The Development of Coaching Research and Development

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The coaching process has been described as complex and dynamic, involving the transfer of knowledge, interaction with others and reflection on experiences. According to the research several factors impact on the development of a coach; (i) coach education programs (Cushion et al., 2003, Gilbert and Trudel, 1999, Gilbert, 2006), (ii)previous experience (Cushion et al., 2003, Gould et al., 1990, Lemyre et al., 2007), (iii) mentoring (Bloom et al., 1998, Cushion and Jones, 2001, Gilbert and Trudel, 2001) (iv) and observation of others (Bloom et al., 1998, Cushion, 2007, Cushion and Jones, 2001, Gilbert and Trudel, 2001, Gould et al., 1990), and (v) reflection (Knowles et al., 2001). It has also been well documented that coaches impact on the development of athletes and their subsequent performance (Cote and Sedgwick, 2003, Gould et al., 1999), however this will be dealt with in greater detail in the next section (athlete development). The following discussion outlines the development in coaching research to date, evidence supporting the factors that impact coach development and the limitations of previous studies.

The development of coaching research

Previously coaching was seen as an extension of traditions, such as, psychology, pedagogy, mentoring and training. However, coaching has not yet distinguished itself as a distinct, coherent field with identifiable boundaries from other fields (Stober, 2003). Originally, coaching research was conducted on teachers (Laughlin and Laughlin, 1994) who played a dual role as physical education teachers and coaches, lending support to the notion that coaching was an extension of teaching (Kahan, 1999). Based on this assumption most of the coaching research moved in line with the physical education research during the 20th century (Kahan, 1999). Therefore, in order to fully comprehend how coaching research has developed, it is important to mention the development of research in physical education. According to Thorndike "the subject-matter of psychology was behaviour" (Carlson & Buskist, 1997, p.16) and thus education became a science 'dedicated to control rather than making sense of the forms and processes of schooling and teaching' (Doyle, 1992, p.489), in which psychology "became the foundational discipline for educational thought and research" (Doyle, 1992, p489). Adopting a scientific approach meant that coaching research moved towards a training approach instead of the original view that coaching was related to teaching (Jones, in the press). However, recent research has begun to acknowledge the complexities associated with coaching (Jones, 2000, Potrac et al., 2000, Potrac and Jones, 1999). In addition, cognitive processes and qualitative methods have increased within coaching research (Gilbert, 2000). This transition reflected the transition of educational research from behavioural research to examine cognitive and constructivist orientations (Cassidy, 2004). Coaching researchers have acknowledged the complexity and uniqueness of the coaching process and as such call for a holistic and individualised approach to examining the coaching process without the influence of other disciplines (Jones, 2000, Potrac et al., 2000, Potrac and Jones, 1999).

Previous coaching research has enhanced our knowledge of the coaching process and has highlighted the many factors that influence the development of a coach (Cushion, Armour & Jones, 2003; Gould, Gianni, Krane & Hodge, 1990; Lemyre, Trudel & Durand-Bush, 2007). Results from these studies proposed that the development of a coach is a complex process, which requires the pursuit of individualized and in many cases ad-hoc learning pathways (Knowles et al., 2001). For instance, one study found that coaches perceived seven main categories as important in their development of expertise: (a) formal education; (b) playing experience; (c) professional experience; (d) mentors; (e) interactions with high level athletes; (f) ongoing education; and (g) personal commitment to coaching (Fleurance and Cotteaux, 1999). Although the coaches believed formal coach education programs played a role in their development, actual experience held a greater significance (Wright et al., 2007). The next highlights the factors that impact on the development of a coach and the different types of knowledge necessary for a coach to be effective.


Learning through experience has been identified as one of the most essential sources of coach development (Cushion et al., 2003, Gould et al., 1990, Lemyre et al., 2007). According to researchers several coaches have advocated that previous playing experience and possessing leadership experiences in the sport they are now coaching were necessary for their development (Carter and Bloom, 2009, Erickson et al., 2007b, Erickson et al., 2007a). Similarly Erickson, Bruner, MacDonald and Côté (2006) found that experience in addition to other coaches were the main sources of coaching knowledge.

