Sunday, May 9, 2021

My Coaching Framework - Time for an Update

In February 2018, I wrote the first version of my personal coaching framework. At that time I was beginning my graduate studies in education, specifically learning science and human development. Now that I have earned my degree, it is time to reflect on what I have learned in my studies and apply those lessons to my coaching framework.

One important lesson I learned reinforced my commitment to "inspiration". In 2003, Cushion and colleagues wrote that "professional development is not something that can be delivered" but should be a joint effort of the teachers and the learners (Cushion, et al., 2003, p. 222). I am more confident in my belief that teaching is a collaborative effort so I choose to foster a desire to learn and improve in those I work with.

Another important lesson for me has been researching some theoretical underpinnings for my belief in the importance of developing a personal framework. Grecic and Collins have written about the "epistemological chain" as a means by which coaches can develop their coaching philosophies (Grecic & Collins, 2013). I presented a webinar through the AVCA related to this subject and I am in the process of reworking it to focus more on epistemology and how it affects our coaching. I wrote a short blog post about that journal article too.

To sum up, there are three main factors that drive this reformulation of my coaching framework.
  1. It is important to teach and coach with authenticity, coaching in a way that is true to who I believe I am.
  2. What and how I teach should reflect what I believe about learning, knowledge, and those whom I teach.
  3. Who I am as a teacher, what I teach, and how I teach should all continue to evolve as I continue to learn and grow.

With that, here is the first part of that 2018 post. I have added a few references in bold (except for the opening sentence, which is bold in the original post).

I want to inspire coaches to become mindful, purposeful, and proactive in their coaching and help them create and develop the tools to do so.

That's a mission statement and while it can look good as a tagline, I believe that much more needs to be explained and, more importantly, done in order to give it life. There is a framework that gives this statement meaning and purpose.

The three key words in that statement are mindful, purposeful, and proactive. Those words can be interpreted in different ways and can have different inferences attached. This is what those three words mean to me in the context of coaching and learning.
  • Mindful: engaged with and aware of self, surroundings, and situation (without judgement to gain wisdom)
  • Purposeful: possessing clear goals, meanings, and intentions
  • Proactive: creating situations that move towards goals and anticipate future needs and changes
A brief addendum to the idea of mindfulness is that being "engaged with and aware of" should come without judgement as often as possible. The less time we spend getting caught up in good/bad/right/wrong terminology, the easier it becomes to gain understanding and wisdom. (While I am still a fan of teaching mindfulness, I also think we need to put it within a larger framework.)

Helping others to be purposeful requires that I be purposeful myself. To that end, I want to illustrate the framework that I am using to exist and function in a teaching/learning environment. I recognize that there are different frameworks that can be constructed and I encourage you to create your own after engaging in research and introspection. A deep knowledge and incorporation of this framework allows all that I do in teaching and learning to flow from it and retain coherency. I believe that this coherency is perhaps the most important manifestation of purposefulness.

I believe that being purposeful and proactive go hand in hand. The work of creating a rich and coherent framework must come before I apply it to my coaching. I think that I must then help the athletes to understand the framework I am creating around and with them. The other end of the spectrum is what I think of as "Titanic coaching", where coach and athlete don't know what they are trying to sail around until after they run into it. (This is a form of reactive coaching, which I'll have more to say about in the future.) While the path of learning may not be straight, we can still define that path clearly, which will help us be more efficient and successful in our coaching and learning.

So the most engaging, meaningful, and productive coaching and learning I can do is a product of the deliberate creation of a framework and the sharing of that framework with those I teach and learn with. By sharing and modeling this work, we encourage those around us to adopt similar efforts. (The deliberate creation of a framework may be the most important preparation we do for coaching and teaching.)

