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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Moving Towards Coaching Expertise

How do coaches progress from beginner to expert?

According to some frameworks, coaches pass through a series of stages or levels.  The knowledge and skills at each stage are, of course, more advanced.  But they are different in other ways.  In other words, the formal processes of coach education in most countries assumes punctuated development.

According to Pierre Trudel and Wade Gilbert, though, most coach education is based on an unchallenged presumption that coaches exist on a single continuum from novice to expert.  My own research, on behalf of the PGA and others, suggests that coaches tend to share this view.  Specifically, they conceive of their professional development in terms of a gradual improvement powered primarily through experience.

So, there are at least two views of the trajectory of coach education: stage-like or incremental.

If we assume for a moment that all coaches need some sort of professional development, the choice between these two positions is important.  If coach educators assume one stance, but their students another, frustration is almost inevitable.  Even if both parties agree, who’s to say they bet on the right theory?

Where do you stand on this matter?  What is your view?

To help you articulate your reflections, here are some questions for you to consider:

o   How might we distinguish between novices in a domain and so-called experts?
o  What types of experiences are associated with learning and progression towards expertise?
o  Is learning, either in general or specific domains like golf coaching, really stage-like?  In other words, are there discrete stages with their own distinctive characteristics?  Or is learning actually an incremental development, with any stages nearly arbitrary assessment points?
o  If learning is stage-like, how can these stages be differentiated?
o  What is the relationship between such stages and any associated teaching and assessment?

There is convincing evidence that novices (and for that matter competent performers) and experts respond to challenges in fundamentally different ways.  In addition to obvious differences in terms of the amount of experience, research suggests that expert coaches deal with the challenges of their work in qualitatively different ways than their less skilled colleagues.

The influential report How People Learn identifies key principles of expert knowledge and their potential implications for learning and instruction.

o   Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
o   Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organised in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
o   Experts' knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or proposition, but instead reflect contexts of applicability, so that the knowledge is set within the context of certain circumstances.
o   Experts are able to retrieve important aspects of their knowledge flexibly and with little attentional effort.
o   Experts have varying degrees of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

To what extent are findings like these reflected and used in coach education programmes?  If it is true that expert coaches operate in qualitatively different ways than others, how is such expertise assessed?

The evidence from research seems quite clear that expert coaches are not just competent coaches with a lot more experience.  They coach in essentially different ways than others.

The question still remains:  beyond bureaucratic expedience, are there genuine reasons to distinguish intermediate phases between coach novice and expert?  This is not just an academic matter.  If it is the case that there are distinctive stages, then practical implications follow.  For example, different stages of learning suggest different methods of teaching and different methods of assessment, don’t they?

The most influential model of expertise outside of sport is probably that of the American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus.  His model was based upon detailed observation and experiments with a range of contexts, including nursing, chess players, aeroplane pilots and car drivers.  Dreyfus identified five stages of development towards expertise.  Each of these stages has its associated components, perspectives, decision-making and commitment.

Stage of Expertise
At novice stage it is all about following the rules.  The novice thinks in terms of rules but has no context or ability to modify rules.  At this stage the energy is focusing on following the rules rather than thinking.
Advance Beginner
This stage is still rule based but rules are now situational based.  So instead of blindly using the rules at this stage you start using a set of rule in an A situation and different set of rules in B situation.
At this stage you start to realize that performing this skill has more to it than just following rules or changing rules according to situation.  You start to see patterns and principles and start realizing rules are not absolute and they are guidelines or rule of thumb.  You start performing the skills more by experience and active decision-making rather than strict rules.
At this stage you start thinking in terms of complete picture.  You develop a perspective about your area of skill or focus.
At this stage it is intuitively appropriate action without being conscious of you skills.

Dreyfus's model is clearly useful, and it is quite easy to see how it might be translated into coach education frameworks.

How does the Dreyfus model relate to your own existing coach education frameworks?

However, one potential weakness of Dreyfus model – a surprising one for a philosopher – is that it does not properly specify the nature or type of the knowledge acquired at the different stages.  On other words, the model is explicit about the development of skilled performance, but does not really tell us much about what is being learned.

From the perspective of coaching the most useful attempt so far to extend Dreyfus’ account to include proper reference to knowledge is that of Paul Schempp and his colleagues.  They settled on a four-staged framework - beginner - competent - proficient – expert - to describe the developmental stages of expert sports coaches.  This work identifies skills, knowledge, characteristics and perspectives that are common to coaches at each stage of development.