Previous Experience as an athlete: Previous playing experience allows for the transfer of coaching methods through participation, experience and observation (Cushion et al., 2003). These methods are steeped in a culture, which in turn, are internalized and embodied (Cushion et al., 2003). Even though coaches' past experiences differ in terms of amount and quality, they form a screen through which all future expectations will pass (Schempp and Graber, 1992). However, it must be noted that this form of knowledge can be limited in terms of coaching behaviours and actions acquired which may not result in an effective or positive coaching practice. Moreover, playing at a high level is suggested as a necessary requirement to coach at top level sport as the coach's playing experience provides him with knowledge to equip his athletes with the skills and behaviours necessary to excel at that level (Carter and Bloom, 2009, Cushion, 2007, Cushion et al., 2003, Erickson et al., 2007a). The coaches in these studies were also found to draw on their previous playing experience to develop their coaching knowledge, philosophy, and beliefs. Recently research has found that playing experience is not necessarily a requisite for top level coaches. Carter and Bloom (2009) found that several coaches who have surpassed their athletic achievement have been successful at top level. Their study found that University coaches utilized similar and yet different sources of knowledge compared to that outlined above. For these coaches, they found that the beginning of their careers was difficult as they lacked previous athletic experience, however, hard work and perseverance allowed them to overcome these gaps to become top level coaches. Therefore it is suggested that previous playing experience is a favourable source for top level [1] coaches but not a necessary requirement. These findings further strengthen the belief that coaching is an ad hoc, complex and individual process that draws on a multitude of knowledge sources.

Experience as a coach: Experience as coach has been highlighted as an important source of coaching knowledge . Jones et al. (2004) found that coaches practical experiences, through observation and/or discussion with other coaches/mentors, seemed to be more important than their coach certification program in their progression toward becoming a top level coach . Another study by Salmela (1995) examined expert team sport coaches to identify their experiences of the transition they encountered moving from athletes to expert coaches. Expertise was determined by the number of years a coach had spent coaching. It was found that the coaches participated in several sports as young athletes and early in their career, many of them had the opportunity to learn from other coaches through observation and mentoring. As the coaches progressed their own experience and the sharing of knowledge were noted as important learning opportunities (Salmela, 1995). Carter and Bloom (2009) also found that experience was an important source of coach development. The coaches reported that learning was an open process in which they gained knowledge from experience through trainings, others, and competition.


As mentioned previously, coaching experience and the observation of other coaches remain primary sources of coaching knowledge (Cushion, 2007, Cushion and Jones, 2001, Gilbert and Trudel, 2001, Gould et al., 1990). Gould et al. (1990) recognised the importance of "experiential knowledge and informal education" (p.34). Additionally coaching principles and opinions of coaching were found to be shaped by social and observational opportunities (Cushion et al., 2003). This suggests that observation is not an isolated process rather it is impacted by the coach's interaction with others. Cushion, Armour & Jones (2003) suggested that coaches serve an apprenticeship of observation which occurs in two stages: performers acquiring knowledge through observation, and as neophyte coaches working with and observing experienced coaches. Coaches, with previous playing experience, get a good opportunity to learn about coaching from their own coaches. Coaches, therefore, often serve an informal apprenticeship of prolonged observation, which familiarises them with the task of coaching (Cushion and Jones, 2001). Neophyte coaches also, in affect serve an apprenticeship through the observation of the behaviour of more experienced coaches at work in the coaching environment through games and practice.


"Mentoring is a power free, two-way mutually beneficial relationship (Starcevich, 2009). Mentors are facilitators and teachers allowing the coach to discover their own direction" (Starcevich, 2009). Mentoring has been suggested, as a viable framework, for the development of coaching knowledge (Cushion et al., 2003). Previous research (Bloom et al., 1998, Cushion and Jones, 2001, Gilbert and Trudel, 2001) indicated that informal mentoring is already an established practice in the coaching community. Furthermore, research has highlighted that experienced and other coaches are important sources of development for coaches for the acquisition of the technical aspects of coaching and the coaching culture (Cushion, 2007). In an attempt to utilize the mentoring process in a more structure manner Bloom et al., (1998) examined the various training methods available to coaches. They found that the majority of coaches participate in a mentoring system largely informal in which they themselves become mentors in their later years. Based on these results the authors proposed that mentoring played an important role in coach development. Mentoring, although, a highly effective source of knowledge for neophtye coaches, in its current form is, informal, and unstructured and serves to reproduce existing culture, coaching practices, and power relations (Cushion and Jones, 2001). For example, the culture of winning at all costs (Cushion and Jones, 2001) or an authoritarian approach to coaching then this coaching method is more than likely to be passed onto the neophyte coach. However it serves to replicate current practices, philosophies and coaching behaviours. Therefore, if mentoring is to be considered a critical source in the development of coaches, mentors need to have established the appropriate position in the coaching hierarchy. Mentors must then possess the necessary social, cultural, and symbolic experience including the technical, tactical and interaction skills that allow for the neophyte coach to develop his/her own coaching principles and practices.

