Authors: David Grecic

Corresponding Author:
David Grecic PhD
Greenbank 253
Victoria Street
Preston, UK

David Grecic is a principal lecturer in the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Central Lancashire.  He is Chair of UCLan Sport, through which he offers sport and physical education consultancy for a range of professional sports teams, schools and colleges in the UK and overseas. 

Organizational Learning Chains – The Epistemological Chain and the Management of Sporting Talent Pathways


The Epistemological ‘Learning’ Chain (EC) construct of decision making in sport as proposed by Grecic and Collins (1) has been investigated in various domains at the micro level of player and coach interaction.  The EC construct is now extended and related to the meso and macro levels of sport. The sporting talent pathway, its construction, development and performance management, is used as the focus on which to base discussion. An organizational EC is presented for consideration with sophisticated and naive epistemological exemplars.  The operation of an organizational EC within the sporting talent pathway is then explored. Finally, recommendations are made in order to extend the scope, value, and impact of future EC research.

Keywords: Sports Organizations, Performance, Talent Development


What do we know about learning chains in sport?

Previously Grecic and Collins (1) proposed a decision-making framework to support coaches and administrators in sport referred to as the Epistemological Chain.  Here they defined the EC as “the interrelated/connected decisions made that are derived from high-level personal beliefs about knowledge and learning” (1.p.153).  They proposed that this decision-making chain has merit and sporting application across various levels and domains.  The EC has subsequently been investigated in a  number of empirical studies (2-6) and has been utilized to structure applied research projects (51), to inform coaching workshops and seminars (3, 7-13), and to shape analysis of the coach player relationships with regards to skill acquisition (14-15).

Following six years of the framework’s development and testing it seems pertinent to pause and reflect on the findings thus far.  In summary the theory of an EC framework at the micro level has been constructed, investigated, and then crystallized / triangulated from different perspectives.  This has provided an insight into how the EC is operationalized, applied, and interpreted by both coaches and players.  However, holding true to the researcher’s underlying philosophy of pragmatism, one had to consider where this research should go next and what impact it could have on sports coaching practice.  To start the reflections the researcher first asked, what is now known about the belief systems of sports coaches, their associated decisions, and their impact on players?  There is evidence that an EC construct exists which can be used to guide coaches (16); that this EC is observable in practice (4); and that the EC can have positive or negative effects on the player/coach interaction (5).  But what does this really mean and what impact does the EC have for decision making in wider sporting environments?  In initial work (1) the potential for an intra-coach EC was outlined and it was also proposed that the EC may be of great benefit when embedded into sport systems such as coach education and training, recruitment, and system management.  The choice for this future research therefore was to further explore the EC’s use and impact within sport.  From the data collected so far, there seemed to be on offer a direct choice between exploring the EC’s application and utility for coach education, or to look at its potential wider utility within a sport organization and the management of these bodies’ playing and coaching systems. 

Where next for the EC – a performance management tool?

Due to limitations regarding access to sports accredited coach education and training awards the choice was an easy one.  As it is not possible to control the process or context of how the EC would be introduced, taught, and then applied within coaching certification levels, it would be extremely difficult to fully evaluate and delineate the EC’s contribution to the development of coaches’ robust DM processes.  Indeed, to venture down this road would imply that the EC in its current form is an essential constituent to the development of all future professional practice.  In the studies so far, however, this would not appear to be the case.  Instead the EC may have great merit in coaches’ long-term education.  Specifically, the EC would provide a framework where player and coach can share their mental models (17).  The EC could also offer a valuable lens through which coaches can consider more established theories of coach/player relationships based on levels of cohesion (18), closeness, commitment, complementarity, and co-orientation (18-20) and coach efficacy linked to enhanced athlete and team performance (21).  Reflecting on the data from research so far it is proposed that the EC’s acceptance and application would rather take place as a slow burner effect as coaches’ exposure and awareness of the EC shapes their reflections and gradually modifies their coaching philosophy, purpose, and rationale including impact on behavior surreptitiously over time. Indeed, this may in fact become a more effective delivery method as research suggests that sports coaches resist many formal education and certification opportunities, preferring instead informal and non-formal learning experiences (22).  These include learning episodes that are self-directed (23-25), based on coaching experience, observation or interaction with other coaches (26-28), or on their own past athletic experience (29-30).

