Understanding the work and learning of high performance coaches

Steven B. Rynne, Cliff J. Mallett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Background: The development of high performance sports coaches has been proposed as a major imperative in the professionalization of sports coaching. Accordingly, an increasing body of research is beginning to address the question of how coaches learn. While this is important work, an understanding of how coaches learn must be underpinned by an understanding of what coaches do. This is not to suggest a return to the behaviouristic accounts of coaching, rather a greater consideration of what tasks entail modern coaching work, especially within the dynamic and evolving vocation of high performance coaching.Purpose: In order to add greater texture to accounts characterising high performance coaching as a highly complex collection of practices, this paper will consider the tasks that full-time coaches at a State Institute of Sport (SIS) perform in their work, with a follow-up account of how they felt they learned (or did not learn) the requisite skills and abilities.Participants and setting: Six full-time, high performance sports coaches (average age = 42 years; range = 30-54 years) with an average of 23 years coaching experience (range = 10-34 years) participated in this study. Six sport administrators varying in level of responsibility and authority also participated. All participants were drawn from an Australian state (provincial) academy/institute of sport.Data collection: Participation was open to all coaches and administrators within the SIS with six coaches and six administrators volunteering prior to commencement. All participants were involved in semi-structured interviews aimed at examining the work of SIS coaches and the perceived sources of learning that coaches accessed throughout their careers. The interviews took an average of 82 minutes to complete (range = 60-110 minutes).Data analysis: The interviews were transcribed verbatim, checked for accuracy and returned to the participants for member checking. An interpretative analysis of the interview data was carried out following procedures outlined by Côté and colleagues. The construction of meaning units was enhanced through the use of a decision-making heuristic developed by Côté and Salmela.Findings: SIS coaches were required to perform a great number of tasks ranging from those relating to direct coaching to those associated with public relations behaviours. Coaches and administrators were also able to identify a range of sources of learning prior to, and during their employment with the SIS. Based on a comparison of work tasks and learning experiences, it was determined that SIS coaches were not well prepared to complete a variety of tasks required of them in the SIS environment.Conclusions: Through an analysis of their previous athletic and coaching experiences it is proposed that the coaches were well-prepared to undertake the tasks that were deemed to be central to their coaching work but were less equipped to undertake a range of other tasks required of them when they were first employed at the SIS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-523
Number of pages17
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • coaching
  • learning
  • work


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