Here is the second half of my original post. Parts that I am changing are stricken through or in italics. My comments and additions appear below.
Here are the pillars of my personal coaching framework:
  • Growth Mindset: Almost everything we do is a skill or is composed of skills rather than fixed talents or abilities. We can improve our skills through deliberate practice.
  • Proactive Thinking/Focus Cycle: Our typical thought process is reactive, which leaves us feeling as though we do not have as much control over our thoughts and actions as we really do. Shifting to a proactive thinking cycle frees us to perform closer to our current potential.
  • Mindfulness and Single Item Focus: Being aware of the skills we are performing as well as how we would like to perform them, often to the exclusion of other things, helps us to clarify our performance as well as to shape how we want to perform in the future.
  • Shared Language and Vision: As coaches, we are at our best when we fully engage our athletes. To fully engage an athlete, we must deliberately work on building a language that is understood by both. Further, we must use that language to articulate what we want to accomplish together.
  • Coherency and Consistency: We are more likely to understand and trust people who are clear and consistent in their intentions and actions. To more effectively teach, I must always work to keep an athlete's trust by being constant in a sea of change.
Over the years that I have taught, coached, and learned I have read plenty about each of those subjects. So far, these are the books that I consider to be foundational to what I believe and seek to put into practice. While there are many excellent books that also explore the same topics, the books below represent either the closest to source materials or have been the most impactful that I have encountered to date.
Now for the fun part, expressing how my thinking has changed in the last three years.
First, responding to the pillars above:
  • I am uncomfortable with my reliance on growth mindset. While how I teach still relies on considering most traits to be changeable, I don't regularly use the term "growth mindset" as I teach. The state of the research on growth mindset is a bit mixed at this point. Some researchers, particularly Dweck, Yeager, Paunesku, and Walton, find growth mindset interventions to be successful in many classroom settings. Some researchers, like Li and Bates and Sisk, et al., question some of the findings of the growth mindset researchers. My relatively uninformed opinion is that the research will eventually come down in favor of growth mindset but I also think that we will learn a great deal about how to effectively implement it on both large and small scales.
  • I still support a proactive thinking cycle for athletes and coaches but my implementation of it is changing as a result of my move towards an ecological dynamics-based approach to skill acquisition.
  • My approach to mindfulness is shifting for a few reasons. As I referenced above, mindfulness means something different to me now than it did three years ago. I do still find simple mindfulness to be valuable but I no longer agree with how I framed it above. First, there is a great deal of research about external versus internal focus of attention in motor learning. In my original post, I framed mindfulness as focusing on internal states and I would rather have athletes focused externally instead. There is a metacognitive aspect to mindfulness that I think is important because I think that we need to be aware of our thoughts and emotions since these can affect our physical performance. The most important shift for me is from internal to external focus of attention.
  • I still believe that shared understanding is vital to communication between teachers and learners. I overlooked an important aspect of this shared understanding though. If we are to truly share understanding, then the teacher must be open to not only listening to their learners but to incorporating some of their perspectives into the shared environment. There must be a collaborative relationship rather than a top-down flow in which the learner and teacher share understanding because the teacher establishes what is to be understood and how it is to be understood. This is based primarily on my reading of self determination theory as well as other learning theories that incorporate aspects of autonomy.
  • As I emphasized in the opening of this post, I believe that my best teaching comes when I am more authentic than consistent. I think that is a better way of framing the consistency that I wrote about as a pillar. I think that learners can trust teachers that are consistent because the learners come to know what to expect from their teachers. I think that this is better than being inconsistent, but I think that being authentic is more enabling and supportive to learners than just being consistent. I should be consistent in my commitment to their learning and development and showing them that is what makes me authentic.
Second, responding to the books listed above.
  •  I crossed out the motor learning text because my thinking has been greatly complicated by ecological dynamics and the constraints-led approach to coaching. I think that it is still important to learn about the information processing approach to skill acquisition (which is what most would consider to be "classic" motor learning) but there is much more out there for us to consider.
  • To that end, I want to add The Constraints-Led Approach: Principles for Sports Coaching and Practice Design by Ian Renshaw, Keith Davids, Daniel Newcombe, and Will Roberts
  • I crossed out the two USOC papers, even though I see value in them, because I see some problems with each. After reflecting on it further, I think that the ADM does not do enough to actively discourage an emphasis on competing at younger ages. This is something that is much clearer in Istvan Balyi's Long Term Athlete Development model upon which the ADM is based. The ADM doesn't address competing at the younger ages, allowing for American coaches to continue to stress winning, even at youth and grassroots levels. The Quality Coaching Framework places an emphasis on "procedural knowledge, the skills, technique, and tactics of the game" (Cushion, et al., 2013, p. 220). As I wrote in the opening to this post, I think that a complete framework needs to include views on epistemology and what one believes about oneself and not just what one believes about the game.
Third, I want to add two more books.
Last, I want to add new pillars.
  • Ecological dynamics and CLA may not yet be the complete answer but they are valuable, athlete-centered ways to coach. These frameworks invite coaches to become designers of learning environments instead of communicators of knowledge.
  • Learning, especially in team sports, is situated. It happens in the context of athletes, activities, and the world. It is not a matter of what we know but of what we do. Coaching means creating opportunities for athletes to demonstrate their learning through actions rather than words.
  • Less telling, more asking. I need to stop assuming I know what an athlete is seeing, feeling, and thinking. Also, because of the embodied nature of learning, I need to understand that athletes might not be able to tell me what they just did. But I can ask them questions that require actions instead of words, e.g. "can you do that again?"

