Coaches who care: the ethical professional identity development of moral exemplar collegiate coaches

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Coaches who care: the ethical professional identity development of moral exemplar collegiate coaches

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Recent media attention has highlighted the commercialization, greed, corruption, abuse, and violence occurring in "big-time" NCAA intercollegiate athletics. While sport has great potential to be a context for moral education and development (e.g., Gibbons, Ebbeck & Weiss, 1995), participation in sport can also undermine athletes' moral judgment and behavior (e.g., Bredemeier & Shields, 1984). As mentors and educators, coaches can contribute to and make a difference in athlete moral development (e.g., Bolter & Weiss, 2012), especially at the collegiate level--an especially powerful time of growth in young adults' lives (Colby, 2008). Unfortunately, big-time intercollegiate athletics has been criticized for its "for-profit" business model, which puts pressure on coaches to place winning ahead of the holistic development of their athletes. While some coaches succumb to these pressures, engaging in unethical actions, others negotiate them and thrive as moral leaders. As central agents in the moral education of their athletes, coaches' own level of moral development and understanding of professionalism is important to consider.The purpose of the present study was to understand the ethical professional identity development of NCAA Division I collegiate head coaches who have made sustained commitments to moral values in their personal and professional lives. In-depth interviews based on moral exemplar (Colby & Damon, 1992) and moral identity development theories (Kegan, 1982, 1998) were conducted with 12 coaches nominated as "moral exemplars" by their peer coaches and athletic directors. Interviews elicited themes of moral exemplarity and professionalism including having an internalized moral compass; a deep responsibility, care, and respect for others; and a high standard of excellence; teaching; engaging in ongoing personal and professional growth; and being able to reconcile conflict in their personal and professional lives. Analyzing interviews using Kegan's (1982, 1998) framework of ethical identity development, 11 of 12 moral exemplar coaches scored above the average adult stage of ethical identity development, demonstrating strong unity of personal, moral, and professional values. Illuminating the mechanisms by which moral exemplar collegiate coaches develop and sustain an ethical professional identity can inform and improve coach education for current and future members of the profession.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. March 2015. Major: Kinesiology. Advisors: Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi, Dr. Diane M. Wiese-Bjornstal. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 156 pages, appendices A-E.

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Hamilton, Maya G. B.. (2015). Coaches who care: the ethical professional identity development of moral exemplar collegiate coaches. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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