How to become an Olympian

As the thrills of the 2012 London Olympic Games still linger in our minds and the excitement of the Paralympics beckons us on to hours more TV viewing, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of a few facts about the most watched public event in the world.

For a start, the Modern Olympics have very little to do with Ancient Greece.  They were actually the idea of a French aristocrat who was inspired by the ethos of the English Public School sports of the Victoria era.  Baron Pierre de Coubertin looked to the ‘muscular Christianity’ of Rugby and other Public Schools, and concluded that, “organised sport can create moral and social strength”.  The youth of France – indeed the whole world – urgently needed some of this strong medicine, and so he travelled the world gathering support for his vision.  De Coubertin called this the ‘Olympic’ idea because he believed that it was the Ancient Greeks who have first developed the core philosophy.

The Baron’s vision was that the Games competition would be only one of a series of activities that take place during the Olympic year.  The ‘Cultural Olympiad’ was a marriage of sport and the arts, and included music, dance, visual arts and other wholesome activities.  This broader conception of the Olympics continues to exist, despite an almost total lack of interest from the national media … or anyone else.


Quick Quiz: Which of the following activities have appeared in the Modern Olympic Games?*

Cricket                                      Solo synchronised swimming

Pistol Dueling                           Long Jump for horses

Sculpture                                  Literature

Singing                                     Tug of War

* Answers are given at the end of this blog

Finally, and most importantly for our purposes, the elite sport aspect of the Olympics is just the outward expression of philosophy of life called Olympism.  This philosophy is built on three core values – excellence, friendship and respect – and aims to use the Olympic activities to inspire education and development in all people around the world.  De Coubertin wrote:

Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of a good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

Ultimately, then, the razzamatazz of two weeks in the summer are just the tip of the iceberg.  The Olympics are a metaphor for something much bigger and more important, namely the potential of sport and the arts as vehicles for the realisation of human excellence.  And excellence can take different forms.  As we all know, it can refer to successful performance in high-level competitions.  What educationalists might call this the ‘summative’ view!  However, as we all know, it’s the ‘formative’ that makes the real difference in the long term.  This second form translates as personal excellence, and refers to on-going achievement against personal goals throughout one’s life.

It seems to me that, in launching the Olympics on the world, De Coubertin was offering a powerful metaphor for personal excellence.  The champions have their day, and in doing so, elite sport represents a laboratory for the rest of us.  We can see before our eyes the effects of someone pursuing excellence.  We can learn from their successes and challenges.

Fascinatingly, recent research seems to support this position: there is a great of similarity between the processes used by elite sports people in preparing for the Olympics and those used by the rest of us trying to improve in our own terms.  At least, this is the view of Professor David Collins, from the University of Central Lancashire.  Prof. Collins is a ‘Performance Psychologist’ and was National Coach for Athletics at the Beijing Olympics.  His research suggests that there are ‘champion behaviours’ that can be learnt by children (and by anyone else).  Starting with explicit teaching and reinforcement from others, eventually children learn to take responsibility for setting and monitoring their own personal development.

According Collins and his colleagues, champion behaviours include the following:

Goal setting - establishing specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted goals.
Performance evaluation – regularly assessing your performance against your goals.
Imagery – going through an event or activity in your mind, using all of your senses, including sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and movement to recreate performance.

Planning – articulating the steps necessary for on-going improvement.

Commitment and role clarity  - learning to understand and accept your responsibilities with the group.

Focus and distraction control – remaining focused, despite pressure or failure.

Evaluating and coping with pressure – managing stress and learning to use it for positive purposes.

They have found that each of these behaviours can be learned, and they go further.  They argue that all children should be taught the skills, so that all of them have at the skills and behaviours of champions at their disposal.  Then, if they choose to aspire to excellence, they will have the psychological foundations necessary.

The most fundamental requirement of any attempt to develop excellence is the simplest: practice.  Forbes magazine summarized the view of many researchers like this:

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call ‘deliberate practice’.  It's activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.”

