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Reflection coaching

Reflection is defined by Stenhouse 1975 p144 as ‘a capacity for autonomous professional self-development through systematic self-study’. Discuss how a coach utilises reflective practise to enhance their coaching performance

Reflection is used to improve coaching performance through a variety of ways. Kidman (2001: 50) describes reflection as “a particularly significant part of empowerment whereby coaches themselves take ownership of their learning and decision making”. The coach is therefore very active in gaining information which could be beneficial to them. Dewey (1919: 3) describes reflection as “turning a subject over in the mind and giving it a serious and consecutive consideration”. By analysing information repeatedly and seriously, in depth knowledge is gained from it. *(DANS)*Pollard (2002) believes that “‘Reflective teaching is applied in cyclical or spiralling process, in which teachers monitor, evaluate and revise their own practice continually.” By being dedicated in analysing oneself, analysing others is possible.

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A slightly different concept of reflection is introduced by Schon. The notion of, ‘reflection in action’. Schon (1983; 50) “Athletes think about what they are doing, sometimes even while doing it”. Expanding on this Schon highlights phrases like, ‘Keep your wits about you’ and ‘thinking on your feet’. Schons belief here is in game reflection is natural and beneficial.

Gilbert and Trudel (2001) believe Schons idea as a “separate type of reflection”. They also offer a different type of reflection which they call “retrospective reflection-on-action” which is further described as “that which occurs outside the action-present”. Their belief is that coaches reflect on concerns in between practise sessions and that reflection “still occurs within the action-present, but not in the midst of activity”. So they firmly believe that reflection-on-action is totally different to reflection-in-action.

Gilbert and Trudel (2001) consider reflection to utilise “a conceptual framework to understand how coaches draw on experience when learning to coach”

Ghaye and Lillyman (2000) bring forward the idea that the core of reflection is carried out in a series of ‘frames’.

  • Role framing – was the coaches role executed correct?
  • Value framing – examining if there was value-positions present?
  • Temporal framing – was the order of actions correct?
  • Parallel process framing – could the end result varied?
  • Problem framing – were problems noticed effectively?

These frames provide a practical way of analysing sport practises. Reflective practise can provide an efficient apparatus for monitoring and assessment of athletes.

Dewey (1916) who is considered heavily to be the ‘founder’ of reflection, gives three attributes which are needed in order to participate in reflective practise. Open-mindedness, described as “an active desire to listen to more sides than one, to give heed to facts from whatever source they come and to give full attention to alternative possibilities”. Whole-heartedness, which is being “absorbed in an interest”. Responsibility is also needed as consequences are accepted therefore “securing integrity in one’s beliefs”. Dewey’s’ beliefs have stood strong for eighty years and still provide modern coaches with a basic outlook on what is needed to be an effective reflective coach.

Methods of using reflective practise

There are a few ways in which reflective practise is put into action. By using a variety of methods coaches can expand from the basics and look more in detail depending on the type of information that is required.

Video analysis is one method used in order to aid reflective practise. A coach can record a session and therefore have exact details of what actions are taken. This allows for precise analysis in which athletes can also see themselves and what they could improve on. McKernan was a firm believer in video recording to aid coaching: ‘…might use a video recorder to trap teaching performance as evidence or ‘data’ to be analysed. More importantly, such a film becomes a critical documentary for reflecting on practice…research can be undertaken by reactive methods such as observers, questionnaires, interviews, dialogue journals or through such non-reactive techniques as case studies, field notes, logs, diaries anecdotal records, document analysis, shadow studies.’ McKernan (1996)(DANS)

Using other coaches is one way reflective practise can be more reliable and efficient. Analysis speed is increased as more coaches can observe and acknowledge similar issues that arise and whilst opinions may be divided, an overview of general problems can be addressed more easily. This view is backed up by Gould, Giannani, Krane, & Hodge (1990) “development of craft knowledge which can be fostered through the realms of practical

experience and interaction with other coaches.”

Using a cognitive based style, reflection can take place through demonstration. Coaches need to reflect on how demonstrations of skills are executed and the coach must ensure that when a learner is receiving a demonstration that it is of adequate quality for the athlete to learn and progress using reflection.


Coaching points and ‘logs’ are a very basic and fundamental way of reflecting on a performer. By making key observations during a practise and after, a coach can identify the problem areas. The more experienced the coach the more this basic method is effective and less need for the more advanced methods. This kind of feedback is usually

Benefits to using reflective practise

“by reflecting on practise a coach may expose his or her perceptions and beliefs to evaluation, creating a heightened sense of self awareness, which in turn my lead to a certain openness to new ideas” (Hellison and Templin 1991: 9) Reflective practise can increase ability in perception and creativity. This is due to the self improvement the coach must make themselves but are rewarded through these attributes. These attributes could then be passed onto the learner and thus bridging a gap between coach and learner.(BOOK)

(PDF)Anderson, Knowles and Gilbourne (2004) state that “reflective practice is the latest topical strategic method that could help sports coaches explore their decisions and experiences, aiding them to make sense of the situation and directly influence the learning process.” This is clear that reflective practise can be used in order to help sports coaches. It is also considered one of the more modern uses of coaching in order to achieve higher ability in a more demanding results driven environment.