So where does this discussion leave us?

It seems to me that in this case there are lots of reasons for thinking of coach development as stage-like.  Not the least among these reasons is the rather substantial empirical base supporting the view that there are qualitative differences between different stages of development.

If this is true, it follows that professional learning is far more complex than often thought.  Not only must the type of learning be considered when thinking about pedagogy, but it is also important to think about the different outcomes desired.  In other words, the teaching methods used ought to be appropriate to the phase of learning reached by the learner.  This need not be the case if learning were linear and continuous, apart from a commonsensical differentiation in terms of, maybe, the amount of the teaching.  But with a stage-based model of learning, coach educators are forced to think in terms of discrete types of learning experience for the different stages of learning.

And, if it is accepted that the development of coaching expertise is somewhat stage-like, then it follows that different teaching and assessment strategies need to be used to capture the different types of learning and competences being exhibited.

So, the question of whether coach development is incremental or stage-like is important practical consequences.  Why?  Simply because assumptions about the character of professional development track into decisions about frameworks and awards.

Remember the Cheshire Cat …

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly … ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’  ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.  ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.  ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.  ‘So long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.  ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ (Lewis Carroll, 1865, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’)

If we are going to escape cycles of reproducing traditional approaches to learning and education, we will need to reflect on our assumptions and the ways they translate to practice.

Which way should we go from here?

Further Reading
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L. and Cocking, R. (Eds)(2000) How People Learn: Brain, mind, experience and school.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Dreyfus, H. (1992) What Computers Still Can't Do?  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ford, P. Coughlan, E. and Williams, M. (2009) The Expert-Performance Approach as a Framework for Understanding and Enhancing Coaching Performance, expertise and Learning.  International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 4, 3, pp. 451-463.
Schempp, P., McCullick, B. and Mason, I. (2006) The development of expert coaching in R. L. Jones (Ed.), The sports coach as educator: reconceptualising sports coaching.  London: Routledge.
Trudel, P. and Gilbert, W. (2006) Coaching and coach education (pp. 516-539).  In D. Kirk, D. Macdonald and M. O'Sullivan (Eds) The Handbook of Physical Education.  London: Sage Publications.

Friday, 16 March 2012


I've written a blog entry for the brand new SPORT section of the Huffington Post.

Click on the image to go straight there.

Wilshaw And Gove's Wobegon Daze

Education commentators have had much fun recently at comments made by Sir Michael Wilshaw, England's Chief Inspector of Schools.

Speaking on Newsnight, he said:

"Our standards should be higher. What that in effect means is something like one in five children in primary schools at the age of 11 are leaving primary school without the national average.  What that really means is that they can't access the curriculum in secondary school, they find it difficult to pass examinations, they find it difficult to proceed to the next stage of their education and training, and of course they find it difficult to get jobs."

The context of his comments was a damning report by his Office on the standards of English in schools.  Of course, all OfSTED reports are damning.  That is their style.  They are the policy equivalents of radio shock jocks: 'you're useless'; 'you're incompetent'; 'you can't read well enough'.

Sir Michael has taken on this mantle rather well, and clearly enjoys telling parents how hopeless their children's schools and teachers are. The Newsnight interview was a classic example.

But this time, rather like a headteacher farting in the middle of assembly, Wilshaw tripped:

".. one in five children in primary schools at the age of 11 are leaving primary school without the national average .."

Just is case you went to the same school as Sir Michael, let me explain: there will always be children performing below average.  Average is a measure of central tendency; it measures the middle value of a collection of data.

Most commentators have been quite forgiving of Wilshaw's error, and have accepted the official explanation that it was a slip of the tongue. I suspect that is because most of them are arts graduates, for whom numbers are fearsome strange beasts.

But this really is not a complex idea.  Most Primary School children would understand it. On a good day, my cat gets it.

As the Guardian's Polly Curtis points out, though, the Chief Inspector is in good, innumerate company.  Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, such an accomplished school-rubbisher that Sir Michael must observe with envy, also struggles with infant maths, as is revealed in his exchange with the Education Select Committee:

Chair: .. if "good" requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?

Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.

Chair: So it is possible, is it?

Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.

Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?

Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

Mr Gove looks like a Muppet that's been given to the dog as a chew-toy.  But looks are deceptive.  He is clearly made of stronger stuff.  His comments here give us a clue to his origins, as a small boy in far-away Lake Wobegon where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average".

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Why I am (mostly) glad I am a man. And why nice girls don't do sport

Every now and then I am overcome with a feeling of resentment towards women.  I look at them with their shoes and their scatter cushions, and feel .. what is the word?  Oh yes, jealous.

By most objective measures, women are the superior gender  Taken as a population, women are more socially intelligent than men.  They are better able to deal with conflict, and less likely to be lead by their ridiculous egos.  They work harder than men, often at more than one thing at a same time (a skill that many men would condemn as witchcraft).  And most importantly of all, women are much, much nicer than men,

Obviously, they are not especially nice to each other.  I've taught in a girls school, so I have seen things that would make your toes curl.  And if you haven't, trust me: the evil that men do is nothing compared to what two thirteen year old girl friends will say and do to each other.

But such behaviour is merely an anomaly.  My personal theory is that it is a result of excessive intelligence.  Human brains evolved to deal with the harsh, Machiavellian social settings of early hominids, and we have essentially the same brain architecture than our ancestors had 40,000 years ago.  It seems to me that most women just have a lot of that Machiavellian intelligence to spare.

I am, of course, aware that I am making wild generalisations that are crude and stereotypical.  And I know that for every Hillary Clinton there is a Sarah Palin, and for every Noel Edmonds there is a Stephen Fry.

Overall, weighing up and the pros and cons, I am happy to stick with my theory.  Women are best.  Men are rubbish.  So, every now and again the loser in me whispers in my ear "Look at them, with their intuition and social grace.  See their under-stated humour and their kindness?  Compared to them, you and your kind will always be oafs.  Hairy, smelly oafs.  Who start wars."

What's stopped me from switching sides?  Of taking the unkindest cut of all?

Well, women don't have it all their way.  Nature always strives for balance.  For all their virtues, they have to deal with a variety unpleasant biological afflictions that are best not discussed in civilised company.

And they have to cope with the Daily Mail.  There are many popular newspapers in the UK, but the Mail stands out.  Partly because of its stout defence of all things that are great about modern Britain, like Princess Diana and the death penalty.  And partly because it markets itself primarily to women.  The Mail claims to be The Newspaper for Women.

The extent to which the Mail stands FOR women can be judged by its content on 8th March.  International Women's Day.  Whilst other media were banging on about women's achievements or the prejudice of patriarchal society, The Daily Mail cut right to the chase.

The movie star Cameron Diaz's attempts to be 'girly' were undermined by the fact that she had clearly done some exercise: "...  sporting an LBD [no idea, sorry] with an asymmetrical neckline [er], Cameron Diaz was unable to disguise her toned arm and shoulder.  The actress looked more tomboy than feminine at a promotional event ..."

The author of this social commentary, Alanah Eriksen, doesn't really mean 'tomboy', does she?  By claiming a degree of androgyny about the actress' appearance, she is feeding into a long-standing cultural theme: sport and exercise are boys' activities, and girls who choose to break this basic rule probably break other, more serious, social taboos too.

Nice girls don't play sport.  Girls who play sport are not nice.

And this principle must be right because we witness it every day: from increasingly early ages, girls drop out of sport and physical activity, often never to return.

I wonder if it was a coincidence that the Mail choose this particular day to publish this diarrhea.  I don't read it, and for all I know, the paper usually has features by Germaine Greer on the joy of menopause, and the sports pages are full of women's boxing and international netball.

If so, it is simply unfortunate that it printed an article that demeans and insults women on the very day that the world was celebrating the extraordinary advances that women have made this century.

But I suspect not.  This nonsense is ridiculous but not without precedent.  Women are bombarded with messages that tell them how to behave in order to remain 'girly'.  And some of the messages, like this one, are positively harmful to women's health, because exercise is a necessary ingredient of well-being.

And this is why I grudgingly choose to remain a man.  I can live with being a bit slow and useless.  And I look forward to my inevitable decline into ridiculousness.

And if I decide to play some sport or do some exercise, I know that I won't be condemned by an evil hate-rag that makes its money by reinforcing society's prejudices and playing on people's fears.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

How do sports coaches use social media?


We are gathering information relating to sports coaches’ use of Social Media platforms as part of an international survey.