It is quite easy to find support for this view among those who have excelled in their work.  For example, here is the actor Will Smith:

“I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented.  I’ve viewed myself as slightly above average in talent.  And where I excel is ridiculous, sickening, work ethic.  You know, while the other guy’s sleeping?  I’m working.  While the other guy’s eatin’?  I’m working.  While the other guy’s making love, I mean, I’m making love, too.  But I’m working really hard at it,”

And here is the genius footballer Pele:

“Everything is practice.”

Famously, some studies examining expert performance have found that a minimum of 10 years, or 10,000 hours, of sustained practice appears to be a necessary.  But not just any practice will do.  According to Dr K. Anders Ericsson, the ‘expert on expertise theory’, the key is ‘deliberate practice’, which is done with the specific goal of improving performance, is effortful and attention-demanding, is not necessarily enjoyable, and does not lead to immediate social or financial rewards.  So, according to Ericsson’s expertise theory, every athlete at the top level has invested huge amounts of high quality practice into their sport.  The same can be said of professional musicians, chess grandmasters, and leading scientists.

There are many things about Ericsson’s theory that are admirable, not least his attempt to differentiate between practice and deliberate practice, and his corrective of the default position of sport scientists to explain every phenomenon in terms of biology.  However, there are problems too.  One is the status of the magical 10,000 hours rule.  As a metaphor, it works quite well.  But the briefest perusal of the careers of champions (including those at the 2012 Games) reveals that 10,000 hours is not the threshold value it is often claimed to be.  Some champions have managed to excel in their sport remarkably quickly (such as the Olympic Gold Medalist HeatherStanning or the Ironman goddess Chrissie Wellington), whilst others have taken much, much longer to succeed at the top (such as almost every Golfer).  Also, the portrayal of deliberate practice – hours and hours of exhaustive and boring repetition) simply does not match the accounts of most champions.

My own research with elite sports people and dancers has provided some detail to the understanding of deliberate practice.  The figure below shows three of the key characteristics. 

Supported Learning - It is sometimes said that practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanence.  A task that is repeated for an extended length of time becomes progressively more automatic and unconscious.  This is fine if the task being learned is quite simple and done correctly, but if not, practice can cement ineffective skills.  This is why feedback is so important for learning, as it nudges the performer back to proper form.  This is also why teachers and coaches are vital to high quality learning.  They guide, direct, and correct practice.

Mindful Learning - An second problem with any repeated task is that is can quickly become boring.  The psychologist Ellen Langer calls this mindlessness, and suggests that it is a barrier to motivating, effective learning.  Mindfulness, on the other hand, occurs when the individual is actively involved with task, constantly makes small changes and variations, and is open to new ideas.  Langer describes this mindset like this:

“Mindfulness is a flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context.”

Our studies have lead us to conclude that mindful learning is a powerful component of personal excellence.

Contextual Learning - The third factor is probably the most important from the point of view of effective learning: learning that reflects the real context of performance.  In other words, contextual learning is learning that is designed so that learners can carry out activities and solve problems in a way that reflects the nature of such tasks in the real world.  Research supports the effectiveness of learning in meaningful contexts.  This means that the best way to learn to play cricket is to play a lot of cricket games; and learning to play the piano happens when learners play music.  This is especially worth emphasizing, as decontextualised practice is extremely popular in many activities, especially in education and sport, where drills often take up a great deal of time in sessions.  Research suggests that such activities are mostly valueless.

The implication of these ideas seem clear: practice is not enough.  Excellence requires high quality learning experiences that are characterized by meaningful, attentive practice supported by great teachers or coaches.  This is a necessary condition of excellence.

Taken together, these strands of research suggest that the achievements of top sports people reflect fundamentally similar processes to those used by the rest of us as we battle with our own pursuits of personal excellence.  There is nothing magical about Olympic performance; it simply shows what is possible if practices that are available to all of us are taken to extremes.

So, Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s early insight seems to have been right.  The glory and spectacle of the Olympic Games can act as a metaphor for personal excellence, giving evidence of the possibility of the realization of potential.  Skills like goal setting and role clarity are used everyday by likes of Jessica Ennis, Tom Daley and Michael Phelps.  Most exciting, however, is the fact that they can also be learned by children, and applied to their own sport and their own schooling.  They might also be used by you, Dear Reader, in supporting your own ambitions.

Finding out more?
Ellen Langer The Power of Mindful Learning
Daniel Pink Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us
David Shenk The Genius in All of Us

Quick quiz answer: Answer: ALL of them!

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Representing sport and education: the Art of Infographics

We live in an information-rich understanding-poor environment.  There is so much knowledge around that it can be difficult to make sense of it all, and to separate the good stuff from the rest.

Infographics are those charts, posters and diagrams that try to address these problems.  A good infographic summarises key information on a topic in a way that is immediately accessible.  Of course, the issue of quality control remains: the infographic is only as good as the data within in.  But at least the technology opens the door to new ways of thinking about and representing a vast array of knowledge to different audiences.

I have tried and failed to produce some infographic of my own.  There is much more to them than meets the eye!  But my person artistic limitations only make me admire them all the more.

Here are some infographics on topics related to sport and education.  I would love to hear about others.

  Childhood Obesity Epidemic Infographic

Can You Benchpress a Tiger? - Source: Bodybuilding Warehouse

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So What Is Developmentally Appropriate Sport?

I have written a guest blog for the sports coach UK site.  It's on a perennial, but challenging issue ofDevelopmentally Appropriate Sport.

Click on the image to directly to the site, or enter

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Sport has still got a long way to go, Mr Gove

I don't think I was the only person surprised by the tone of the recent speech by Michael Gove, English Secretary of State of Education, at Brighton College.  He took the opportunity to highlight the inequalities that remain characteristic of British society, and especially advances offered those able to attend independent schools.

"It is remarkable how many of the positions of wealth, influence, celebrity and power in our society are held by individuals who were privately educated."

I was surprised because Mr Gove has never struck me as someone especially bothered by our evident social biases.  A great deal of Mr Gove's speech focused on the inequalities inherent within our sports systems.  Yet, in dismantling the Physical Education and School Sport programme in English schools, and especially the School Sport Partnerships, he was directly responsible for sabotaging one of the very few national policies to successfully break down barriers to participation of state-school pupils.

And the proposed solution of 'more competitive sport in schools' would be simply laughable if it was not for its promise of reversing many of the advances we have seen during the last decade, with the negative health consequences that will bring.

Simple solutions are great for dealing with simply problems.  But even Mr Gove is starting to recognise that the problems of participation and talent development are not simple.

At Brighton he said:

Take sport – where by definition the biggest names are in their teens, twenties and thirties.

As Ed Smith, the Tonbridge-educated former England player, and current Times journalist, points out in his wonderful new book “Luck”:

Twenty-five years ago, of the 13 players who represented England on a tour of Pakistan, only one had been to a private school. In contrast, over two thirds of the current team are privately educated. You’re 20 times more likely to go on and play for England if you go to private school rather than state school.

The composition of the England rugby union team and the British Olympic team reveal the same trend.
Of those members of England’s first 15 born in England, more than half were privately educated.

And again, half the UK’s gold medallists at the last Olympics were privately educated, compared with seven per cent of the population.
All of this is true.  And it has been known from at least the 1980s.

Here is a summary of some of the social and economic factors linked to high performance in sport:

Parents achieved high standards in domain
Rotella and Bunker, 1987; Radford, 1990; Feldman and Goldsmith, 1986
Relatively high socio-economic status
Rowley, 1992; English Sports Council, 1997; Duncan, 1997
Ability and willingness to financially support participation and specialist support
Rowley, 1992; Kirk, et al, 1997a; Kay, 2000
Ability and willingness to invest high amounts of time to support the child’s engagement in the activity
Yang et al., 1996; Kirk et al., 1997b; Kay, 2000; Holt and Morley, 2004
Parents as car owners
Rowley, 1992
Relatively small family size
English Sports Council, 1997
Two-parent family
Rowley, 1992; Kay, 2000
Attendance at Independent School
Rowley, 1992

Table: social and economic influences on youth talent development in sport (based on Bailey and Morley, 2006)

These, and other, factors show why any ambition of a fair and equitable sports development system in countries like the UK will always be difficult.

