#coachlearninginsport: coming to know



A paper by John Stoszkowski and Dave Collins (2015) (Sources, topics and use of knowledge by coaches) has sent me off thinking about coming to know in coaching.
John and Dave’s study explores “coaches’ perceptions of their actual and preferred methods of acquiring new coaching knowledge, the types of knowledge they currently acquire and/or desire, and their application of new knowledge”.
They report survey responses from 320 coaches in 26 countries and 30 different sports (217 respondents were from the United Kingdom. Coaches from four sports accounted for 282 responses: football (141); golf (54); rugby (45); and cricket (28).)
Some of John and Dave’s findings were:

  • Coaches reported gaining recent ideas and information primarily from a variety of informal, self-directed learning situations with other coaches and colleagues being the predominant source.
  • Formal coach education courses were reported relatively frequently as sources of the recent knowledge coaches had acquired.
  • Coaches’ most recent knowledge acquisitions were linked to pedagogy and spanned “ologies” and sport-specific content.

Coming to know

As I read John and Dave’s paper, I started thinking about Phillida Salmon’s book of readings from 1980, Coming to Know. It was a delightful look at the psychology of learning and encouraged me all those years ago to think about personal learning environments. Her interest in coming to know informed much of her classroom research. I liked the point she made in the book she wrote with Hilary Claire (1984:14):

In order to come to understand the ways teachers saw their classrooms, their pupils, their goals, we needed to met them personally – to acknowledge and respect their individuality, and to be accessible ourselves as human beings.

Two decades after the publication of Coming to Know, Robert French (1999) discussed how Phillida’s work connected learning, teaching and research. His discussion has a lot of ideas to share with contemporary approaches to coach education and learning. Robert attempts to:

explore the edge where three tectonic plates determining human action and interaction (i.e., teach, learn and research) move against each other, at times casting up mountains of words, and at other times, crushed under each other, allowing glimpses through to the hidden, molten core of life – that which we call experience. (1999:261)

Footprints, edges and ridges

Robert’s observations about coming to know raise some fascinating ideas for the topography of coaching and learning.
We make and follow footprints in a learning landscape.
As John and Dave indicate, as coaches and learners, we make discoveries at the edges of practice and start to synthesise and integrate.
In the conclusion to his paper, Robert quotes the German philosopher, Martin Buber:

I have occasionally described my standpoint to my friends as the ‘narrow ridge’. I wanted to by this to express that I did not rest on the broad upland of a system that includes a series of sure statements about the absolute, but on a narrow rocky ridge between gulfs where there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed. (1999:268)

I am attracted to the idea that coach educators become part of this landscape … as cartographers, guides and fellow travellers.
Some of my coaching notebooks and field diaries have been inspired by Alfred Wainwright‘s records of Lakeland Fells.

The personal and the public

John and Dave conclude their paper with a discussion of how to support coaches’ formal and informal learning. They suggest exploring “how formal courses and learning activities can better develop complex skills such as reflection, while meeting the perceived needs and preferences of coaches”.
I am thinking more and more about how we might make this a very personal connection. I see this as an emerging opportunity to support problem-finding experiences rather than problem-solving approaches. I see the learner as the problem-finder and the coach educator as the meddler-in-the-middle of this relationship.
In proposing a much more personal approach, I am mindful of Abra’s observation in Joan Barfoot’s novel Gaining Ground (1984:182):

Look, you can sit here and tell me every moment of your life that you can remember, and you can analyze all of it and tell me what each moment meant to you; but there is no way that I’ll understand exactly because I haven’t had the experiences. And I can’t explain to you how it is with me because you haven’t experienced what I have. We can get a sense of each other, but we can’t know each other, we can’t really understand. That’s not so terrible: it seems to me that the sense we have of each other is quite a lovely thing. There’s no need to force it into being something else.

I do think that coach educators are in a wonderful position to have a sense of coaches that is “a lovely thing”. I hope too, as we access more coaches’ personal learning environments we can be open to diverse ways of coming to know.
There is an enormous wealth of experience to share in coach education and learning experience design. If, as I suspect, better practice exists at the boundaries, edges and tectonic plates of pedagogy and understanding, we have an opportunity to share our footprints as we engage with “the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed”.

Photo Credits

Footprint (Harry Potts, CC BY 2.0)
From far away (Viewminder, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Huntington Beach (Jorge Gonzalez, CC BY-SA 2.0)
2006 Lake District – Striding Edge from Helvellyn (Thierry Gregorius, CC BY 2.0)


John Stoszkowski and Dave Collins (2015): Sources, topics and use of knowledge by coaches, Journal of Sports Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2015.1072279.
Robert French (1999): Teaching, Learning and Research An Exploration of the Edge Between Words and Experience, Journal of Management Inquiry, 8(3), 257-270.



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