For the purposes of this survey, ‘social media’ is a general term to describe all kinds of internet platforms or forums whose contents are created, published, improved and commented on by the users themselves.

We are asking sports coaches, whether voluntary or paid, to complete the online questionnaire at and would appreciate your help and support in reaching the largest possible target audience from around the world, and from different sports so PLEASE circulate this message to any coaches within your networks.

We would like to thank you for your support in advance.

Yours in Sport,

Richard Bailey and Matthew Reeves

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The blog of lists: 101 summaries of important/interesting research into sport (Part 1)

Research is a complex and time-consuming activity.  It can involve years of data-gathering, and its findings are often subtle and difficult to reduce to a few simple recipes.

BUT, if it wasn't ...

This entry tries to summarise some important research studies in sports coaching and related areas like physical education, youth sport and sport development.  I have also included some lists that just seem interesting to sporty folk.  In all cases, the summaries are in the form of lists.

My ambition in doing this is twofold: I hope this lists are useful and interesting in their own right.  But I also hope the reader will go from here to the original research papers, many of which readable.

The lists are not in any particular order.  Why?  Because it seems to me that we come across some of the most insightful ideas when we are looking for something else.

[Oh, I should acknowledge straight away that there are nowhere near 101 lists!]

What are the minimum requirements of sports programmes aiming to foster positive sporting experiences for young people?

  1.       a clear mission;
  2.       developmentally appropriate content;
  3.       a safe and healthy environment;
  4.       suitably trained staff;
  5.       integrated family and community partners; and
  6.       on-going assessments.

Sources: E.g., Bodily, S., and Beckett, M. K. (2005)  Making out-of-school-time matter: Evidence for an action agenda. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Education and Rand Labor and Population.  Coatsworth, J. D., and Conray, D. E. (2007)  Youth sport as a component of afterschool programs.  New Directions for Youth Development, 115, pp. 57-74.  Eccles, J. S., and Gootman, J. A. (eds) (2002) Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Why were Olympians first attracted to their sport?
  1. a love of the sport
  2. an intrinsic love of activity
  3. early success in the sport

Once introduced to their sport, why did these Olympians continue to participate?
  1. the challenge and love of competition
  2. fun
  3. a desire to be successful

As the level of competition increased, why did these Olympians continue to participate?
  1. the challenge and love of competition
  2. a desire to be successful
  3. the need for a competitive outlet
  4. fun

What are the most important qualities of a coach?
  1. the ability to teach
  2. the ability to motivate or encourage
  3. training knowledge
  4. skill competence
  5. strategic knowledge of sport

What are the least important qualities of a coach?
  1. assistance with goal setting
  2. management and organisational skills
  3. assistance with balancing the lives of athletes

Source: Gibbons, T., Hill, R., McConnell, A., Forster, T., Moore, J. (2002)  The path to excellence: a comprehensive view of development of U.S. Olympians who competed from 1984-1998. Colorado Springs, CO: United States Olympic Committee.

How do Female Athletes Want their Parents to Behave?

The study found three categories of parental behaviour across different phases of competition (before, during, after):

  • preparation for competition
  • parental support and, encouragement during competition
  • the provision of feedback after competition

Source: Knight, C. J., Neely, K. C., & Holt, N. L. (2011) Parental Behaviors in Team Sports: How do Female Athletes Want Parents to Behave? Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23(1), pp. 76-92.

Why Do Children Want to Take Part in Gymnastics Classes?
  1. Being with and Making Friends
  2. Developing Physical Fitness
  3. Learning and Improving Skills

Source: Wald, J. (2003) Parental Motivations for Enrolling their Children in a Private Gymnastic Program.  The Sport Journal.  6(3).

World's Most Popular Sports (for fans)

  1. Soccer / Football
  2. Cricket
  3. Field Hockey
  4. Tennis
  5. Volleyball


Highest Paid Sportspeople (2011-2012)

  1. Tiger Woods, golf - $75 million
  2. Kobe Bryant, basketball - $53 million
  3. LeBron James, basketball, $48 million
  4. Roger Federer, tennis, $47 million
  5. Phil Mickelson, golf, $46.5 million
  6. David Beckham, football, $40 million
  7. Cristiano Ronaldo, football, $38 million
  8. Alex Rodriguez, baseball, $35 million
  9. Michael Schumacher, motor racing, $34 million
  10. Lionel Messi, football, $32.3 million