Think of these data this way: imagine a child who is talented in a sport; the absence of each factor listed in the table above becomes a barrier to that child's development NO MATTER HOW TALENTED, OR COMMITTED HE OR SHE IS.

Mr Gove's speech acknowledges the unfairness of the UK sports system.  But there is another side to the matter: it is also stupid.  It is stupid because participation and advancement in sport are always undermined by factors that have absolutely nothing to do with interest or ability.

So it is a refreshing to read Mr Gove's speech.  Perhaps it will bring about renewed awareness of the problems inherent with the UK sport system (and all other Western systems).  But this awareness needs to be coupled with an acknowledgement that simple solutions will not do.

We need a root and branch re-evaluation of the whole system, and a suite of solutions based on evidence.  And we are a long way from adopting that sort of approach in sport.

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How should we feel about the 'feelgood factor' at the London Olympics?

Just because you feel good

Doesn't make you right

Just because you feel good

Still want you here tonight.

Skunk Anansie, Hedonism

Prime Minister David Cameron thinks that the Olympics will create a legacy for the whole of the UK and not just London.  But, true to his earlier statements about importance of feelings and what-not, he warns that some of this legacy will be “hard to touch”.

The concept of 'hard to touch' is a strange one in an era of evidence-based policy, in which, in the words of one civil servant (presumably in thrall to the early philosophy of Wittgenstein), 'if I can't measure it, it don't exist'.  As you know, Wittgenstein abandoned his early ideas and adopted a broader view, and perhaps Mr Cameron has also been persuaded to take a more inclusive conception of reality.  Or maybe he is just worried that the only legacies of London 2012 will be immaterial.

Cameron's touchy-feeling tones when discussing the Olympics are not without precedent.  Consider this neat piece of verbal gymnastics from New Labour's Game Plan policy document, when it suggests that whilst the quantity of medals won at the Olympics is of great importance, one must not neglect the “quality” of a victory:
“‘Quality’ can be taken to be the extent to which victory produces the feelgood factor and national pride (as these are the main public benefits of high performance sport). If it is accepted that the more popular the sport, the greater the amount of feelgood which follows, then “quality” medals are those obtained in the most popular sports.”

So, according to Game Plan, the feelgood factor is a quality that can be created and changed in amount over time, and although it is admitted that it is “difficult to quantify”, there seems little room for doubting that it can have a powerful causal effect.

So what is the feelgood factor, then?  In case you thought it was something to do with happiness, or satisfaction, or well-being, or other philosophical fluff, the authors of Game Plan tell us it can all be explained with hard science:
“The biological explanation for the feelgood sensation is due to the release of endorphin in the brain. Endorphin has been called the ‘happy hormone’ and is released for different reasons, mainly physical, but also from laughter and joy, experienced by, for example, your team winning a match. Endorphin helps to reduce pain and has even been found to enhance treatment of many illnesses and diseases.”

Remember that this piece of pseudo-scientific woowoo comes from a government document; a document that is primarily concerned with justifying the future of sport in the UK, and the billions of pounds it says are needed to ensure it.

The feelgood factor has been repeatedly cited by governments and other agencies as one of the arguments for investment in elite sport in general, and the London Olympics.  In Game Plan, for example, it is listed as the first of three 'virtuous outcomes' of elite sporting success (the others are economic benefits and increased grass-roots participation).

If the Game Plan account is to be accepted, the feelgood factor really means 'improved mood'.  Perhaps you think that is a rather feeble justification for close-to £10,000,000,000,000 expenditure from London alone.

The weediness of the feelgood defence for investment in elite sport is partly due to the fact that we can easily think of more economical alternatives for generating good feelings and lifting our mood, from old episodes of Dad’s Army to Christmas with family and friends, to a smile from a secret crush.

