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Research shows you’re better Connected

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Online learning

An in-depth nine-month research study conducted in partnership with Hull University has shown that being a member of ConnectedCoaches can make you a better coach.

The purpose of the project was to investigate the benefit of deliberately designed and delivered learning, which included coaches’ engagement with ConnectedCoaches, on the development and subsequent behaviour and practice of coaches.

The journeys of three coaches were tracked, and their progress monitored and analysed.

Meet the coaches

Dan Watson

Dan (pictured) coaches under 10s grass-roots football and has an FA Level 1 qualification and four years’ experience coaching in recreational club-based environments.

He wanted his players to develop their decision-making skills in games, and so wanted to develop his coaching practice in a manner that enabled his players to do this.

Daisy Marriott

Daisy (pictured), who was still at college studying for her A Levels at the time of the project, coaches 5-18 year olds at a gymnastics club. She is a Level 1 coach with more than three years’ experience. The data collected in the study related to her work with the 7-9 years’ intermediate group.

She felt she was controlling the learning environment too much and wanted to reduce the level of direction and advice she was providing her participants – to enable them to have greater autonomy and control over their learning. 

Rebecca is an FA Level 2 and ECB Level 1 qualified coach who works full-time for the community department of a professional football club and coaches multi-skills to children aged 9-10 years as part of their primary school physical education lessons.

She considered she was spending too much time attempting to control children and not enough time engaging them in active play. Consequently, she wanted to use the ConnectedCoaches site to acquire behaviour management strategies.

Power in numbers

The findings of the funded study concluded that an online community can serve as a useful tool to assist coaches on their wider learning journey.

The coaches’ use of ConnectedCoaches:

  • Encouraged thinking and reflection and gave the coaches a sense of empowerment.
  • Provided greater autonomy of choice over what they learned and when they learnt it.
  • This afforded them the opportunity to develop at their own pace.
  • They valued being in control of their thinking and being co-creators as opposed to recipients of knowledge, which is a common criticism of more inflexible formal learning settings – where a one-size-fits-all approach often fails to meet coaches’ individual learning requirements.
  • They enjoyed being given a platform to discuss issues most important to their coaching practice, and having the option of cherry-picking content appropriate to their needs.
  • They were able to access a range of learning resources (blogs, discussion boards, infographics, videos) on a wide range of topics that helped deepen their coaching knowledge.
  • They had the option of personally connecting with individual coaches – this large support network acting as a crucial aid to reflective practice.

Its findings suggest that, when it comes to continuous professional development and optimal learning methods, coaching’s call to action should be more interaction, and that there really is power in numbers.

Leading the study was principal investigator Dr Ed Cope, Lecturer in Sports Coaching and Performance at Hull University (now the Football Association’s Learning Design and Development Manager).

He wrote in his research report:

‘It is through social interaction with other coaches that there is the potential for coaches to more critically examine their coaching beliefs, behaviours and practices (Stozkowski & Collins, 2014) that otherwise would remain untouched and below the level of coaches’ consciousness (Cushion, 2013).

‘It would seem then, that providing opportunities for coaches to engage and interact with other coaches is necessary if learning is to occur.’

The research could have benefits for coaching, and ultimately the overall health of the industry, as there now exists some evidence to show that belonging to an online coaching community serves as a valuable personal development tool.

By facilitating learning through the steady acquirement and sharing of knowledge and ideas, supported by reflective conversations – either internally with other members, or externally with club colleagues, mentor or lecturer – this can impact positively on coaches’ subsequent behaviour and practice.

Three is the magic number

This article represents a condensed summary of Dr Cope’s project. The full research paper, including in-depth analysis and evaluation of data, can be viewed as an attachment at the end of this blog.

The three coaches enlisted for the study were asked to become members of the ConnectedCoaches community.

‘As is common with this type of research, the number of coaches involved in this study was low, which limits the potential to generalise findings to the general coaching population,’ he explained.

