“It’s allowing space for vulnerability”: Exploring athlete experiences with trust in interdependent sport


Although trust is often alluded to within the field of sport psychology (e.g., developing quality relationships, promoting athlete thriving), the construct has received little targeted research attention to date. This is surprising, given that trust has been associated with a wide range of outcomes across work team contexts (e.g., organizational psychology/behaviour) including enhanced perceptions of cohesion, member satisfaction, and performance—all of which have implications for athletes and their sport teams. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to (a) explore how athletes describe and experience trust, (b) examine its implications for individual athletes and teams, and (c) understand the ways it can be enhanced between invested sport partners (e.g., teammates, coaches). Current USport athletes (n = 12) were recruited for individual semi-structured interviews. Athletes described trust as a central component to building quality relationships with their teammates, coaches, and support staff (e.g., athletic therapists) that included both elements of vulnerability and risk. The development of these trusting relationships were influenced by a number of antecedents (e.g., perceived teammate trustworthiness, one’s willingness to trust, environmental/situational factors) that subsequently shaped both individual (e.g., receiving mental health support, playing time) and team-level outcomes (e.g., enhanced team buy-in, perceptions of cohesion). Athletes also expressed potential negative outcomes that could result from trusting others (e.g., emotional exhaustion, groupthink). Our findings reinforce the importance of being purposeful when seeking to develop trusting relationships within sport teams. Implications from this study will be further discussed in relation to both theoretical and practical advancements.