December 18, 2023

In a comprehensive series of five studies, Exercise Science Program Chair, Dr. Alexandra Szarabajko and her colleagues from Eastern Kentucky University and Winston-Salem State University have unveiled findings that emphasize the pivotal role of close relationships in athletes' pursuit of goals and their athletic performance. A major finding of the study is that athletes reporting higher levels of relational motivation for playing a sport exhibited increased effort, progress, and game performance.

“What emerged from our work is a comprehensive understanding of how strong interpersonal relationships not only elevate individual motivation but significantly contribute to the success of the entire team,” said Szarabajko. Coaches, in particular, she said, are encouraged to foster high-quality connections with each team member, creating an environment of belonging and camaraderie.

Particularly noteworthy is that these relational motives had a more pronounced impact on female athletes compared to their male counterparts. “Female athletes who feel that both their own and their teammates’ interests and needs are being met are more motivated to perform well and consequently are more successful on game day,“ said Szarabajko.

Recognizing the pivotal role of relationships in athletic success, the study advocates for investments in programs that promote team bonding, communication, and positive coach-athlete rapport. By doing so, sports teams can create a conducive environment where excellence becomes a natural outcome of positive relationships and shared objectives.

Key Takeaways from the Study:

  1. Female athletes benefit significantly from relationally-autonomous reasons, enhancing motivation and game performance.
  2. Team relationships are crucial for athlete effort and performance, emphasizing the importance of fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
  3. Coaches play a central role in nurturing positive relationships, contributing to athlete satisfaction and team success.
  4. Investing time for team bonding and communication is essential for unlocking the full potential of athletes and teams.

Columbia College is endlessly proud of our faculty like Dr. Szarabajko, whose commitment to research not only enriches the student experience, but also betters the field of Exercise Science! Way to go, Dr. Szarabajko!

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