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Novel methods used to enhance the skills of elite rugby coaches

Reflective practice is considered key to becoming an effective practitioner, yet, little is known about what is meaningful to sport coaches who engage in such a personally involving, emotive and challenging process. Researchers at Northumbria University conducted advanced studies into coaching practice and coach development to help practitioners critically examine and learn from their experiences. Findings from these studies have been recognised and promoted by national sports bodies, influencing coaching practices in various sports, including rugby and canoeing.

 

Coach development programmes worldwide encourage coaches to engage in reflection as a learning tool to enhance performance. While reflective practice varies widely, in essence it is a method coaches use to take ownership of learning, allowing them to analyse and evaluate their decisions and experiences, and revise their coaching practice as a result.

 

Reflective practice has become increasingly popular as a framework for professional learning, however, there is also limited understanding of sports coaches’ real-world experiences of reflection, the barriers encountered and the impact of this tool on practice.

 

Dr Edward Hall, Senior Lecturer in Sport Coaching, Northumbria University, in collaboration with Professor Paul Potrac and PhD student Adam Nichol, led a series of interrelated research projects to understand in greater depth the complex working lives of sport coaches. Their aim was to examine how social interactions are experienced and navigated within networks of relations (i.e. between coaches, assistants, athletes and others). The ongoing research also involves evaluating techniques to support coaches and coach developers to enhance critical self-reflection skills that can valuably inform how they think, feel and (inter)act in practice.  

 

The research has had a significant impact on coaching practice in general and particularly across the elite player pathway in rugby union. More specifically, Dr Hall’s participatory action research approach with Newcastle Falcons Academy coaches has changed how they coach and learn from their experiences. Being embedded in everyday practice, this collaborative work continues to provide evidence of alternative ways to develop coaches operating at and beyond the traditional apex coaching qualification in their sport (e.g. Level 4).

 

The significance of the research has led Dr Hall to deliver presentations and workshops to hundreds of elite and aspiring coaches as part of British Canoeing’s Level 4 Coaching Qualification, the 2018 England Rugby National Coaching Day, the Youth Sport Trust Young Coach Academy, and via Newcastle Falcons and London Irish Developing Player Pathway Coach Development Workshops, and Newcastle Falcons Coaching Masterclasses.

 

Based on the impact of these workshops, Dr Hall contributed to a panel discussion, alongside England Rugby head coach Eddie Jones, as part of the England Rugby National Rugby Academy Festival. Some of the team’s existing publications have also been recognised and promoted by the World Rugby Science Network, the sport’s global governing body.

 

The existing research continues to inform ongoing work with Newcastle Falcons, as well as other coaches and coach developers that seek to further problematise aspects of practice and reflection that have previously lacked rigorous interrogation. Current projects are exploring some of the dilemmas tied to social interaction that coaches and coach developers face in their working lives.

 


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Northumbria Research Link (NRL) is an open access repository of Northumbria University's research output.

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