Coaching Education Programs/Coaching Courses

In an attempt to foster the development of coaches, course education programs have been established as a potential method of acquiring the technical, tactical and psychological skills necessary to be an effective coach. Large Scale coach education programs have been established for decades across Europe, America (the American Sport Education Program), Canada (the Coaching Association of Canada's National Coach Certification Program) and Australia (the Australian Coach Accreditation Scheme) however, there has been limited research evaluating the effectiveness of these programs (with the exception of Gilbert & Trudel, 1999). These courses often tend to occur irregularly, usually several months and often years apart (Knowles et al., 2001, Nelson and Cushion, 2006). Formal coach education programs have been, up to now, the only method recognized, that leads, to certification. A coaching certificate is usually obtained through the successful completion of a formal coach education program/course. Cohen (1992) concluded "there are governing bodies that certify coaches based on the successful completion of our program but we don't certify competency of coaches," (Werthner & Trudel, 2008). Previous studies have shown that formalized learning environments are not the preferred method of learning for coaches (Werthner and Trudel, 2008; Demers, 2006). Day-to-day learning through self experience, observation and interaction with other coaches are the desired methods for learning (Gilbert et al., 2006). This finding is understandable given the ratio of time spent in a formalized learning environment is small compared to the number of hours a coach spends in the sporting environment and interaction with athletes, other coaches and sporting officials (Demers et al., 2006, Gilbert et al., 2006). The section below examines the literature relating to coach education program and identifies the failure of these courses to impact significantly on the development of coaches.

Evaluation of Course Content

Indirect measures such as interviews and/or questionnaires are frequently used as a method of evaluation. Previous literature primarily focused on (a) the coaches' belief in their coaching ability (Malete and Feltz, 2000) (b) the coaches' use of particular psychological training skills (Gould et al., 1987) and (c) the coaches' perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the course (McCullick et al., 2005). The perceived usefulness of these programs varies according to the delivery of the course content (Gilbert et al., 1999) and coaching profiles (Cushion et al., 2003, Gilbert et al., 2006).

Erickson et al. (2008) identified the benefits of coaching education programs to include (a) increased perceived coaching efficacy (b) better facilitation of social development and growth of athletes and (c) decreased rate of coach burnout through the use of stress management and coping strategies. In addition, coaches get the chance to interact with others allowing for the establishment of coaching networks. Coaching Courses contain large amounts of information addressing the theory element of coaching such as technique, tactics and elements of sport science. However these courses do not develop what Jones (2000) deems as 'the necessary, intellectual and practical components that are important to making meaningful and problem solving decisions'. Instead theory and practice are taught independently presenting high level tasks as a routine resulting in a deskilled practitioner in terms of cognitive and human interaction (Jones, 2000, Potrac et al., 2000). This approach is problematic as coaches are ill-equipped with the necessary skills to deal with the many challenges and tasks associated with the complex process of coaching and practice (Cushion et al., 2003). Cushion et al., (2003) propose the utilization of mentoring and critical reflection in coach education programs as a means of enhancing learning in the practical experience of coaching.

