What is good coaching practice?

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This is a question that has dominated my thoughts for the past 6 months after I saw a presentation by Frans Bosch, professor of biomechanics and motor learning at Fontys University in the Netherlands, at the UKSCA conference last year. Some of the studies he cited prompted me to research this area in more depth and I have found the subject fascinating. My notes from his lecture are here.

My intention is to present some of the work I have read and its implications for coaches in a series of blogs. This first piece is an introduction to the subject and key areas for coaches to consider.

Skill acquisition is a prime concern for most sport or physical preparation coaches as they seek to improve their athletes’ ability to play and compete. As a result, pedagogy is a key factor for coaches to understand and apply to their practice. Professor Dave Collins, former Performance Director of UK Athletics, feels that whilst many British coaches have good comprehension of the specifics of their sport when it comes to how best to convey this to the athletes their knowledge is “at best patchy”.

Most of the coaching courses I have attended have gone into very little depth regarding good coaching practice. They mainly helped with the superficial practicalities of managing groups such as ensuring all the athletes can see your demonstration with no distractions in the background or planning practices to maximise participation rather than waiting in queues.

None of them, however, have explored the classification of skills, the benefits of variable versus blocked practice, explicit versus implicit learning, perception action coupling or types of feedback as just a few examples of the issues surrounding applied coaching practice.

Taking perception action coupling as a quick example can show just how important these issues are to consider. Renshaw et al showed in a study of cricket batsmen that they formed significantly different techniques for a forward defensive stroke when batting against a machine rather than a real bowler. Athletes use cues from their environment (speed of the bowler’s run up, arm action at release etc.) to determine their technique (initiation of the backswing, front foot movement etc.) and obviously these cues are absent when facing a bowling machine for example.

This would therefore appear to be an extremely important factor in coaching practice yet it has never once been mentioned in any coaching course I have taken.

These are not brand new ideas and practices. Many of the studies and books I have read were written 10 or more years ago and quote research from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Frans Bosch spoke in his lecture about work done by Nikolai Bernstein on skill acquisition in the 1930’s!

Following Frans’ lecture I struggled for a while to find some decent material but have managed to collate some very useful sources now. Please have a look through a few links that I think will provide a good introduction below and if you have any recommendations for me I am always keen to hear them so put them in a comment below or send them to me on Twitter @SiNainby.

Recommended Reading

Mark Upton, a coach scientist, has done a far better job than I could hope to in summarising many of the important topics in 4 very good videos so click here to see them and follow him on Twitter @uppy01.

Lynn Kidman, a coach educator, has written a good book called Athlete Centred Coaching and is also on Twitter @lkidman.

Ian Renshaw, Keith Davids, Rick Shuttleworth and Jia Yi Chow have written a very good review entitled Insights from Ecological Psychology and Dynamical Systems Theory can underpin a philosophy of coaching Click here to read it.

Mark Williams and Nicola Hodges collate much of the research in their book Skill Acquisition in Sport: Research, Theory & Practice

People on Twitter worth a follow are:

  • Nick Levett, FA National Development Manager for Youth Football, @nlevett
  • John Stoszkowski, Lecturer in Sports Development and Coaching, @JohnStoszkowski
  • Stuart Lierich, a specialist rugby kicking coach, @KickCoaching
  • Brian McCormick, a Basketball coach, @brianmccormick
  • Stuart Armstrong, Playing Pathways Manager at the Rugby Football Union, @stu_arm
  • Dr Richard Bailey, Education Scientist, @DrDickB

I would be keen to hear your views on what good coaching practice is and what you have found to work for you. Please let me know either in the comments box below or via Twitter.

Simon Nainby is an Accredited Strength & Conditioning Coach and Tutor, Sports Massage Therapist, RFU Level II coach and an Assistant Athletics Coach. He has worked for a number of professional and semi-professional teams and he currently acts as a coaching consultant through Underground Athletics to a wide range of athletes from rugby players to Olympic Lifters. He provides physical preparation training and support in order to maximise sports performance. This consists of strength, speed and power training combined with recovery support to create a periodised programme which is essential for athletes to perform to their potential.

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