The microstructure of coaching practice: what “game sense” & “athlete centredness” actually look like

Edward Hall, Shirley Gray, John Sproule

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Sports coaching has the occupational image of an esoteric and idiosyncratic process, and newsworthy top-level coaches are often described as “magicians” with darkly secret methods of practice. This position reflects our limited understanding of the microstructure of coaching practice as well as a reluctance among top-level coaches to share their “secrets” (Rynne, Mallett, & Tinning, 2010). However, given that coaches are concerned with helping their players to learn and develop, and that coach behaviours and activities shape the learning environment, research examining the relationship between coach behaviour and specific practice activities is essential if coach education is to more effectively inform future practice. Indeed, through the analysis of coach behaviour in its micro context, links can be explored between coaching practice and established principles of skill learning and expertise (Cushion, Harvey, Muir, & Nelson, 2012). This study set out to develop a highly detailed picture of context-specific coaching practice. A mixed-method, ethnographic case-study approach examined the philosophical intentions, practice activities and behaviours of a female, International-level rugby union coach. Data were collected over the course of an entire season, which included both preparation and competition phases, through semi-structured interviews and using the newly developed Rugby Coach Activities and Behaviours Instrument (RCABI). Findings are presented with reference to the coach’s philosophy, which was described as “athlete centred” and built upon a “Game Sense" approach. Noted findings include a clear relationship between the volume of game-like activities and the team’s proximity to competition. Furthermore, a detailed profile of coach behaviour was identified that was less directive and more facilitative than previous studies have reported. The data paint a vivid picture of micro- (day-to-day) and meso- (season long) coaching practice at the highest level of competitive sport, not usually reported in the literature. Where previous studies have highlighted a gap between coach intentions and actual practice, the current findings communicate what athlete centeredness and Game Sense actually look like. Preliminary pedagogical explanations are offered in order to stimulate consideration of the findings’ implications for coach education and our conceptual understanding of athlete centeredness and Game Sense. Furthermore, the benefits of technology-rich research methods and their extended value for the coach under study are elaborated. Finally, limitations are discussed in relation to research’s search for a holistic understanding of the coaching process.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013
EventPetro-Canada Sport Leadership Sportif - Calgary, Canada
Duration: 1 Nov 2013 → …


ConferencePetro-Canada Sport Leadership Sportif
Period1/11/13 → …


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