Potrac, P. and Jones, R. (2009) Micropolitical workings in semi-professional football, Sociology of Sport Journal, 26, 557-577.


[This is part of a larger project  -- including this piece -- to show that coaches enough to maintain their identity and interpersonal power by using a number of interactive ploys to establish their authority.  The work draws upon symbolic interactionist and other perspectives, and is designed as a critique of the usual models of the role of the coach, which are functionalist and abstract].


Coaching is an activity that involves developing strategies to manipulate players and managers, who are liable to resist and compete.  Their power cannot be assumed.  They develop what might be called a micropolitical stance [the examples all refer to conventional teaching in classrooms, and the authors insist that this analogy is warranted.  Work cited includes Ball].  Coaches have to ‘tease, cajole, flatter and bully best performances from those with whom they work’ (558).  Other tactics include ‘the telling of “white lies”, the presentation of friendly personas and constant “face work” to make athletes believe in them and their actions’ (558).  These strategies coexist with genuine attempts to pursue moral ideals.  Analysts refer to the strategic elements as a dark side of organisational life [citing Hoyle], going on behind the scenes, as Ball puts it].  The conflict that often ensues can itself be functionally connected with change.  Teachers, and coaches, vary in terms of how they had become aware of or ‘read’ this ‘micropolitical reality…  and subsequently “write” themselves into it [quoting Kelchtermans and Ballet].  Strategies can involve conflict and collaboration, and the building of coalitions. Goffman’s work on the presentation of self can also help to explain how individuals build a public persona to meet expectations and manipulate perceptions of themselves [so there is another modest project here to defend Goffman against charges that he does not consider power].


The authors choose one particularly strategic coach as a case study [and therefore have to defend this approach—they decide to refer to this as ‘purposive sampling, where a sample or single participant is primarily chosen due to their relevance for the study at hand…  An information– rich case that manifests the phenomenon to be studied intensely’ (562)] . They used interpretive interviews which they then embedded into their own narratives, selecting excerpts from transcripts and ‘converting them into researcher – written stories’ (561).  Aware that this might simply enable researchers to dominate, they kept a reflective log and updated it after each interview, in order to identify themes and issues to explore in subsequent interviews.  They aimed at ‘data saturation where, as a consequence of constantly comparing and revisiting the date or as they were gathered, very little new information became evident’ (563).  They claim that this process enabled them to develop understanding ‘the participant’s point of view from an empathetic perspective’ (563).  However, they also hoped to proceed to ‘a higher level of abstraction which involved comparing properties to organise them into larger and more embracing categories…  transcending the factual data to develop a theoretical explanation’ (563).  This involved identifying factors and making notes of them in order to connect with various theoretical concepts, especially those related to micro politics.  They checked with the coach himself, who ‘approved of the final narratives and analysis offered’ (563).  Their own narrative could be described as an example of ‘realist tales, characterised by the “typicality” of the persons interviewed’ (564).  Apparently, different narrative styles and conventions can be incorporated.  They admit that although the authors’ story is being prioritised, ‘realist narrative tales…  [are]…  A valuable tool for exploring how humans understand their lives…  Adopting such an approach allowed us to some extent to “see” and “feel” how [the coach acted]’ (564).  They also ‘invite readers to judge the “goodness” of this paper ...  Does it provide enough “thick description”?…  Does it enable readers to experience however briefly moments from the life of the respondents? ...  Has the paper enhanced our understanding of the politically-laden nature of sports coaching?  [None of these are particularly rigorous tests of course, since the reader has no other basis of judging except the information provided by the researcher]  They acted as critical friends for each other as a further guide.  Nevertheless, they admit that the account ‘is ultimately the story crafted by us, the authors...  [although there is] solace in Geertz’ (1973) declaration that all research stories are fictions’ (573).  The issue is whether this is an ‘authentic’ portrayal (575).  Finally, the work has led to ‘wider critical reflection…  We believe the study provides some valuable insights’ (575).  [So some real weasels here, ranging from some naive belief in 'mystic union' to hard headed argument the researchers have to develop a research programme].