There is a second, more fatal difficulty with the feelgood defence.  Improved mood following nice experiences is almost always short-lived.  Humans are adaptive creatures (like all creatures, in fact), and we readily adapt to changing environments.  So improved mood or satisfaction eventually results in a ‘hedonic treadmill’ by which the elevated state will not continue, even if the circumstances that promote it are maintained.

In other words, the good mood that we hope will come with the Olympic success will be short-lived, and will certainly last a lot less time than it will take to pay off the debt from the Games.

And let’s not forget that moods – like interest rates and skirt lengths – can go up as well as down.  John Steele, former CEO of UK Sport, spoke of the “the euphoria of a full Lord’s Cricket Ground … when a single Ashes test was won”.  But by the same logic, any of England’s subsequent defeats would seem destined to result in national despair.  What will happen to the feelgood factor if any of our Olympic hopefuls under-performs or is injured?

If success in elite sport (let alone second-hand, spectated success) has a potent positive effect on our mood, presumably failure has the opposite.  And if this is true, then this is a real cause for concern, as the nature of sports competition is that most players lose in the long-run.

These are not new arguments, nor particularly scholarly.  I am sure there are those among the governments and their policy makers who know that the public has been offered some pathetically weak rationale for their investment in the Games.  Personally, I’d prefer an honest explanation like, ‘Hey, it’s the Olympics.  We beat the French!’  I’d even take, ‘Look, I was a bit of a spotty geek at school; if we get the Olympics, I get to hang out with Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton!'  I just wish they didn’t treat us like fools.  It doesn't feel good at all.

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Are the London Olympic Games Really Such a Good Idea?

Discussions of the legacy of the London 2012 Olympics have been an ever-presented theme of commentary since Sebastian Coe first made it a distinguishing feature of the UK's bid to host the Games.

Coe said:
We can no longer take it for granted that young people will choose sport.  Some may lack the facilities.  Or the coaches and role models to teach them. Others, in an age of 24-hour entertainment and instant fame, may simply lack the desire.  We are determined that a London Games will address that challenge. So London's vision is to reach young people all around the world.  To connect them with the inspirational power of the Games. (Singapore, 6 July 2005)
Ever since these stirring claims were first made, advocates have turned to the L-word every time a shot-in-the-arm of enthusiasm has been needed.

It is not difficult to imagine why such support is needed.  Increasing numbers of commentators are questioning why London, a city with no obvious problem attracting tourists or business would, is to align itself with "the Olympic movement, a juggernaut controlled by an unaccountable sporting elite".

The original London costing was a little over £3 billion, and this grow exponentially up to £9 billion, before a new government insisted on a more suitably austere budget by changing virtually nothing (and actually doubly the funding for the 'Slumdog' opening ceremony).

The figures usually cited for the 2012 Games are misleading, as they do not include the substantial investment needed to transform the UK's elite framework to its current position as one of the leading half dozen sporting nations in the world.  In the four years prior to the Athens Games (2000) the UK government invested £70.1 million.  With a haul of 30 medals (9 Gold medals), which means that each medal cost the tax-payer about £2.3 million each.  For the Beijing Games investment increased to £75 million, and the total medals won increased to 47 (£1.6 million per medal).

The pattern of spending is revealing: the more money invested, the more medals Britain wins.  This has been likened to a type of ‘sporting arms race’, as governments in pursuit of more medals invest further into elite sport because rival nations do, which in turn ratchets up further investment.  So it was that UK Sport, the government agency responsible for distributing elite sport funding, was allocated £304.4 million for the Olympic funding cycle 2008-2012.

This figure is unprecedented, and signals a remarkable commitment to the cause of elite sport.


Even outside of difficult times, we might expect the case for such expenditure to be clear and compelling.  We sports nuts are often mocked for losing our sense of proportion, but even we would hesitate from ranking a few medals about hospitals and schools.

Well, some of us would.  There are others whose uncritical love of all things Olympic reminds of Alan Partridge's justification of the outrageous cost of building a model of his own house in BBC Television Centre by betting:
"If the British public were asked whether they would prefer an Alan Partridge Christmas special to 14 kidney dialysis machines, the response would be unanimous."

