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Novel methods used to enhance the skills of sport coaches

Coach education at all levels of sport has been underpinned by functional models of practice, which fail to provide coaches with the intra- and inter-personal skills required to navigate the complex social reality of coaching. Northumbria University’s novel research into the social, relational and emotional dimensions of coaching has enhanced learning and practice of coaches in several sports across the UK, most notably elite rugby union player development pathways in England and Ireland.  

Dr Edward Hall, Senior Lecturer in Sport Coaching, Northumbria University, in collaboration with Professor Paul Potrac and Dr Zoë Avner, Dr Emma Boocock and Dr Phil Hayes, 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 the networks of relations (i.e., between coaches, assistants, athletes and others) that comprise sports clubs and organisations. The research also supported coaches and coach developers in enhancing 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 across the elite player pathway in rugby union. For example, the research group’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 provided 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 design and deliver a number of bespoke workshops and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) courses, including a workshop at the week-long Wellington Festival, the largest academy festival in English Rugby, which was attended by members of all 14 professional academies and aimed to develop both academy players and coaches on and off the field. Overall, between 2015 and 2020, over 800 coaches and coach educators in rugby union and other sports, have attended workshops based on Northumbria’s research. Follow-up feedback found that all respondents had enhanced their knowledge, skills, and practice through the workshops, and that the vast majority recognised positive changes in their beliefs about and approaches to coaching practice. Underlining the merits of this work, Northumbria’s publications have also been recognised and promoted by the World Rugby Science Network, the sport’s global governing body. 


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