The coaching process in professional youth football : an ethnography of practice
Coaching and the coaching process are characterised by a number of complex interactions between the coach, the player and the club environment. Yet understanding of the coaching process as a complex, holistic process remains limited. There are 'gaps' in our existing knowledge, particularly in comprehending the dynamic relationship between the coach, player and club environment, and in understanding the implications of these interactions for practice and the coaching process. This research sought to examine and represent the complexity of the coach-player-club environment interface, and to understand some of the ways that they interact to construct and impinge upon the coaching process. The research was conducted on the premise that a sound understanding of the complexity of the coaching process drawing upon empirical research, rather than idealistic 'models', can inform the future development of coaching practice and coach education. Within the framework of ethnography, the research took place over one season and used participant observation, unstructured interviews, semi-structured interviews and group interviews in one Football Association, Premier League Academy. The aim was to explore the coaching process and practical coaching context, as played out in the day-to-day experiences of coaches and youth team players. In addition to the main case-study club, semi-structured interviews were conducted with five coaches working with youth teams at other clubs. The research used concepts from grounded theory and also the work of Pierre Bourdieu to analyse and present the data. In its findings, the study depicts a coaching process that is interdependent and interrelated and highlights complexity in each of the following elements: the club, sessions and games, players and coaches, relationships, and 'attitude'. The dynamism within and between each of these elements is illustrated in the ways that each can facilitate, constrain or even prevent 'effective' practice and the operation of the coaching process. Moreover, the research demonstrates the powerful nature of tradition and culture, highlighting their pervasive influence upon the coaching process and coaching practice. Life at the case study club was characterised by authoritarianism and pressure, and was relentlessly directed towards winning. This backdrop strongly influenced the relationship between coaches and players, and impacted upon the coaching process. Importantly, the research presents evidence to suggest that coach education may be a relatively 'low impact' endeavour in comparison to the coaches' other experiences which are presented as a significant force shaping both coaches' development and practice. To harness this experience and develop coach education, this research suggests that the governing body could consider embracing mentoring as part of coach education and, as part of this, coaches should be encouraged to engage in critical reflection in order to understand how cultural and other forces shape their practice. However, for mentoring to succeed, it must be grounded in a thorough understanding of the culture of football clubs, and the ways coaches draw upon their life experiences in football to direct their own practice and judge the practices and 'worth' of others. Importantly, this research begins to answer some of the criticisms levelled at previous research by examining interaction and complexity within the coaching process in-situ. It highlights the problematic, interrelated and interdependent nature of relationships that construct and influence the coaching process and coaching practice. Importantly, it highlights the important and under-researched link between coaching practice, the coaching process and the immediate and wider social context of football.