Referents and Expectations: A Qualitative Case Study of Student-Athletes’ Psychological Contracts

Christopher R. Barnhill – Louisiana State University
Marcella Otto – Louisiana State University
Kylie Phillips – Georgia Southern University


Prior research indicated student-athletes develop perceived exchange agreements with their coaches, known as psychological contracts. Although scholarship has established that these perceived agreements influence student-athletes’ attitudes toward their coach, team, and university, little is known about the perceived obligations that compose student-athletes’ psychological contracts. A case study was conducted using fifteen student-athletes from a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I university. Student-athletes were interviewed using guidelines of the consensual qualitative research protocol. A thematic analysis revealed student-athletes’ develop expectations regarding athletic and student experiences, including prospects for their athletic and academic development, university policies, and life balance. Thematic analysis also indicated student-athletes’ expectations are influenced by a number or individuals both within and outside the campus community. Recommendations for future scholarship, including the need for a student-athlete psychological contract questionnaire are discussed.