Safe to Be(long), Contribute, Learn, Challenge, and Transform

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Abstract

Sport has the potential to support and inspire human and social development for all who participate—as an athlete, fan, coach, administrator, official, or researcher. Yet, a zero-sum, “win at all costs” mentality has also garnered endorsement in sport, favoring winning over the pursuit of excellence, and accountability for ethical compromise (e.g., doping, cheating, corruption) and maltreatment (e.g., bullying, abuse, discrimination), which in turn can compromise safety and well-being. Based on the theory of psychological safety, originating with Carl Rogers in the 1950s and later developed by William Kahn in the 90s, researchers analyzed semi-structured interviews with twenty-nine coaches and sports leaders to ask: “what are the specific leadership and coaching practices that foster psychologically safe and high-performance sports environments?” This study posits that performance, health, and well-being are not mutually exclusive and discerns practices, structures, and behaviors that can foster both safety and performance in sport. Findings also build on and adapt Tim Clark’s four stages of psychological safety framework to a sports context by highlighting the importance of ‘being and belonging’ as a basis for contributing, which is essential for individual, team, organization, and system learning, and lays the foundation for “challenging” norms and assumptions to optimize human performance and enable system transformation.