorable rewards, job conditions (Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002), and growth opportunities (Wayne, Shore, & Liden, 1997). Sport teams’ continuous efforts to build effective communication with their coaches can also strengthen coaches’ perceptions of organizational support because the teams can identify their needs, reduce perceived uncertainty, and provide what they expect from their teams (Cullen, Edwards, Casper, & Gue, 2014). For instance, effective two-way communication between coaches and athletic administrators not only build POS among the coaches, but the content of the communication can also moderate resource expectations.


Lastly, the results revealed both direct and indirect effects of met-expectation on organizational commitment for coaches in non-high profile sports. In intercollegiate athletics in the United States, high profile sports like football and basketball generally receive higher amounts of resource allocations than other sports. Therefore, coaches in non-high profile sports may not be able to develop similar levels of POS than coaches in high profile sports, which emphasizes the importance of met-expectation in improving organizational commitment.


Although still controversial (Ahmad & Rainyee, 2014), many studies (Daly & Dee, 2006; Kim et al., 1996) in organizational behavior found organizational commitment to be a more salient predictor of intention to remain with the organization than job satisfaction. The social exchange theory highlights mutual obligations between an organization and employees and also emphasizes the importance of understanding individuals’ motives and expectations because this understanding allows the organization to provide valued and expected resources or treatments to its employees who will feel obligated to return favors (Aselage & Eisenberger, 2003).


Therefore, athletic departments should understand what coaches are expecting before they join the organization, and assess whether those expectations can be met in order to enhance organizational commitment and, in turn, intention to remain with the organization. In an effort to understand their coaches’ expectations, athletic departments should develop a strategic approach (e.g., a survey or an in-depth interview) to obtain information about expectations from their current and prospective coaches. These insights should be beneficial for athletic departments in making important decisions involving resource allocations among teams.