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?

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