So although identifying the EC and discussing its merits within the sport coaching curriculum may be of great interest, its immediate contribution to the wider coaching population might be relatively limited.  In contrast however, if the EC is regarded as a paradigm by which to also assess organizational decision making and subsequently manage sports’ high performance playing and coaching systems then it would appear to have much greater currency.  This line of investigation is all the more pertinent given the recognition that “expertise, especially in high performance environments, is heavily dependent on decision-making skills and the possession of a knowledge base to underpin them” (31. p. 210).  Indeed, this important area for practitioners and researchers alike has been highlighted as currently having insufficient knowledge available (32).  In this context therefore, there could be much greater potential for the EC; one in which the coach/player interactions within a sport’s system are amplified to an almost macro-epistemology level. Here the EC could potentially provide any sport a more pragmatic and effective framework to assess how it strategically manages the meso level coach/player interactions through various developmental/performance stages in order to effect positive change.  

How to measure the EC’s impact? Lessons from other fields.

Taking a broader perspective from the business literature, many authors have proposed various measurements of effectiveness ranging from a focus of the Board’s role (33-34) to the impact of strategic and operational leaders (35-40).  Also see the Performance Measurement Matrix (41), SMART Pyramid (42), Macro Process Model of the Organization (43), Balanced Scorecard (44), European Foundation for Quality Management’s (EFQM) Business Excellence Model (45).  Each of these models provides judgements on an organizations performance by determining the effectiveness and efficiency of inputs, outputs and throughputs from a system (46-47).  They highlight an organization’s resources, systems, goals, and processes (48) its multiple constituents and stakeholders (49-50) and potentially competing values (51). 

A developing area of assessing business is through the learning practices involved in creating a true learning organization (52).  However, current practices have been criticised as too positivistic and not fully appreciative of the full scope and impact of learning in an organization (53). Could this be another area where individual epistemological chains and indeed group or organizational EC’s bear influence? 

Issues and Complexities of Assessing a Sport Organization

Sport is like business (54-55) but many argue strongly that it is not the same (56-57). Therefore, for sports to adopt the business performance models described above and apply them to elite sport would be insensible and unproductive.  Indeed, there are various limitations of using organizational performance models for national sport organizations (NSOs). With regard to goals, NSOs often have intangible or vague goals that are constantly changing in response to their environment which make their measurement challenging.  Resource judgements must have an explicit link between output and input, which is often lacking in NSOs due to their funding sources and lack of transparency.  There are also issues with measuring the internal processes in NSOs due the number of paid and voluntary staff working together causing difficulty in linking organizational processes with the sport’s primary goals. The multiple constituents are difficult to operationalize in sport due to the number of stakeholders and constituents, each having their own perception of what the organization should be doing and requiring satisfaction. Finally, one must note that when using Quinn and Rorhbaugh’s Competing Values Approach (51) to assess effectiveness, there were also serious problems.  Such an approach, which proposes a theoretical framework comparing internal–external, stability–flexibility, and process–outcome constituent preferences, is problematic in some NSOs when the sport itself does not hold a clear view of their own priorities or the ability to assess, in detail, the ability to achieve their goals.

In their review of the literature comparing NSO’s application of the models above, Winard, et al., (58) highlighted similar issues in each of studies.  They then suggested their own multidimensional and operational definition of organizational performance; that of “the acquisition of necessary resources and their efficient use through the organization processes to achieve relevant and targeted goals, as well as a high satisfaction of the organization stakeholders” (58, p.124).  In turn, they have now encapsulated this to offer a new Unified Model of NSO Performance (58).

