2 Analysing coaches: structuring the observation process
Using a form with pre-populated categories or criteria is a common tool used in observational situations to help structure and collect information. But how does using an observation form assist you in your evaluation of coaches and your subsequent feedback to them?
In the next activity, you will assess how the difference between using and not using an observation form can determine your observation and judgement. It is rather an unusual video example since it uses a coaching session in a sport many people have attempted: the sport of snooker. The fly-on-the-wall video shows a snooker coach working with a player. As such, you are observing only a tiny fragment of the coach’s practice, so it will be difficult to draw definitive conclusions.
Activity 2 Observation: just watching and listening
Snooker is a sport that perhaps does not come readily to mind from a coaching perspective. In this video you will watch an experienced snooker coach working with a player on their stance and cueing action.
- Watch the video and answer the questions below – assume that this is not an observation for a coaching qualification, but instead the type of observation you might undertake in a mentoring role:
- How did you record your observations, what did you notice and how did you decide what to watch and why?
- Are there any questions you would like to ask the coach after the session has finished?
- Now watch the video again but this time use this 11-point observation form to assist you while you are observing the coach in action. This observation form is a shortened version of those that might be typically used to observe coaches.
Using the observation form to help, reflect on how you observed anything different between the two occasions: with and without the form. The following prompts may be useful:
- Did your observational focus change because of the categories on the observation form?
- Did you prefer just watching the video without the form, perhaps making your own notes, or did you prefer having the form present?
- How might your feedback to the coach have changed based on using or not using the observation form?
- On both occasions did you have sufficient information to undertake an effective observation? Did you know the decisions the coach had taken in planning the practices? Do you know their beliefs about what coaching means to them and how this is informing their behaviours? Did you know enough about the coaching relationship between the coach and the player?
- Without using a form it is likely that you still structured your observation by making decisions about what to focus on and why. Perhaps these decisions were sub-conscious and perhaps you based your observation on what you expected to see or want you wanted to see and your ideas and beliefs about ‘good coaching practice’.
- Finding out why the coach has organised practice in the way they have, and knowing the underlying decisions is important. Without that knowledge it may be hard to undertake an effective observation. Shaping what you observe is about understanding the coach and their decision making as well as what you actually see.
- It is likely that you might have used the observation form in a different way to other coach developers. Perhaps you used the categories as ‘prompts’ that informed your observation, whereas others may have used the categories more literally. Each coach developer may use an observation form in different ways to support their observation and this can be often be linked to their experience and the context of the observation. If, for example, it was an assessment the categories may have been used more rigidly and directed the gaze of the coach developer more intensely towards the behaviours represented by the categories.
- Any feedback that you might give the coach will be influenced by how you have watched and observed the coach. If you watched without the presence of the form your feedback may be quite different to what you might provide had you used the form.
Using a coach observation form to highlight areas of strength and opportunities for learning and development is widespread. However, the extent to which the method is significantly better than just observing a coach and allowing your eyes to see without the categories and influence of a form is debatable. Perhaps without a form it gives you more opportunity to notice more and direct your sight on what the participants are doing rather than the coach, a point identical to the one raised by Didau in Activity 1.
Using and reflecting on different approaches to observing coaches is an integral part of the process of becoming more proficient in watching coaching practice. It is also important to inform the observation process by asking the coach about their ideas and beliefs about coaching and practice design. What you observe is the product of a coach’s decision-making process which is then contributing towards their behaviours. For this reason, undertaking observation might best be started once you have developed your relationship with the coach and understood their approach to coaching in more detail.
Observing coaches can be a subjective process that embodies your own ideas, beliefs and ideas about coaching practice. In the next section you see how use of systematic observation tools can potentially overcome some of this subjective bias and potentially produce a more informed view of a coach’s practice and their behaviours.