Coaching courses define what is perceived to be the necessary knowledge for coaching practice (Jones et al. in the press). This results in a lack of consistency in course content depending on the preferences of the coaching tutor and what they deem as important knowledge for practice (Tinning, 1997). Courses emphasise procedural knowledge, skills, technique and tactics of the game. However there are numerous problems associated with this practice. First, it is unrealistic to assume that the information can be directly passed onto the participants without challenge when in fact the development of knowledge is more complicated (Rossi, 1996). And secondly, coach education cannot treat knowledge as a vast vacuum because it is restricted by constraints such as sociocultural and situational contexts (Cushion, Armour and Jones, 2003). Information acquired through interviews/questionnaires of coach educators, national governing body (NGB) directors, and other interested groups reveals that the experiential process has been used because it is intuitively appealing and "obviously the right approach" (Abraham & Collins, 1998). However, this approach is limited for several reasons, the first, is that intuition rarely tells the whole story.

The most popular method used in some coach education courses has been to break down the sport domain knowledge, normally technique and tactics, into very specific components (Cushion, Armour & Jones, 2003). Course content is generally directed toward the development and promotion of athletic achievement where performance enhancement is the dominant factor (Cushion, Armour & Jones, 2003). The coach is seen as a technician whose role is to transmit knowledge (Tinning, 1997). This does not teach coaches to adapt or apply value judgements. These courses also tend to break down the process into specific components and course participants are then taught the "gold standard" of coaching each component. (Abraham and Collins, 1998, Cushion et al., 2003).This ill-equips coaches for their coaching environment and the challenges presented to them outside of course content. Other complaints against formal education include; lack of interaction between the coaches and the inability to transcribe effectively the complexity of coaching into a brief course on coaching science (Demers et al., 2006). Large scale coach development systems are developed to encompass a broad spectrum of sports. Therefore sport specificity is lost and tactical skills may not be relevant. There is minimum follow-up and few opportunities to facilitate the integration of new knowledge into coaching practice (Cushion et al., 2003).

Reflection in coaching

"Reflection is viewed as an information-processing strategy which not only provides opportunities for individuals to create mental networks, but also to develop more complex interconnections and depth of thinking characteristic of expert thinkers" (Barnett, 1995). The process of reflection in and on experience has been described as central to experience-based learning theories . According to Knowles et al., (in press) reflection refers to the coach's conscious examination of experiences in an attempt to develop new understanding and expand their knowledge

Reflection is defined as the '[a]ctive, persistent and careful consideration of any belief supposed to form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions which it tends' (Dewey, 1910). Reflection has been proposed as a strategy that could help coaches explore their decisions and experiences thereby increasing their understanding and management of themselves and their practice (Anderson et al., 2004). 'Encouraging practitioners to reflect upon practice is thought to create the opportunity for the exploration of good practice, the identification of areas for improvement and the formulation of ideas for change' (Knowles et al., 2001, p. 187). Reflection is thought to create a link between the application of professional knowledge and practice into conscious craft knowledge (Saylor, 1990 as cited in Knowles et al., 2001).

Gilbert and Trudel (2001) provided empirical evidence that coaches use reflection as a method of learning how to coach. Gilbert and Trudel (2001) developed a six component model of experiential learning based on reflection that includes: (a) coaching issues, (b) role frames, (c) issue setting, (d) strategy generation, (e) experimentation, and (d) evaluation. According to the model a coaching issue is essential to trigger reflective response which leads to experiential learn. These issues provide the coach with opportunities to reflect and engage in the experiential learning process. Examples of coaching issues that trigger reflection include: athlete behavior, athlete performance, coach profile, parental influence, and team organization (Gilbert et al., 2001a, Gilbert et al., 2001b), the coach's role frame, and/or approach to coaching. Role frames act as filters through which problems are constructed and addressed (Gilbert & Trudel, in press). The identification of an issue, and the decision why it is an issue, is referred to as issue setting. When a coach determines that a troublesome situation is a coaching issue which needs to be addressed, it triggers a reflective conversation used to generate new coaching strategies. Conducting experiments based on previous strategies determines how effective the strategy is for resolving an issue. On termination of the experiment the coach either exits the reflective conversation, because the issue is solved, or returns to the strategy generation stage.

Knowles et al. (2001) examined the development of reflective practice within a Higher Education based coach education program. Coaches participated in 120 hours of placement that included journal writing, reflective workshops and the completion of a post-placement written exercise. Six out of eight of the coaches were found to have developed reflective skills based on the depth and extent of their reflective practice. The study revealed that the development of reflective skills does not occur naturally nor does it run parallel to increasing coaching experience.

