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Benefits of Reflective Practice for Sports Success

Failure can be simply be defined as “lack of success” (Oxford Dictionary, 2019). Sport management and sport leaders often focus on the risks of failure rather than what is needed to succeed, distracting themselves from what needs to be dismissed, rather than what needs to be done. Research has illustrated that organisations can learn from the experience of failure and recover and develop their performance (Baum & Dahlin, 2007; Haunschild & Rhee, 2004; Haunschild & Sullivan, 2002; Kim & Miner, 2007; Madsen, 2009). However, prevents the organisation from having the opportunity to focus and move forward in innovation (Madsen & Desai, 2010). In contrast, selected research found that individuals can learn more from their own success than failure (Diwas, Staats, & Gino, 2014).  As a leader, it can be easy to focus on ‘what is going wrong’ and get caught up trying to solve the ‘problems’. Reflective practice can provide a leader with an opportunity to reflect on their actions. While more recent research has suggested that reflective practice based on strength can improve positivity and focus on human strengths (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016).

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Schön (1983) proposed that reflective practice can be defined as the ability to reflect on one’s actions in order to engage in a process of continuous learning. One who reflects on their practice throughout is not just only reflecting on actions and events but is being mindful of their emotions, experiences, actions, and responses, and using the information to develop their knowledge and reach a higher level of understanding (Paterson & Chapman, 2013). Dewey (1933) suggested that a reflective process can be initiated by those who experience surprise or discomfort at work. Loughran (2006) examined the process by Dewey and the notion of a ‘problem’. The research highlighted, whilst there is importance of reflecting on problems, it should be done with caution and should not detriment of other qualities of ones’ working life. The use of ‘problem’ may be associated directly with negative meanings and thoughts. “Deficit-based questions lead to deficit-based conversations, which in turn lead to deficit-based patterns of action” (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016). Deficit-based questions are about what went wrong, rather than what was successful and focusing on eliminating and fixing problems. Often, managers and leaders can find themselves often become only attentive to problems. Conversely, strength-based reflection can influence strength-based action. For those in leadership roles, when a team is in trouble, research suggests strength-based reflection, highlighting on success and concentrating on positive feedback can result in greater accomplishment (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016).

Fredrickson’s (1998, 2001, 2004) Broaden-and-Build theory can be applied to manage sports performance, sports business, and coach education changes (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016). The theory relates to positive emotions which suggests positive emotions broadens one’s awareness and encourages new, diverse, and investigative thoughts and actions (figure 1). Individuals who are more receptive to positive emotions are commonly more open-minded, approachable to new ideas and versatile. For example, in the sporting context, those who are more positive might think more creatively, which could develop a sense of accomplishment. Therefore, a greater sense of fulfilment and a more positive feeling for the individual. Broaden-and-Build theory also suggests that, under pressure and complexity, positive emotions build up resilience, to be drawn on to improve later. This is a key strategy that is important to leaders because they often have to perform well in circumstances where they are on demand and under stress.


Figure 1. Broaden-and-Build theory (Fredrickson, 2013)

Theory of Well-being is an approach which to underpins positive emotions, through building blocks of well-being (Seligman, 2011). The framework draws on a five-phase model of well-being called PERMA, which acts as a direction to assist individuals or groups to find a route to flourishing.  Seligman (2011) suggests each part of the model can support an individual to discover happiness, fulfilment and meaning. PERMA stands for; positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement, and together the complexities can contribute to well-being. Similarly to Broaden-and-Build theory, PERMA can build resilience and therefore an individual can process a situation more successfully (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016).

Ghaye (2010) suggests that “human flourishing can encompass a wide variety of moral and ethical pursuits, the development of character traits such as optimistic, meaningful and productive work, religious pursuits, community strengthening and altruistic activities, love, allegiance to persons and causes, self-efficacy and so on.” In relation, human flourishment has been regarded as having similar notions of well-being. By associating human flourishing with reflective practice, it is predicted to have a greater positive influence on ones’ emotions, engagement, relationships and meaning. Positive questions are able to develop human flourishing, practically through appreciative reflection and appreciative action. Positive engagement relates reflective practice to investigate greater engagement within the workplace and work-life balance. Positive work engagement has also shown to reduce staff turnover, increase productivity and improve profitability (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016). Hence, reflective practice can improve ones’ working meaning and purpose (Ghaye, 2010) and sports institutes should consider the transformation and change of procedure.