The Need for a Sport Specific Performance Model

Despite Winard et al.’s (104) multidimensional model highlighting the variety of areas to consider when assessing performance in a NSO, there is little consensus of how sports should attempt to measure the effectiveness of the decisions made by the organization itself and its members within it.  In sport organizations, more bespoke approaches have been developed to assess the effectiveness of organizational management. (59-61).  Although these authors offer useful frameworks, their attention is more directed towards overarching sport development and management policy rather than focusing specifically on the processes that aim to enhance a sport’s talent pathway to elite performance.  Other researchers, however, have ventured into this field and developed a range of specific quality assurance systems and performance management measurement tools (see the: PASS – Professional Academy Support System framework (62-63), EPPP in the UK, The Peak Performance Organization Theory (64), The SPLISS model (65), and the 9 Pillars (66).  What has not been offered, however, is a systematic analysis of how a sport organizations’ decisions about knowledge and learning impact on the inputs, throughputs. and outputs of a system to effectively support the talent pathway and ultimately the performance of a sport’s organizational management.

The EC’s Application at the macro level

Taking all of the factors above into consideration, we therefore predict that the EC could be extremely useful in assessing sports’ organizations decisions at each stage of their performance model.  Indeed, as Peter Drucker (67) noted, decisions are about alternatives (67).   O’Boyle and Hassan (68) proposed that these alternatives in sports organizations are between focusing on learning or performance outcome goals.  If so, then an exploration of the sport’s epistemology and how this is communicated through its strategic management processes would be very useful for assessing a sport’s current verses its desired operation, and support its change of status.  In this scenario, the individual elements of the EC would align with elements of the organization’s strategic management processes with any corrective action that may then need to be applied (69).  That is to say that the EC’s elements of environment, relationships, goals, methods, judgements, and future direction, would line up with the organization’s internal and external environment analysis, the formulation of the strategic direction via mission, vision and objectives, the alignment of resources such as products, services, systems, structure, and culture, the measurement of performance, and the future strategic plan.

The EC and Performance Analysis:  The Role of Developing Talent

As discussed above, the construct of organizational performance is achieved by evaluating the input (e.g. available resources), throughput (e.g. processing of the input), and output (e.g. goals achieved) of the organization (58).  Mandella, et al., (46) support judgements of the organization’s performance being based on a combination of its efficiency and effectiveness in managing this process.  They define efficiency as being the difference between available resources and results, and effectiveness as “the ability to acquire and process properly human, financial, and physical resources to achieve the goals of the organization” (46, p.209).  These authors offered a view on what was most crucial to a sport’s performance assessment: more specifically, the extent to which the sport can attract new inputs and transform them efficiently to achieve its relevant targets and outputs.  This paper proposes that one valuable way in which to assess this within any sport is to focus on its human resources.  Specifically in a sporting context, it suggests the narrowing of this assessment to investigate how its coach inputs and player inputs are managed to create the best possible outputs, be they process and/or outcome driven.  Indeed, Sotiriadou and Shilbury (60) support this direction with their summation that “developing talented athletes is a well-researched field from a sport sciences viewpoint, (but) the talent development process has rarely been explored from an organizational perspective” (60, p.142).

When considering how best to assess and investigate the EC within the organization’s talent pathway, authors have provided numerous models of athlete development and the most conducive environments on which such assessments could be made (40, 70-77).

Supporting this new direction, Fletcher and Wagstaff (78) have highlighted the need for researchers and practitioners to better understand the influence of sports organizations on athletic performance.  Within each sport its executive decision makers have a great responsibility to create sustainable organizational structures to ensure the identification and development of elite performers.  This talent pathway, through the various age group and performance levels, can take a variety of forms depending on the vision, mission, aims, and intentions of those guiding and directing the sport.  In this scenario, therefore, this thesis proposes that the sport’s overall epistemology and how this in turn is operationalized via the talent pathway will have a major impact on the success or otherwise of those within it.   