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Academic Quick Hit: The Epistemological Chain: Practical Applications in Sports - Grecic and Collins 2013

Where I attempt to give a quick summary and opinion on an academic paper that connects to teaching, learning, and/or sport.
Why I think this paper matters:
The authors encourage coaches to explore their personal beliefs about knowing and learning in order to know themselves and their craft better and, therefore, teach others more effectively. This exploration results in a knowledge of one's own epistemological chain (EC) that gives a coach a framework upon which to build a coaching philosophy. This framework is necessary for coaches to conscientiously and consistently practice their craft.
Grecic, D., & Collins, D. (2013). The Epistemological Chain: Practical Applications in Sports. Quest, 65(2), 151–168.

Type of Paper:
I don't have a clean category for this paper. It definitely is not an empirical study and, even though it relies on a great deal of previous work, it is not a critical literature review either. To quote from the abstract, "This article highlights the role of personal epistemology in decision-making and proposes the construct of an epistemological chain (EC) to support this process in the domain of sports coaching."
- Epistemology refers to what knowledge is and how one acquires it. This paper focused on personal epistemological beliefs, which the authors describe as "beliefs about knowing and learning that reflect views on what knowledge is, how it is gained, and the limits and criteria for determining knowledge" (p. 152).
- In this framework, epistemological beliefs vary along a continuum, from naïve to sophisticated. A naïve coach sees knowledge as simple, clear, specific, unchanging, and handed down rather than developed from reason. A sophisticated coach sees knowledge as complex, uncertain, able to be learned gradually, and able to be self-constructed by the learner (p. 152)
- "For the purposes of this article we define the EC as the interrelated/connected decisions made that are derived from high-level personal beliefs about knowledge and learning. As such, the EC should be apparent through the coach’s planning processes adopted, the creation of the learning environment, the operational actions taken, and the coach’s review and assessment of performance" (p. 153, emphasis added).
- The authors distinguish between instruction (transmission of knowledge and information) and education (facilitation of learning) and point out that this distinction is consistent with a coach-centered/athlete-centered dichotomy of coaching (p. 154).
- They go on to describe how an EC operates in sport coaching in the specific areas of planning, decision making, and critical reflection (pp. 156-159). These descriptions serve to show how viewing these areas through a lens of beliefs about knowledge and learning can have profound impacts on how coaches plan, make decisions, and reflect.
- "If coaches were made aware of the foundations on which their own personal epistemology was based, they would be able to make more conscious selections of their knowledge sources" (p. 160). This is to say that knowing what one currently believes about learning has an impact on how one seeks out new sources from which to learn in the future. Coaches would better recognize which sources of information would be more or less beneficial to them.
- The authors discuss how an EC can serve as an analytical tool to stimulate dialogue and further understanding between coaches. This would benefit coaches by moving discussions away from being "based on the drills used and on the successfulness of their athletes’ performance of such drills" and, instead, focus on analyzing philosophies and how those influence long-term coach and athlete development (p. 161).

What I'm left wondering:
- I felt like the description of a naïve coach (Figure 1, p. 155) creates a straw man that no coach would see themself as. What are the nuances of the "continuum" the authors mention? Rather than only describe the two extremes of the continuum, how might a real, complex, and complicated coach embody their EC? (I am pretty sure that the answer lies in two other papers written by Grecic, Collins and another author around the same time.)
- The descriptions of interactions with athletes suggest work in individual sports. How might the ECs of team sport coaches differ from those of individual sport coaches?
- Given the strong history of coaching knowledge being handed down as the authors describe, it would seem that most coaches would have a more naïve EC. Since this affects how coaches learn and what they see as sources of learning, how do naïve coaches move towards sophistication?
- How might coach education and development programs encourage the discussion and development of personal epistemological beliefs?

Road Trips (and Development) Aren't All About the Destination

Let's say you and I lived in Omaha, Nebraska and one day I woke up and wanted to go on a road trip. "Let's go west!" I cry...