Coaching others to coach
Coaching others to coach

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3 Systematic observation

Systematic observation, if undertaken rigorously, is a more methodical form of observation that measures coach behaviour through a standardised and consistent approach. It is often used in research to provide numerical evidence (often percentages) for the analysis of coaching behaviours.

A drawing of a clipboard with checklist, a pen and a stopwatch.
Figure 4 The systematic observation of coach behaviours requires a rigorous, methodical and consistent approach

One of the most popular methods is the Arizona State University Observation Instrument (ASUOI) developed by Lacy and Darst (1984). This has fourteen categories that describe different coaching behaviours. For example, here are two coach behaviour categories from the ASUOI:

  • Questioning: Any question to athletes concerning strategies or techniques
  • Praise: Verbal or non-verbal compliments, statements or signs of acceptance.

Imagine using this with the snooker coach (Video 1), noting the number of instances when the coach asked questions or gave praise. Another approach is to time how long a coach is using these behaviours for. The final output for such analysis is a profile of the proportions of different behaviours being used by the coach under observation.

In the following activity you hear academic Chris Cushion discussing systematic observation.

Activity 3 Systematic observation: how aware are coaches of their behaviour?

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

In Video 2 Chris Cushion is presenting at the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA, Ireland) coach development conference. Turn your attention to the bullet point on ‘Interventions’ which is what Cushion is addressing as the video begins.

Answer this question: how aware are coaches of their coaching behaviours? For example, a coach might claim, ‘I use a bit of questioning but a lot more silence’. This could be tested with systematic observation – so if the coach demonstrates questioning behaviours = <5% of the time and silence = 10–20%, then this coach would be accurate and aware of their own behaviour.

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Cushion explains how systematic observation if done well can be useful for establishing a baseline of coaching behaviours, yet he explains that eight out of ten coaches are not aware of the proportions of their behaviours in sessions. Coaches ‘talk the talk’ about what they do but are not accurate in describing it; he recommends asking athletes or using systematic observation as a far more reliable measure of what happens in sessions.

Observation instruments such as the ASUOI, while primarily a research tool, can also be used by coach developers to support development. Their use will give you a different type of information – not necessarily better information – but just as an observation form guides your observation and what you are looking for, so too does a numerically based instrument. Systematic observation can, however, provide the basis for a good conversation starter and it can be hard to argue against the reality of the data produced. But again, its success depends on the rigour and accuracy of the initial observation and collection of data – this has to be systematic and rigorous.

Perhaps one of the most important considerations in any observation process is setting up and planning the observation and this is what you turn to next.

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