The creation and development of talent pathways in sport often occur in an unplanned and/or unstructured manner, arising from either cultural traditions or financial necessity.  What is often overlooked during this development process is the philosophical basis of the end product (i.e., the elite athlete) that the sport is attempting to create.  Impersonal outcome measures of success are often imposed in a ‘no compromise’ fashion from financial awarding bodies, which in turn drive the sport’s own subjective and objective reviews of its performance.  Despite a burgeoning body of research highlighting the importance of learning in organizations (52, 79-80), one element which does not appear to bear enough influence in the sport’s structural design is in the epistemological development of its athletes.  This focus of learning within sport also is just as valid a request at the organizational level.  For example, if a sport ignores this domain and simply values compliance with outcome targets, aligning all of its processes in the talent pathway with this objective, it may be apparent that the sport itself is engaged in quite a naïve epistemological focus with its coaches and players simply carrying out top down processes to create athletes which meet the prescribed outcome criteria regardless of their own personal growth.  In comparison, it could be argued that a sport exhibiting a more sophisticated epistemology would have a much wider focus on developing the individuals within it, whether it be athletes, coaches, managers, sport science teams, or other stakeholders such as the athletes’ teachers, family, and sponsors. 

In fact, in line with a coaching EC of DM, it should also be apparent that the sport itself should have a clear EC which can be utilized to support talent development.  This line of argument is supported by research highlighting the relationship between core epistemological beliefs and beliefs about leadership practice and positive behaviors in organizations (81) and how these organizations’ implicit theories of intelligence can positively or negatively affect their members’ behavioral decisions (82).  

Sport Organizations’ ECs in Action

As in our original conceptual paper Schommer’s typology of naïve and sophisticated epistemologies (83-84), is utilized to develop indicative models of sport organizations EC’s at either end of the epistemological scale.  See Figure 1. below.

Figure 1.
Naïve and Sophisticated Epistemological Stances of an Organizational EC

Naïve Sport Epistemological
Sophisticated Sport
The sport believes that there is a ‘best way’. A model, truth or truths that needs to be achieved and embedded This model / truth is based on that sport’s uniqueness. It comes from the sport’s tradition, culture, and experience of what ‘works’. Simple competencies are evident and measureable. The sport will copy what its competitors are doing. It will aim to simply modify what works for others but do it better. Epistemology
The sport believes that knowledge can be discovered in many places. It promotes a constant journey of discovery- innovation, experimentation and reflection to create new knowledge and gain an edge over competition. It aims that knowledge will be created and owned by the team, staff, and its athletes. It will look to different sports, and different domains for new ideas. It doesn’t discount any potential angle or opportunity to learn.
Leaders and followers; Rules, systems, and processes to follow; autocratic, disciplined; information protected / hidden. Environment
Learning environment created; Innovation, recognition that competencies can be combined and weighted in different scenarios to become very complex so appreciate difference and uniqueness of ideas. Open communication, discussions and flow of ideas.
Transactional and dictating behaviors, centralized power relationship, behavior expectations to be followed, failure to perform highlighted. Relationships built
Transformational leadership providing intellectual stimulation. Actions taken based on long-term nested plans and goals that support innovation and constant progression. Devolved responsibility and ownership Trusting, caring, nurturing, autonomy-supportive behaviors.
Passed down from above. Against Intelligence (IQ) and technical performance outcome measures. Goal setting
Negotiated with team – all performing a complimentary role to achieve organization’s goal. Emotional and Social Intelligence.Development of whole person. Focus on processes as well as outcomes.
Follow pre-determined plan, curriculum, training schedule based on historical data and replicating what has been done previously. Methods
Self-determined by staff and athletes through discussion, support and mentoring. Experimentation evident – aim to gain a competitive advantage.
Success or failure determined by tangible markers or results; e.g., outcome performance markers – times, distances, Win/loss records etc./, Judgements made
Dependent on how the player develops as an athlete and person, whilst working towards the athlete led targets. Decisions based on “is the athlete now an autonomous decision maker confident in their own ability to source, analyze, create and apply knowledge and learning to meet their personal goals?” Judgements made in a collegiate manner with all those involved having equal input into the process.
Sport’s leadership review performance and modify targets and delivery plan to achieve performance outcome goals. Future direction
Future path determined by athletes’ progress towards their holistic development. Individual development plans are updated in negotiations with all interested parties

