Identifying best practice in sport coaching and its application in coach education

Author: Stephen Ede

Identifying best practice in sport coaching and its application in coach education

Stephen Ede
17 December 2018


Ede, S. (2018). Identifying best practice in sport coaching and its application in coach education. (A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Professional Practice, Otago Polytechnic.) [PDF 3.3MB]

Executive Summary

This thesis focuses on understanding what constitutes best practice in coaching. The requirement to do this has come about through a realignment of sport and recreation related courses across the tertiary sector which has been triggered by a Targeted Review of Qualification (TROQ) commissioned by the New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA). As a coaching tutor at NZIS (New Zealand Institute of Sport) the review necessitated a reexamining of our level five and level six courses to see whether they were still meeting the needs of the students and the industry and whether the content of the courses was considered best practice.

Firstly, a definition of best practice had to be established. This was “a working method, or set of working methods, that is officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular business or industry” (Collins English Dictionary, 2018). The next step was to look at what the literature had to say about best practice in coaching and what it currently looked like. Sources relevant to coaching best practice were examined including documents from SportNZ that they disseminate to coaches on the subject. As their lineage is very similar I also looked at best practice in education as well. I then also explored more into what the literature had to say about the purpose of sport, as I thought having a grasp on this would be key to unlocking what the key elements to be included in best practice should be. If, as the literature suggested, the higher purpose of sport is to teach values, morals and life lessons. Then the complexion of best practice could like quite different to a purely physical purpose to sport.

The next task was to find out what specifically best practice in coaching currently looks like and whether we were covering it in our courses and if we weren’t where the gaps are. This was done by interviewing 12 respondents from a cross section of the coaching community including coach educators, international level coaches, recent graduates from my course and a university lecturer. Their thoughts, along with what the literature said plus my own experiences in teaching my course and coaching were distilled into what I have termed the coaching wheel. The outside of the wheel contains the elements of leadership, connection, planning, culture, coaching philosophy and the purpose of sport, which corresponds primarily with our level five course. The inside of the wheel contains context, approach, outcome and reflection which corresponds with our level six course. The outer and inner circles are built around athlete development at the centre of the coaching wheel.

Once this process was done I had to examine my courses to see whether we covered each of the elements identified to a level that could be considered best practice. Particular areas identified as requiring improvement were coaching specific leadership, developing connections with athletes, more of an appreciation of long-term athlete development, development of team culture other than codes of conduct, more depth and practical application of coaching styles and teaching methods.

Undertaking this process has somewhat redefined my understanding of best practice in coaching. Going into the project I was expecting attention to detail, planning and analysis and the organisational aspects of coaching to come through as key elements of best practice. These elements were present, but far and away the greatest emphasis was placed on the softer skills such as connection and communication. This forced a rethink on my behalf as to what was really important in the coaching process. It also led me to delve deeper into what sport can provide to its participants if delivered in the right way. From a teaching perspective, I do certainly talk about the importance of planning and organisation in coaching. But I have shifted my focus to people skills such as connection, culture and leadership as being the keys to unlocking athlete potential.

Key words: Coaching; Coach education; Sport; Sport coaching best practice.

This research was supervised by Glenys Forsyth and Jo Kirkwood.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.

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