The clearest statement of justification for investment in elite sport in the UK comes from a document called Game Plan, which was published in 2002.  In fact, its defence is the only one I have been able to find from central government.  Perhaps no further statement is necessary, as Game Plan's claims continue to be made and - with a few exceptions - repeated by the media. 

It is claimed that elite sport produces a number of benefits to the wider population:
1. a ‘feelgood factor’ (among the population) and a positive ‘national image’ abroad;
2. economic benefits (from spending after events and so on);
3. as a driver for grass-roots participation.

As for the claim that Olympic Games make financial sense, for the moment I will simply cite the New York Times:
  • The 1992 Barcelona Games left Spain with a $6.1 billion debt;
  • Athens estimated that the 2004 Games would cost $1.6 billion, but in the end it was $16 billion;
  • It took Montreal nearly 30 years to pay off the $2.7 billion it owed after the 1976 Summer Games.

It doesn't follow that London will suffer a similar fate.  But it's worth bearing in mind, isn't it?

So, what about the other claims?  Will the Olympics develop positive feelings across the nation and around the world?  If it does, do these feelings balance the significant financial investment?

And will the Games drive up mass participation?

I will discuss these two vital questions in subsequent blog entries.  In the meantime, it would be fascinating to hear your thoughts.

Comments very welcome!

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Moving Towards Coaching Expertise

How do coaches progress from beginner to expert?

According to some frameworks, coaches pass through a series of stages or levels.  The knowledge and skills at each stage are, of course, more advanced.  But they are different in other ways.  In other words, the formal processes of coach education in most countries assumes punctuated development.

According to Pierre Trudel and Wade Gilbert, though, most coach education is based on an unchallenged presumption that coaches exist on a single continuum from novice to expert.  My own research, on behalf of the PGA and others, suggests that coaches tend to share this view.  Specifically, they conceive of their professional development in terms of a gradual improvement powered primarily through experience.

So, there are at least two views of the trajectory of coach education: stage-like or incremental.

If we assume for a moment that all coaches need some sort of professional development, the choice between these two positions is important.  If coach educators assume one stance, but their students another, frustration is almost inevitable.  Even if both parties agree, who’s to say they bet on the right theory?

Where do you stand on this matter?  What is your view?

To help you articulate your reflections, here are some questions for you to consider:

o  How might we distinguish between novices in a domain and so-called experts?
o  What types of experiences are associated with learning and progression towards expertise?
o  Is learning, either in general or specific domains like golf coaching, really stage-like?  In other words, are there discrete stages with their own distinctive characteristics?  Or is learning actually an incremental development, with any stages nearly arbitrary assessment points?
o  If learning is stage-like, how can these stages be differentiated?
o  What is the relationship between such stages and any associated teaching and assessment?

There is convincing evidence that novices (and for that matter competent performers) and experts respond to challenges in fundamentally different ways.  In addition to obvious differences in terms of the amount of experience, research suggests that expert coaches deal with the challenges of their work in qualitatively different ways than their less skilled colleagues.

The influential report How People Learnidentifies key principles of expert knowledge and their potential implications for learning and instruction.

o   Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.
o   Experts have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organised in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter.
o   Experts' knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or proposition, but instead reflect contexts of applicability, so that the knowledge is set within the context of certain circumstances.
o   Experts are able to retrieve important aspects of their knowledge flexibly and with little attentional effort.
o   Experts have varying degrees of flexibility in their approach to new situations.

To what extent are findings like these reflected and used in coach education programmes?  If it is true that expert coaches operate in qualitatively different ways than others, how is such expertise assessed?

The evidence from research seems quite clear that expert coaches are not just competent coaches with a lot more experience.  They coach in essentially different ways than others.

The question still remains:  beyond bureaucratic expedience, are there genuine reasons to distinguish intermediate phases between coach novice and expert?  This is not just an academic matter.  If it is the case that there are distinctive stages, then practical implications follow.  For example, different stages of learning suggest different methods of teaching and different methods of assessment, don’t they?