A ‘Naïve’ Sporting Organization

Here, therefore, a sport’s naïve EC would emanate from an environment where the vision, mission and strategic objectives are based on performance outcomes.   Athletes in this system, and the sport itself, strive to be recognized as world leaders in terms of rankings points and positions, championship successes and stages achieved, and by the number of trophies and events won during a fixed time period.  The relationships developed here would therefore be based on a transactional model with various levels of executive management ‘telling’ those below them the expected performance outcomes and what needed to be done in order form them to be achieved.  Here decisions would be autocratic, based on previous experience of what works in this environment.  In turn, the goals passed down would be outcome based, measured solely on the coaches’ and athletes’ ability to meet the expected standards of a simple competency based structure.  Under this level of expectation the coaches would be pressurized to adopt short term methods and practices that would create ‘one dimensional’ athletes and teams that could succeed solely in terms of the goals they had been prescribed.  In such an organization’s EC, the judgements made about all those within the pathway would be based on how effective they had been in achieving the outcome measures laid out by the sport.   Finally, all future decisions about athletes, coaches, managers, and implications for their continued presence in the pathway would be subject to ‘benchmarking’ against tangible performance measures set out in the sport’s strategic objectives.

 A ‘Sophisticated’ Sporting Organization

A sport’s talent pathway based on a sophisticated epistemology by comparison would look very different and would encapsulate the promotion and development of all of the individuals and stakeholders within it.  This message and philosophy would be explicit in the sport’s holistic vision and mission, and its long term strategic objectives.  It would be evident from the public pronouncements from its leaders and executives celebrating new innovations, partnerships, and learning collaborations.  In turn the relationships that would be fostered would be focused on developing players, coaches, managers, and support teams not just with the skills and attributes required to perform effectively within this sport but also based on learning and experiences that would be valuable for individual development and progression whatever their final career path/end point.  Additionally, power within such an organization would be decentralized and delegated outwards regardless of the individual’s notional level in the structure (31).  Here each person would be clear on their own role and where transient responsibility would be held for the coordination of shared processes to facilitate peak performance (85).  Indeed, goals and targets agreed between those involved in the pathway would be focused on holistic personal growth as well as the predefined objectives for the individual sport.  This philosophy is best exemplified in a quote from Bennie and O’Connor’s (86) study of Australian sports coaches where an interviewee replied to a question on performance targets: “if we develop good human beings and good people then the winning will take care of itself” (86 p. 315).  In such a sophisticated sport’s EC, the methods and practices engaged would be innovative and varied, and the members of the pathway themselves would be given ownership to direct their own development and learning.  The assessment of the pathway’s effectiveness would therefore not simply be measured on tangible successes and awards but instead based upon progress towards the self-determined goals of its participants.  Finally, in such a sophisticated sport’s EC, the decisions on the future planning and direction taken at the end of each cycle would be directed to those areas highlighted by its individuals where learning and development was most required.  

Of course, it is too simplistic to presume that the choice for a sport’s executive board is this black and white.  What are presented above are two extremes of a sport’s EC of DM in action.  In practice, organizational stress (87), including external and internal pressures (88-89), necessitate a sport to deliver on many varied fronts and as such may require a more balanced EC.  External funding, internal expectations, and cultural norms may compete with or complement each other in operation.  An investigation of this potential power struggle and the relative focus of the sport could therefore be enlightening and shed light on the sport’s operating practices.   Indeed, such an analysis may then provide a basis on which to make decisions on the effectiveness of a sport’s pathway and valuable comparisons between sports for the benefit of all involved. 


The EC – Sport, Decision Making, and Learning.