In order to modify the mindset of an individual to incorporate strength-based reflective practice, leaders and sport management may need to experience transformative learning, especially those often caught in failure. Transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991, 1995, 1996; Cranton, 1994, 1996) can be defined as the process of changing the frame of reference. Frames of reference signify the measurement of assumption which we understand our experiences. Thus, having a significant impact and form one’s expectations, perceptions, cognition, and feelings. Transformative learners shift towards frame of references which are more inclusive and centralising of ones’ experience. Habits of minds and point of view are developments of a frame of reference. The two dimensions incorporate cognitive, conative, and emotional components. Critical reflection is required for the critical assessment of ones’ frame of references (Mezirow, 1997). Thereby, one needs to be aware of the social and cultural forces that will alter the learning experience in the context of sport management.

Leaders should consider the use of reflective practices which can build on employee’s strengths and build success. The use of frameworks can aid organisations to enforce reflective practice and positive conversations. Participatory and appreciative action and reflection (PAAR) approaches to research in which an individual is required to use appreciative intelligence to concentrate on the positives of an experience, define the cause and finally, design and apply actions to sustain such success. PAAR simply focuses on the positive but does not believe that ‘problems’ should be ignored but addressed in a more creative and appreciative framework. The framework requires an alteration in individuals’ mindsets, developing from reflective practices which have concentrated solely on problem finding, problem solving and removing unwanted aspects. Instead, moving forward with a focus on strength-based and positive practice and beginning to understand why practice areas are successful (Ghaye et al., 2008).

Figure 2. Participatory and appreciative action and reflection (PAAR) as a process (Ghaye et al., 2008).

The framework is a reflective learning process (figure 2). The process incorporates four stages, which are mutually supportive of each other. The first process begins to understand and develop positive support of human flourishing and well-being of current practice. Process two focuses on the ‘problem’ of developing future approaches, but by doing some in an open and imaginative manner. Stage three; building practical wisdom, emphases productive thinking. The process develops an understanding of how identity and behaviour affect gender relationships and other markers of difference. Finally, process four presents ethical action and moral courage practice accomplishments and ways to progress (Ghaye et al., 2008).

Figure 3. An appreciative change management process (Ghaye, 2011).

PAAR has the power to change and improve the process of management. Through positive questions, sport management and sport leaders are able to realign their questioning to engage and pay attention to success. By following the questioning procedure in figure 3, sports organisations who are in trapped in the process of failure can bring positivity and embrace each other’s strengths. However, to be successful the leaders and management need to be in support of the change of process.

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Often when leaders are focused on fixing a ‘problem’ they may not allow time for their followers to ‘speak up’. Thus, not allowing the opportunity for followers to flourish within the workplace or allowing them the chance to show their full potential. Leaders can often run the risk of allowing followers to speak up due to the consequences or impact it could have on them. Reitz and Higgins (2017) discussed the extent of which ‘speaking up’ within organisations can enable five issues; conviction, risk awareness, political awareness, social awareness and judgement. The framework presents the qualities of cultures of truth-power by dividing the concepts to give greater insight into individual and organisational development consequences. Over the years sports institutes such as FIFA and International Association of Athletics Federation have suffered the aftereffect of employees remaining silent or speaking up but not being heard by leaders enough to bring about changes.

Table 1. Speaking up and being silenced: Key issues (Reitz & Higgins, 2017).

Table 1 states the five issues and gives two statements alongside each which demonstrate prominent themes associated with each. In this instance, table 1 demonstrates personal practice proposed to stimulate self-reflection. In comparison, table 2 analyses the five issues from the perspective of a leader trying to empower an individual to speak up. Further, it also explores the action of those who silence their followers consciously or unintentionally.

Table 2. Silencing others or enabling others to speak up: Key issues (Reitz & Higgins, 2017).

Reitz and Higgins (2017) suggested recommendations to organisations desiring to enable speaking truth to power. By displaying cultural norms of speaking truth to power, this will enable followers to feel more at ease within the organisational system to speak up. By not allowing employees to speak up, sports leaders and management dismiss the chance for learning, from success or failure. Critical reflection is key in the process of development, for both the organisation and individuals. Building opportunities to communicate ideas and challenges can be seen as vital to the ability of an organisation to flourish and survive. Hence, the organisation should recommend opportunities for employees to self-reflect to grow and develop.

