Coaching in the shadows: critically examining the unintended (non)influence of pedagogical practice

Adam Nichol*, Paul Potrac, Phil Hayes, Emma Boocock, Will Vickery, Callum Morgan, Edward Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Influence is at the very core of physical education and sport pedagogy. Indeed, a large and growing body of work has focused on the (inter)actions of sport pedagogues which are deemed to be influential in terms of shaping the thoughts, feelings and actions of others. In comparison, little attention has been paid to the practices of sport pedagogues that are noninfluential or unintentionally influential. That is, when pedagogues or learners choose not to do something, how they are not influenced/influential, or when practice (unintentionally) influences those who were (or were not) the original target. Paying greater attention to these issues holds strong potential to develop more critical and ethical understandings of influence that can inform the education and development of sport pedagogues.
Aims: The aims of this study are two-fold. Firstly, we seek to break new ground by providing novel insights into how, when, why, for whom, and under which circumstances pedagogical (inter)action is not influential, and where (inter)actions have had an unintended influence. Secondly, and relatedly, we seek to advance and illustrate methodological perspectives capable of critically understanding this topic.
Data collection: Data were generated using a bricolage of methods (i.e., participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and stimulated recall interviews) as part of a critical realist ethnography with one representative-level junior cricket squad in the UK. Data were subject to emic and etic readings in response to the aims of the study. In total, 182 hours of observational data and 46 hours of interview data were generated and analysed using the Critical Incident Technique (CIT). Here, the primary sense making devices were provided by Jones and Wallace’s (2005) theorising of orchestration, Elder-Vass’ (2010) causal power of social structures, and Mason’s (2002) concept of noticing.
Analysis and discussion: A small number of richly detailed and critical coaching (inter)actions are presented to illustrate the emergent meaning-making of different tacticians and targets of (non)influence. Specifically, the analysis introduces incidents that are illustrative of three novel types of (non)influence. The examples all highlight pathos between the coaches’ original intentions for (and reading of) influence, and the actual influence of practice for the athlete(s). Specifically, the discussion provides accounts of a) noninfluence on targeted individuals, b) unintended influence on non-targeted individuals, and c) unintended influence on targeted individuals.
Conclusion: Overall, this paper contributes to a growing body of critical pedagogical research, positioning the work of influence less obtrusively. It provides a novel methodological, theoretical, and empirical contribution which practitioners, educators, researchers, and other stakeholders can engage with to critically consider how, when, why, for whom, and under which circumstances (inter)actions are (likely to be) influential or not. Further work could examine what pedagogues and learners decide to do and not do, as well as what they notice and do not notice as a basis to develop more critical and ethical practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-379
Number of pages18
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number4
Early online date15 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2023


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