The most influential model of expertise outside of sport is probably that of the American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus.  His model was based upon detailed observation and experiments with a range of contexts, including nursing, chess players, aeroplane pilots and car drivers.  Dreyfus identified five stages of development towards expertise.  Each of these stages has its associated components, perspectives, decision-making and commitment.

Stage of Expertise
At novice stage it is all about following the rules.  The novice thinks in terms of rules but has no context or ability to modify rules.  At this stage the energy is focusing on following the rules rather than thinking.
Advance Beginner
This stage is still rule based but rules are now situational based.  So instead of blindly using the rules at this stage you start using a set of rule in an A situation and different set of rules in B situation.
At this stage you start to realize that performing this skill has more to it than just following rules or changing rules according to situation.  You start to see patterns and principles and start realizing rules are not absolute and they are guidelines or rule of thumb.  You start performing the skills more by experience and active decision-making rather than strict rules.
At this stage you start thinking in terms of complete picture.  You develop a perspective about your area of skill or focus.
At this stage it is intuitively appropriate action without being conscious of you skills.

Dreyfus's model is clearly useful, and it is quite easy to see how it might be translated into coach education frameworks.

How does the Dreyfus model relate to your own existing coach education frameworks?

However, one potential weakness of Dreyfus model – a surprising one for a philosopher – is that it does not properly specify the nature or type of the knowledge acquired at the different stages.  On other words, the model is explicit about the development of skilled performance, but does not really tell us much about what is being learned.

From the perspective of coaching the most useful attempt so far to extend Dreyfus’ account to include proper reference to knowledge is that of Paul Schempp and his colleagues.  They settled on a four-staged framework - beginner - competent - proficient – expert - to describe the developmental stages of expert sports coaches.  This work identifies skills, knowledge, characteristics and perspectives that are common to coaches at each stage of development.

So where does this discussion leave us?

It seems to me that in this case there are lots of reasons for thinking of coach development as stage-like.  Not the least among these reasons is the rather substantial empirical base supporting the view that there are qualitative differences between different stages of development.

If this is true, it follows that professional learning is far more complex than often thought.  Not only must the type of learning be considered when thinking about pedagogy, but it is also important to think about the different outcomes desired.  In other words, the teaching methods used ought to be appropriate to the phase of learning reached by the learner.  This need not be the case if learning were linear and continuous, apart from a commonsensical differentiation in terms of, maybe, the amount of the teaching.  But with a stage-based model of learning, coach educators are forced to think in terms of discrete types of learning experience for the different stages of learning.

And, if it is accepted that the development of coaching expertise is somewhat stage-like, then it follows that different teaching and assessment strategies need to be used to capture the different types of learning and competences being exhibited.

So, the question of whether coach development is incremental or stage-like is important practical consequences.  Why?  Simply because assumptions about the character of professional development track into decisions about frameworks and awards.

Remember the Cheshire Cat …

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly … ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’  ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.  ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.  ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.  ‘So long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.  ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’ (Lewis Carroll, 1865, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’)

If we are going to escape cycles of reproducing traditional approaches to learning and education, we will need to reflect on our assumptions and the ways they translate to practice.

Which way should we go from here?

Further Reading
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L. and Cocking, R. (Eds)(2000) How People Learn: Brain, mind, experience and school.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Dreyfus, H. (1992) What Computers Still Can't Do?  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ford, P. Coughlan, E. and Williams, M. (2009) The Expert-Performance Approach as a Framework for Understanding and Enhancing Coaching Performance, expertise and Learning.  International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 4, 3, pp. 451-463.
Schempp, P., McCullick, B. and Mason, I. (2006) The development of expert coaching in R. L. Jones (Ed.), The sports coach as educator: reconceptualising sports coaching.  London: Routledge.
Trudel, P. and Gilbert, W. (2006) Coaching and coach education (pp. 516-539).  In D. Kirk, D. Macdonald and M. O'Sullivan (Eds) The Handbook of Physical Education.  London: Sage Publications.

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