Research has shown the extent and impact that reflective practice might have on coaching development. Within sports coaching reflective practice has been described as a procedure of re-examining practice, understanding what has happened and learning to improve practice in the future (e.g. Gilbert & Trudel, 2001; Miles, 2001; Carson, 2008; Cropley, Miles & Peel, 2012). The process of reflection helps coaches develop ones’ coaching, as well as enhance the perspective of the coaching environment (Ghaye, 2001). Coaching issues, role frame, issue setting, strategy generation, experimentation and evaluation are coach-characterised reflective components (Gilbert & Trudel, 2001). In addition, in relation to Dewey’s process of reflection, tolerating that reflection is determined by experiencing ‘problems’ in the workplace. Further research into coaching reflection discovered that post-academic, reflective practice during employed life was relatively different. Four circumstances which can influence ones’ use of reflection are; access to peers, stage of learning, issue characteristics and environment. The conditions a coach experiences at one time affect the depth of which they are likely to reflect, for example, when faced with a standard issue, coaches are most likely to turn to material support rather than a thorough reflection. Conversely, coaches are probable to reflect more critically in the company of those who are more knowledgeable (Cropley, Miles & Peel, 2012). Therefore, management must monitor reflective practice to ensure that it is successful. Although reflective practice has shown many positive developments for coaches, research has also presented issues associated with reflective practice. These included; the physical time, emotional issues, coaches’ extent of reflective practice knowledge, motivation to engage with reflective practice and facilitation of practice.

Cropley et al. (2011) developed an intervention approach between an assistant and head coach, to gain a greater understanding of coaching related issues. The coaches were asked to self-reflect, as well as participate in reflective conversation together. The aim of the intervention was to (a) improve their self-awareness; and (b) encourage consideration of the impact of their values and philosophy on the development of players. Following the five-week period of reflection, the coaches felt they had a greater understanding of themselves, their players and their coaching environment. The process resulted in the coaches approaching decision making differently, as well as changes in communication with players. Additionally, the reflective process became a fundamental part of the coaches coaching practice after the intervention had finished.

When analysing the research by Cropley et al. (2011), by applying this within other areas of sports institutes the results displayed could support positive outcomes. For example, sport management implementing self-reflection and reflective conversation in the workplace could improve productivity and self-awareness of leaders. Specifically, reflective practice could be an opportunity for management to develop their followers as the results of the Cropley et al. (2011) study showed greater decision-making and communication skills in times of turmoil. Cropley, Miles and Peel (2012) recommend that NGBs should consider educating coaches in development of reflective practice to progress and advance their coaching practice. Likewise, NGB should encourage mentors, coaches, critical friends to embrace in reflective conversation, resulting in the encouragement of work-place morale and productivity.

While people may feel they are learning more from failure, they may not learn more from the process of failure. The process of failure can take time to bounce back from, while positive conversations, in comparison, empower individuals to encourage and want to achieve and be more successful. Individuals are therefore more likely to learn from success than failure, and the focus on success should be a priority for sport leaders and sport management. Reflection within an organisation can be at the heart of change and help understand the actions of one another. Research has identified that reflection can improve ones’ self-awareness, developing to understand strengths and improve confidence. Also, a greater understanding of practice in regards to the environment and followers (e.g. Anderson, Knowles & Gilbourne, 2004; Tonn & Harmison, 2004; Cropley et al., 2007; Cropley, Miles & Peel, 2012). Those who have greater self-awareness are able to make greater informed decisions, thus resulting in more effective behaviours. Reflection can influence change by having a better understanding of one’s practice and one can develop in their role if that be a coach, leader or sport manager. Thus, as shown in the major shift in reflective practice, strength-based reflective practice can improve the positive response of an individual, team and community. Also, the alteration of attitude towards success can improve the stigma of teams. Hence, leaders and sports organisations should consider developing a success led conversation and concentrate on success, and not dwell on failure. Although, failure cannot be ignored, and it is part of the reflective practice process. The use of frameworks can enable leaders and management to discover and understand positive approach to identify, appreciate and utilise the strengths of themselves, employees and the environment practice (Dixon, Lee & Ghaye, 2016).


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