‘However, [despite] its inability to generalise, it is as much a strength of this approach, as the in-depth nature of the data generated comes from using mixed methods and multiple sources… it is the case in any research that a trade-off has to be made between a high sample size and generating a depth of data.’

Data analysis

Data for the study was generated by implementing a learning intervention that comprised the following steps:

  • An informal session observation and follow-up discussion to define the areas of their coaching they considered they needed to improve.
  • Three pre-intervention video-recorded sessions each.
  • Background interviews were held to provide a context for all the data that was compiled and to help with the data’s subsequent analysis.
  • Coaches were expected to engage with the site by joining conversations and reading blogs.
  • Coaches engaged in reflective conversations with Dr Cope based on the content they had accessed.
  • Coaches were interviewed again at the end of the nine-month study and asked how they thought the ConnectedCoaches site had contributed to their learning.
  • Three post-intervention video-recorded sessions each were conducted to enable changes in coaches’ behaviour and practice to be identified.

A results-driven business

The use of both qualitative information (easily observable results) and quantitative information (numerical data) allowed Dr Cope to gauge how useful the coaching trio found ConnectedCoaches as a learning tool and to appraise the impact it had on changes to their behaviour and practice.

As Dr Cope summarised: ‘It is well acknowledged that learning to coach is a predominantly social process and that drawing upon the support and expertise of respected others appears intuitively beneficial to learning.’

More in-depth analysis of how using the site had a positive impact on the coaches’ primary and secondary behaviours is provided in the three follow-up case studies and accompanying videos.

Forming close connections

Accessing ConnectedCoaches can serve as one of the professional development tools available to coaches to assist them on their wider learning journey.

But it is not enough to simply look and learn, coaches must also look and reflect and look to collaborate to get the full benefit of ConnectedCoaches as a valuable source of online learning.

A vibrant community coaching platform is not DIY learning as, in the case of ConnectedCoaches, there are literally thousands of potential mentors out their willing to lend their support.

It is true that Rebecca, Dan and Daisy valued having access to Dr Cope as a co-learner.

By deliberately positioning himself in that role, Rebecca said it gave her ‘a greater sense of direction’ and helped to ‘focus her thinking’.

But those who do not have a lecturer or club coaching mentor to act as co-learner need not have any concerns that the efficiency of their learning is being diluted, as this is the added bonus of ConnectedCoaches: members are ready, willing and able to fill that role of ‘critical friend’, as Dr Cope refers to it, who are able to challenge coaches to reflect on their learning and offer advice upon request.

The ethos of ConnectedCoaches, after all, is to simulate coach-to-coach mentoring and solve problems together for the benefit of the wider coaching community. And it is able to do that through the power of numbers and a strong community spirit.

Spread the word

The results show that ConnectedCoaches can play an important part in contributing positively towards coach learning and personal development.

 UK Coaching Chief Executive Mark Gannon said:

‘ConnectedCoaches was created to help those who coach learn from peers and the wider coaching community. Many coaches across physical activity and sport can learn from one another but needed a better way to connect and do so. Now that we have evidence to corroborate this we really want to use the findings in this study to promote and circulate the message that sharing, swapping, supporting and connecting leads to more empowered, more inspired coaches at every level, and we want to facilitate this for all coaches.

‘At UK Coaching we know that coaching has much wider benefits on society, including physical and mental wellbeing, individual, social and economic development. Ultimately, coaching can help and inspire people to achieve their goals.

‘We envisage a community where coaches continuously build and inspire a deeper understanding of coaching, which in turn builds their confidence. When coaches grow in confidence, they are always challenging themselves to improve and achieve amazing things for the people they coach.’

Has being a member of ConnectedCoaches helped you? In what ways?

Next Steps

Find out more about each coach’s journey by reading their case study and watching the accompanying videos.

Download the full research report. Please note all issues highlighted in the “barriers to engagement in the CC site” have subsequently been addressed. Also, please note, within the research, Dan is referenced as Nathan, Daisy as Elena and Rebecca is Alice.

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