Gilbert and Trudel (2005) conducted a study investigating the conditions that influence coach reflection, and to provide suggestions for nurturing coach reflection. Coach reflection varies based on the interaction of four conditions: (a) peer access, (b) stage of learning, (c) issue characteristics, and (d) environment. Eight strategies were also tested for facilitating coach development: (a) issue discussion groups, (b) coaching pods, (c) pre-training coach assessment tools, (d) local coaching resource centers and educational partnerships, (e) issue-based training, (f) creation of shared visions between coaches and sport participants, (g) coaching environments that value reflection, and (h) coaching consultant programs. Results support both the interaction of conditions and strategies employed as influential factors of the reflection process.

How coaches learn

Every coach involved in sport will have different experiences and different methods of learning. This impacts the effectiveness of coaching courses in several ways. Many coaches who take coaching courses will themselves have received some previous experience either as athletes or through preparation programs. This generally means these participants will go into the course with a predetermined set of beliefs about coaching before they even hear the first instruction from their tutor. These beliefs can be very difficult to change, which is a problem if the beliefs are ill judged (Ennis, 1994). Knowingly or unknowingly, this appears to have shaped the way in which coach education courses are run. Essentially, two methods of coach education have evolved. The most prevalent method utilized by coach education courses are using an experiential approach; that is, participants are put into a coaching situation where their practice method is formed by their own beliefs. This is then challenged and, hopefully, new ones are formed (Kolb, 1984). That is you learn from your mistakes.

This approach is based on a cognitive line. From a cognitive viewpoint, beliefs represent very strong productions in procedural knowledge about coaching. Ideally, this procedural knowledge should be challenged in the coach education program and, if found to incorrect, it will be weakened (Anderson, 1982). In the very best practice, participants are also exposed to why this is the case, producing new declarative knowledge. This source of declarative knowledge will help to form new, and in many cases more appropriate, procedural knowledge about how to coach. The whole process relies heavily on the novice coach having, or being taught, the ability to be critically reflective on coaching performance (Brookfield, 1995; Tripp, 1993). In addition, the process of weakening and thus forming new procedural takes a long time, a rare commodity in most basic coaching awards. This ad-hoc approach has meant that few "models" of coach education exist, most are theoretical patchwork models created to meet the needs of a sport governing body to certify its coaches (Cassidy, 2004). With these issues in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that a large proportion of coaching knowledge and practice has not come from coach education, but from personal interpretations of previous experiences (Cushion et al., 2003, Gilbert and Trudel, 2001, Gould et al., 1990). The development of a model for coach education would clearly benefit from an explicit theoretical framework.

Coaches' Knowledge

Expert coaches are renowned for their extensive knowledge in their sport. Expert knowledge can be defined by its structure and domain content (Coté and Gilbert, 2009). The structure of knowledge includes various schemes under which knowledge can be organised. Anderson (1982) suggests that knowledge can be split into two broad domains: declarative and procedural knowledge. Declarative knowledge is routine knowledge that may include readily available information about concepts and elements relating to particular subjects. Procedural knowledge details steps or activities required to perform a task. Abraham et al (2006) suggested a schematic of coaches' knowledge that included declarative and procedural knowledge. This approach was put forward on the basis that previous models of the coaching process are too simplistic and that a transferable schematic across a 'multiple of situations and contexts through reference to relevant knowledge and information processing procedures is more appropriate.' The authors argue that a schematic would reflect the entire coaching process and this schematic outlines the knowledge/decision-making concepts and the resulting behaviors requirements of all coaches. In order to validate the schematic Abraham & Collins (2006) interviewed 16 expert coaches to determine the coaching process as a whole. The schematic was built on three sources of knowledge; sport specific knowledge, pedagogy, and the coaching 'ologies' (physiology, psychology etc). Similarly Cassidy et al (2009) proposed a structure of coaches' declarative and procedural knowledge that included subject matter content, pedagogical content, and curriculum content. Nash and Collins (2006) classified knowledge in terms of tacit and explicit knowledge as it reflects the ill defined problems and decision making inherent in coaching. These studies show a correlation in the relationship between coaching and the use of knowledge and pedagogy which is reflected in course content.

