Sport coaching and teaching: what does a learning environment look like?

As a physical education teacher I used to think a lot about the learning environment I was creating for students. As an 'educator', I took the same 'approach' into my sport coaching. To be honest, sometimes I put more thought into the planning of the First XV111 football training than I did some of my secondary PE classes.

For the past fifteen years I have been a teacher educator and coach educator/developer. In that time, I have had the privilege and pleasure of watching a lot of lessons and coaching sessions. When you look at the 'session' through the lens of, who is doing the learning? and what learning is occurring? the familiarity and similarity between effective teaching for learning in both PE and sport coaching becomes evident.

I sometimes get asked, what do I 'look at' in evaluating my teaching and coaching, and the teaching and coaching of others? Now I will declare 'up front', I do not come from a a skill acquisition background, I am an educator and therefore my 'paradigm' and language will be different to that of a 'skill acquisition' professional.

What do I look for?
The teacher/coach knows the learning needs of each 'student' and can explain how the construct of the lesson is meeting those learning needs, and where the session fits in the developmental sequence for the individual.
The session has a clear purpose. It is explicit what the concept focus is for the session.
Effective 'lessons' have a focus that remains consistent through the session. The messaging of the teacher/coach stays 'on focus' through the session. The purpose of 'lessons' is to provide 'students' with 'tasks' that enable 'practice' that builds a capability for 'performance'. In my mind, there is a difference between a 'session' which is to focus on known skills, abilities and capabilities, and 'lessons' which are for the purpose of 'learning' (or player development, if you prefer). Both environments have a purpose in teaching and sport coaching. The highly effective teacher/coach would purposefully use the chosen environment for a deliberately intended outcome. For example, a captains run before a game is unlikely to be optimal for teaching something new or extending the learning, and ideal for reinforcement and consolidation of learning.
Feedback feeds the learning. The questions shape and focus thinking on the elements of the concept to be learnt. Therefore, questions and inquiry strategies need to be planned purposefully. Feedback, encouragement, and acknowledgement/description are not the same. Feedback provides information that can be actioned by the learner. Acknowledgement ("you kept you width, creating doubt in the defender"), encouragement ("that was good") and description ("you didn't readjust your position when the angle of attack changed") play a part in encouraging and motivating performance. Question can prompt discovery of, or focus on, intrinsic feedback on performance ("what did you feel that time?") and extrinsic feedback on performance ("why would the ball wobble like that off your boot?) that can lead to learning conversations that focus and shape learning (improvements in a performance capability).
The learner voice 'dominates' the conversation. There are two elements to this. The first, it is the 'students' who are doing the thinking guided by the 'prompts' of the teacher/coach. Progressively, the teacher/coach wants to develop 'students' who are self regulated independent learners. To achieve this, 'students' need to be given the chance for responsibility and agency in their development, including the construction of the learning environment. The second element, is the 'student' voice makes the learner thinking visible. It provides 'data' for evaluation of the effectiveness of 'practice', for which 'students' it is effective, and to what degree it is effective. 'Student' voice therefore provides evidence of, for and as learning that teachers/coaches can use to inform the session design and the pace of progression of learning challenges, as well as the zone of development for particular 'student'. The nature of the conversation between 'student' and teacher/coach is the most visible means of assessment by observation of whether the teacher/coach is 'student-centred' (if a teacher) or 'athlete-centred' (if a coach). Appropriate levels of 'student' agency via choice that customises and 'co-creates' the learning context is a motivator of engagement and initiator of 'enjoyment'.

My understanding of the literature in the field of education is that 'effective' teachers are explicit, deliberate and purposeful in the concepts to be taught, the related content, and the use of teaching strategies, the use of 'data-informed' to plan with purpose, knowledgeable about developments in their field, and relational.

The opening chapter in Perspectives on Athlete-Centred Coaching speaks in detail to these ideas in a sport coaching setting. In a previous blog, available here, I have written about specific pedagogies/teaching strategies with research support that power-up 'student' learning and how they can be applied in sport teaching.


  1. Learning is earning and it is said that practise makes man perfect the way you play sports is much important the story of saina nehwal indian badminton player.

  2. Yes i strongly agreed with you, The role of the coach is not just coaching! Sports coaches assist athletes in developing to their full potential.


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