What do we know about research on parasport coaches? A scoping review | A summary

Marte Bentzen1, Danielle Alexander2, Gordon A. Bloom2 & Göran Kenttä3,4
1 Norwegian School of Sport Sciences: 2 McGill University; 3 The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences; University of Ottawa

The quality of participation and performance within parasport is strongly facilitated through the behaviors and practices of highly effective coaches (Allan et al., 2018; Banack et al., 2011). Coaching effectiveness has been defined as “the consistent application of integrated professional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal knowledge to improve athletes’ competence, confidence, connection, and character in specific coaching contexts.” (Côté & Gilbert, 2009, p. 316). Despite the initial expansion of research on parasport coaches, this research remains in its infancy, particularly surrounding the definition of coaching effectiveness (Côté & Gilbert, 2009). The purpose of this scoping review was to provide a broad overview of the literature pertaining to parasport coaches, including information regarding the size and scope of research, the populations and perspectives obtained, as well as the type of methods used to conduct the research.

Data of the current study were collected and analyzed using a six-stage framework for conducting scoping reviews (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Levac, Colquhoun & O’Brian, 2010). The six stages followed in this study were: (1) identify the research question, (2) identify relevant studies, (3) identify study selection criteria, (4) chart the data, (5) consult with stakeholders, and (6) collate, summarize, and report the results. All publications that explicitly aimed to study coaches in parasport and disability sport were included (i.e., coaches in Paralympic sport, coaches for athletes with physical disabilities, and coaches for athletes with sensory impairments, such as visual and audio). The type of publications included in the analysis of the review were peer reviewed articles written in English. To obtain articles from a variety of sources, six broad-based databases were used to identify relevant studies representing differentiated perspectives on sport (e.g., coaching, medicine, organizational, pedagogical, psychology, and sociology perspectives). The databases included were: PsycINFO, Web of Science, PubMed, ERIC, and SPORTDiscus, using the search combination of these keywords: Coach* OR “paralympic coach*” AND “paralympic sport*” OR paralympic* OR “disabled sport*” OR “disability sport*” OR “adapted sport” OR “physical disabil*” OR “visual impairment” OR “audio impairment” OR “sensory impairment”. The article found in the primary search (n = 2961) were screened in relation to inclusion and exclusion criteria, ending up in 44 peer reviewed articles being analyzed. In the analytic phase, the data was chartered by the following criteria: (a) demographics (i.e., number of coaches, gender, whether the coach had a disability, level/context of coaching, country, type of sport), (b) study design, and (c) topic of study.

The results showed that of the 44 peer reviewed articles included, 39 were empirical (88.6%), while five studies were categorized as reflections from the field (11.3%). Articles were published between 1991 to 2018, with 70% of the empirical articles published from 2014 onwards, indicating an emerging interest in understanding the experiences of coaches in parasport in the last few years. Demographic information related to the 39 peer reviewed empirical articles provided a general understanding of the population of coaches in the studies, showing that the number of participants (N) in the studies were relatively small, and the included coaches were predominantly male (74.4%), coaching at the high-performance level in North America and Europe. Further, the articles were predominantly empirically-based publications (39 of 44, i.e., 88.6%), with the majority of publications being qualitative in nature (66.7%) using a cross-sectional design (46.2%). Approximately half of the qualitative articles employed interviewing as their primary method of data collection (48.7%), with nine implementing multiple methods beyond interviews. A smaller proportion used a quantitative study design (28.2%), whereof nine studies were cross-sectional (23.1%), two were longitudinal (5.1%), and the main method of data collection was through survey or questionnaire (23.1%). Finally, two studies were found to use a mixed methods design and two studies were conducted using interventions.

When screening the articles for common themes studied within the parasport coaching literature, nine different themes emerged. The three most frequent topics were general coaching knowledge(coaching roles and responsibilities, self-reflection, pre-competition preparation, and performance analysis), becoming a parasport coach (the learning and career development of becoming a parasport coach), and being a parasport coach (parasport-specific coaching knowledge, reflections about parasport in general). In addition to these three main themes, a few studies within each of these themes were studied; characteristics for coaches within parasport, coaches own well-being, and how to use equipment in parasport and classification.

This is the first scoping review in its field, providing an overview of research conducted specifically on parasport coaches. Because this research is still in its infancy, it is not surprising that many recommendations were provided to progress the field forward. We argue that cross-country research initiatives and collaborations can better gather resources, advance research rigour, and move samples beyond a typical male and Western dominant viewpoint. Additionally, the review found that coach learning through formal education was most extensively discussed in light of being difficult to access, limited in availability, expensive to attend, and lacking parasport-specific content. To address this last point, moving the field forward would require a conceptual model for coaching effectiveness that is specific to parasport coaching. This is a critical first step to develop and provide parasport coach education based on empirical research. Ultimately, research has the potential to support the current growth and development that is occurring in practice by providing sound scientific guidance to stakeholders and particip ants in the parasport context.

Copyright © Marte Bentzen, Danielle Alexander,
Gordon A. Bloom & Göran Kenttä 2021


Allan, V., Smith, B., Côté, J., Martin Ginis, K. A., & Latimer-Cheung, A. E. (2018). Narratives of participation among individuals with physical disabilities: A life-course analysis of athletes’ experiences and development in parasport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 37, 170-178.
Arksey, H., & O’Malley, L. (2005). Scoping studies: Towards a methodological framework. International Journal of Social Research Methodology8, 19-32.
Banack, H. R., Sabiston, C. M., & Bloom, G. A. (2011). Coach autonomy support, basic need satisfaction, and intrinsic motivation of Paralympic athletes. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 722-730.
Côté, J., & Gilbert, W. (2009). An integrative definition of coaching effectiveness and  expertise. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 4, 307-323.
Levac, D., Colquhoun, H., & O’Brien, K. K. (2010). Scoping studies: Advancing the methodology. Implementation Science, 5, 69.

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