The coach [Gavin]  concerned was clearly aware of micro politics, and had a rather depressing view of football generally, as full of conflict and with no friends.  He saw this task is working with a diverse range of individuals who would be following their own interests.  For example when an assistant coach was appointed by the chairman, Gavin was first annoyed and then determined to consolidate his own position.  He did this by exposing the inexperience of the assistant coach, and then encouraging the players to request to work with him instead.  This is an example of how ‘contrived collegiality’ can be undone by micropolitical strategies.  On the surface, Gavin’s face work showed apparent cooperation in order to conform to what his managers wanted.  He saw the players as assets in a micro political struggle, confirming what the authors already knew about the role of athletes in resisting coaches.  Gavin’s own coaching materials have a pedagogic purpose, but also a political one in that players could compared him favourably with the new assistant.


However, a senior player [David] became a powerful critic.  Gavin dealt with this first by trying to talk to the player to find out the reasons for his dissatisfaction, while at the same time, he ‘used training sessions engineered to publicly expose David’s technical and physical weaknesses, which he ultimately hoped would lead to David’s marginalisation’ (570).  He also recruited three new players who he already knew and who would support his own approach.  They were instrumental in organizing the rest of the players to report dissatisfaction with David.  [It seems to have worked because eventually David left the club and Gavin was able to avoid responsibility].  This episode shows what Goffman meant by ‘a performance team’ who need both discipline and loyalty (571).


It can be seen that Gavin was aware that the existing structure of the club could be interpreted and manipulated.  He became a successful coach.  He was also able to maintain consensus and cooperation among the players.  Overall ‘we are sure that Gavin would agree…  Coaching requires a performance in terms of on – field personal enactment’ (572).


Selected references


Blase, J. (1991). The politics of life in schools: Power, conflict and co-operation. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Blase, J., & Anderson, G. (1995). The micro-politics of educational leadership: From control to empowerment. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cushion, C., & Jones, R.L. (2006). Power, discourse and symbolic violence in professional youth soccer: The case of Albion F.C. Sociology of Sport Journal, 23(2), 142–161.

Dennis, A., & Martin, P.J. (2005). Symbolic interaction and the concept of power. The British Journal of Sociology, 56(2), 191–213.

Hargreaves, A. (1991). Contrived collegiality: The micro-politics of teacher collaboration. In J. Blase (Ed.), The politics of life in schools: Power, conflict and co-operation (pp.

46–72). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Jones, R.L., Armour, K.M., & Potrac, P.A. (2003). Constructing expert knowledge: A case study of a top-level professional soccer coach. Sport Education and Society, 8(2), 213–229.

Kelchtermans, G. (2005). Teachers emotions in educational reforms: Self-understanding, vulnerable commitment and micro-political literacy. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, 995–1006.

Kelchtermans, G., & Ballet, K. (2002a). The micro-politics of teacher induction: A narrativebiographical study on teacher socialisation. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(1), 105–120.

Kelchtermans, G., & Ballet, K. (2002b). Micro-political literacy: reconstructing a neglected dimension in teacher development. International Journal of Educational Research, 37, 755–767.

Kelchtermans, G., & Vandenberghe, R. (1994). Teachers’ professional development: A biographical perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26, 45–62.

Potrac, P., & Jones, R. (2009).Power, conflict, and co-operation: Towards a micro-politics of coaching. Quest, 61, 223-236

Schempp, P., Sparkes, A., & Templin, T. (1993). The micro-politics of teacher education. American Educational Research Journal, 30(3), 447–472.

Sparkes, A.C. (2000b). Auto-ethnography and narratives of self: Reflections on criteria in action. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17, 21–43.

Sparkes, A., & Mackay, R. (1996). Teaching practice and the micro-politics of self-presentation. Pedagogy in Practice, 2(1), 3–20.

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