By Caroline Heaney
As I have been watching Open University student Jade Etherington and her fellow visually impaired alpine skiers in the Winter Paralympics I have been struck by the amazing relationship that exists between skier and guide.
There seem to be two key features present in a successful coach-guide relationship: trust and understanding. The athlete needs to place an extreme level of trust in the guide to lead her appropriately and the guide needs to have a high level of understanding of the athlete in order to guide her appropriately. Failure to have this trust and understanding could have a significant impact on performance.
Jade Etherington and her guide Caroline Powell, having won 3 medals in Sochi, clearly have a very strong athlete-guide relationship that appears to demonstrate these qualities of trust and understanding. The two demonstrate high levels of task and social cohesion, with both appearing to be very focused on working together to achieve Paralympic success (task cohesion), and appearing to get on well (social cohesion). This is quite remarkable considering that they have only been together for less than a year. Guide Powell describes their relationship below:
“It’s basically a friendship so you have to build a friendship and that can take years. In our case we had to build it within a short space of time, but we were really honest with each other from the beginning. She taught me so much about guiding, I just went with what she said and it’s worked. It’s come together now and we’re so happy.”
Kelly Gallagher, who made history in Sochi by becoming Great Britain’s first ever Winter Paralympics Gold medallist, also seems to have an exceptional relationship with her guide Charlotte Evans. She speaks about the strong connection and understanding they have:
“…she’s so in tune with me that she can tell how I’m skiing just by the noises I make”
I have been unable to identify any research that examines the relationship between the visually impaired athlete and guide, but the dyadic relationship may be similar in nature to the relationship between team-mates in a sports team (e.g. a rowing pair) or the coach-athlete relationship. Jowett has researched the coach-athlete relationship extensively and in her 3+1 Cs model she identifies four components of a successful coach-athlete relationship: closeness, commitment, complementarity and co-orientation. Intuitively these qualities seem applicable to the athlete-guide relationship.
The achievements of Great Britain’s visually impaired alpine skiers in the Winter Paralympics highlight the importance of the coach-guide relationship and perhaps there is a need for research to examine this unique and very important relationship.