Some researcher's argue that the nature of knowledge that coaches should possess should reflect that of the education literature (teacher expertise). In an early attempt to provide a framework of the knowledge base, Shulman (1986) categorised seven elements of teaching knowledge. Berliner (1986) based his work on that of Shulman's conceptualisation proposing only three important types of knowledge comprised expertise in teaching, content knowledge (what the student needs to learn); pedagogical knowledge (factors that affect student learning) and pedagogical-content knowledge (the presentation of content knowledge in specific settings). Collinson (1996) in a review proposed a more comprehensive model of knowledge content for expert teachers; professional knowledge, interpersonal knowledge and intrapersonal knowledge.

Coaching expertise involves more than the ability to teach sport specific skills, it includes the ability to create and maintain relationships with others, and the ability to learn from one's own practice. Previous work (Abraham et al., 2006, Cassidy, 2009, Nash and Collins, 2006) encompasses the knowledge structure and professional knowledge associated with coaching expertise; however, it does not elaborate on the important interpersonal and reflective dimensions of expert coaches. This holistic approach to coaching acknowledges the requirement of professional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Professional Knowledge

Abraham et al (2006) proposed that expert knowledge for coaches includes declarative knowledge in sport sciences, sport specific knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge in conjunction with procedural knowledge. According to Collinson (1996) these categories fall within a more general 'professional' category which defined the large body of specialised knowledge required by a coach. This type of professional knowledge has underlined coaching education programs and clinics. It is the 'how to' version of coaching knowledge that has allowed many to define coaching expertise as an accumulation of knowledge. However, professional knowledge alone is inadequate to develop effective coaches.

Interpersonal knowledge

A coach's effectiveness is based on the interactions with others (e.g. athletes, assistant coaches, parents). A multi-directional conceptualisation of athlete-coach interactions has been recommended which suggests that coaching is a complex, mutual and influential process based on social structures. In order for a coach to develop he/she must continually expand their interpersonal knowledge to allow them to communicate effectively with the athletes. In addition the sporting context (e.g. age, level) requires the coach to interact differently with the athletes.

Intrapersonal knowledge

Intrapersonal knowledge refers to ones understanding of the self and the ability for introspection and reflection. Recent research has advocated the use of reflection and outlined the influences it has on coach development. For example Gilbert and Trudel (2001, 2004, 2005) examined the way in which coaches transferred experience into knowledge and skills. The authors developed an experiential model of learning based on reflection and identified the importance of intrapersonal knowledge in the definition of coaching expertise. The critical role of intrapersonal knowledge is evident in how expertise in teaching is defined. Some have defined effective teachers as 'masters' who develop a "habit of mind, a way of looking critically at the work they do; by developing the courage to recognise faults, and struggle to improve" (Common, 1989, p.385).

Summary of Coach Development

The coaching process is no doubt a complex process in which there is no standard method of learning. As mentioned previously the most common sources of development include experience, observation, mentoring and coaching education courses. However, the type of method for development does not reflect the effectiveness or abilities of the coach. Experience does not necessarily lead to effectiveness therefore other methods for evaluating an effective coach is necessary. According to the second half of this section, the knowledge a coach possesses is more likely to reflect their abilities rather than the method they employed to achieve experience. A coach must have an extensive knowledge base that covers the elements of professional, interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge in order to be effective in coaching (Abraham et al., 2006). Not only that but research is now highlighting the importance of reflective practice in the development of coaches (Knowles et al., 2005, Knowles et al., 2001). Although coaching research has aided in the identification of these sources of knowledge (Cushion et al., 2003)and factors that influence the development of coaches (Cushion et al., 2003, Gould et al., 1990, Lemyre et al., 2007), there is a call for future research to move away from educational and scientific disciplines and allow for the emergence of an independent discipline that reflects the unique and complex nature of the coaching process. In addition, although sources of coaching knowledge and learning processes of coaches have been examined extensively, there is little research surrounding the provision of these sources, who is responsible for providing these resources and to what extent? Furthermore it is unclear, if coaches develop in other ways if these sources of learning are not available and how coaches source these knowledge bases. One aim of this study is to look at the role of the National sporting organisation Basketball Ireland in the provision of sources of knowledge for coach education, the coaching pathway in Irish basketball and the decisions coaches must face in order to coach basketball in Ireland.