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“Indeed, to maximise learning, critical reflection is the core difference between whether an individual repeats the same experience time and time again or learns from the experience in such a way that the individual is cognitively or affectively changed” (Boyde and Fales, 1983).(PDF) By using reflective practise Boyde and Fales suggest that there is a high chance of learning and developing skills rather than just repeating an experience with no eventual gain. They believe reflection is essential to this as without it there would be no way an individual would know if improvement took place or not.

“if a coach takes the opportunity to understand the consequences, both positive and negative, of the decisions made during a training session, they are better able to rationalise their decisions when under pressure” (Kidman, 2001).(PDF) Kidman here links this in with Schons ‘refelction in action’. This is necessary in high tempo environments and is vital in gaining a better decision making process. Whilst reflection is important before and during training or match environments, only ‘reflection in action’ can gain quick and often needed information to make decisions.

“reflection is thought to have a potent role in helping to bridge the gap between education and knowledge that is generated through practice” (Ghaye & Ghaye, 1998).(PDF) Making coaches acknowledge their achievements is possible via reflection as it is a conscious and active way of fortifying the positives and negatives of individual and group practise.

Difficulties in using reflective practise

Whilst there is lots of evidence to strengthen the idea that reflective coaching is a useful practise, there are certainly problems that need addressing and limitations which clearly show it is not a full proof method even when applied properly.

Crum (1995) “If a practitioner holds a ‘training-of-the-physical’ view of coaching and believes his or her role is only to improve fitness and adopt a technical/utilitarian approach, then becoming a coach who reflects in depth is not going to be paramount”. Whilst reflective practise does have its place, it would seem that it is limited. Some areas such as social negotiation and mentality may be difficult to improve through reflection practise but in many environments that reflective practise is used these are vital skills. Playing in high tempo and contact sports require both of these skills in abundance and gaining it through the individual is the most logical approach but if reflective practise is used then the coach is providing the information and techniques which aren’t transferable to individuals in these areas.

“As many coaches will testify, written reflection, usually in the form of

‘logs’, are frequently sanitised to deliver what is deemed as being necessary knowledge, thus being corralled into conformity (Chesterfield, Jones, & Mitchell, 2007), possibly stifling coach creativity.”(PDF) Whilst Hellison and Templin believe in reflection in opening creativity, the basic form of a ‘log’ could be evidence that reflection does hinder creativity. Conformity is compliance with what already exists, if coaches comply to current practises such as ‘logs’ then there is no space for new practises to be introduced and composed.

(PDF)Johns (1995) argued that “reflective practice is profoundly difficult, and it is therefore necessary to have a detailed model that guides and supports coaches.” Reflection does require many skills and outside opinions to be useful. There is a certain amount of complexity that comes with reflecting before, during and after sessions. Gibbs six-staged cyclical model for example is a complex calculated formula designed to give detailed analysis and evaluation. Whilst this could be beneficial it is only useful to coaches with prior experience or high ability levels. So as a general overall practise reflection can be difficult.

“Trust is a vital part of a reflective conversation and, according to Maister, Green, & Galford (2002), trust is a two-way relationship where people can be honest and respect each others openness. Without a real trusting relationship with significant others (e.g. a tutor, mentor, supervisor, coach) personal reflections may stay ‘safe’ and predictable and the real issues may go unresolved.”(PDF) Social dynamic in any relationship is extremely important. The relationship between coach and athlete is as open to flux as every other relationship. Trust is vitally important and is open to change to high and low levels. If trust is broken then coach performance or athlete obedience could drop. Reflection here is then a problem if not enough trust is spread and responsibility fall onto other people to provide strength in connecting and creativity in avoiding playing the ‘safe’ option which could potentially break trust.


To conclude, I believe that reflection is a very useful practise for coaches to undertake in developing athletes. Reflection can take place before, during and after which makes it very flexible and adaptable to a variety of environments. The coach does however need a certain level of ability in order to reflect appropriately and constructively. Detail is paramount and a coach analysing a level too high above them will struggle using reflection.

I personally believe that the best method of reflection is video analysis. I think this because it gives an exact recollection of technical display and thanks to modern technology is available at a wide range of levels. It is, however, important that a coach doesn’t rely on one method such as video analysis. During a competition or quick based environment it may not be possible to use this method and therefore a variety of reflective methods should be learnt and applied by coaches. This will make them more rounded and adaptable to their environment.

One thing that I found intriguing was the amount of reflection that the coach must put on themselves. This ‘self reflection’ is vital as if this isn’t carried out coaches methods may stagnate or accurate analysis and therefore feedback for the athlete cannot be attained thus making the practise useless.

coach needs adaptable refelective ability, depending on the athletes, age, gender, ability etc…..

To sum up …….states and defines refelction very clearly “………..”


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