In conclusion, it is important to reconsider the wider context in which the research direction is being promoted and the implications it carries for broader sport and organizational research.  The valuable insights and EC frameworks provided from such research could provide the focus on which both coaches and managers can base future decisions on should they become embedded in professional practice in all self-paced sports to aid assessments of action against goals during slow, deliberate, planning, and reflection.  Indeed there is also an argument that the EC would be just as useful a framework to examine rapid DM processes in fast paced sports.  Here the EC could frame the reflections of coaches and players and help uncover what may at first seem tacit DM.  Indeed Lyle (90) notes that such rapid, gut, instinctive or intuitive DM has a number of features.  These are that it is a learned capacity, it can be improved through practice, the pattern recognition it depends on is context specific, and reflection is required to actively develop this expertise (90. p.35).  Each of these components could be supported by the EC.  Such research would also extend the work of Richards, et al., (91) who identified the role that reflection had played in determining pre-defined tactics employed in fast moving team sports, and delve deeper into Lyle’s  (90) descriptions of naturalistic DM. 

Clearly the agenda for this paper is centered at the elite performance end of the sporting continuum, but the EC application within other domains of sports participation, from entry level grass roots coaching right through to those who coach at the Masters level should also be promoted.   From a coach education perspective Cushion (92) argued that understanding coaches and coaching practice across domains was a cornerstone to conceptual developments and in ensuring practitioners were engaged and motivated in the process.   For this to be possible the EC should be included within the coach education programs of each and every sport’s governing body and all levels.  If this is possible then the potential benefits outlined will be disseminated throughout the sports coaching fraternity.  Communities of practice will be established crossing traditional sporting boundaries with coaches confident to share, explore, and challenge each other’s epistemological positions and EC’s in order to enhance their own learning.  Indeed, such questioning of one’s own coaching behavior supports the development of expertise in itself (93-96).  Of course, this potential utopia is limited by the individual sport’s own organizational ECs that may still attempt to provide all the answers for their coaches (30). Despite this there are positive signs emerging from of sports joining together to enhance their delivery to their expert coaches, and other sports who are sharing pedagogical content modules for their developing coaches.  Critics may argue that these developments are not going far enough.  Here, however, the EC framework could provide a scaffold against which developing coaches could base their decisions on what additional learning and experience they require. Only if our views and practices can be cross-pollinated and a common language of coaching shared, one which includes a full and detailed understanding of individual and organizational ECs, will all practitioners finally be able to reflect in, on, and for action and together start to make the ‘right’ decisions for everyone involved in sport.    

In terms of the application of pre-existing theoretical models and frameworks in operational management, performance management, and change management the EC offers a valuable new perspective.  As proposed in our original conceptual paper the matching of individual and organizational ECs could provide a mechanism by which both recruitment and selection decisions could be based. From the Performance Management perspective, the EC could help create new outcome targets such as developing sophisticated ECs and processes based on such ECs.  Just as in the Talent Pathway example examined above, performance management in any business unit could be operated through an EC framework.  Here targets to convert inputs to outputs would be based on exhibiting, promoting, and reinforcing values and behaviors in line with businesses’ own EC.  Research projects that embed the EC as a measurable target would undoubtedly add value to the current performance management literature.

Supplementing the EC application within generic business and management scenarios the EC should also be embraced as a valuable addition to current Change Management theory.  Here the EC would support the awareness / unfreezing stage of any intervention, and help shape the changes desired by an organization in line with their implicit or explicit organizational EC. 


The EC and Sport’s Talent Development Pathways – Routes to the Top

The Shooting Arrow

As an example of when different structures and an operationalization of talent pathways are considered using the EC as a framework of analysis, the origins of their contrasting architectures may become apparent.  The paper now offers three scenarios to illustrate this point which uses the work of Webb et al., (97) and their three models to illustrate this point.  First to consider is a ‘Shooting Arrow’ talent pathway described below (see Figure 2).  In this design athletes are exposed to a very limited range of experiences and learning throughout the pathway stages as they progress.  Such a pathway involves the sport or organization creating an homogenous experience at every level.  Here players are being trained and instructed on how to act in accordance to the sport’s prescribed performance markers throughout their lifespan.  The ultimate aim of the Shooting Arrow pathway is to create a fully formed individual at the pinnacle of the pathway, who can and does perform in the sport’s desired and predetermined manner. Such players are of great immediate benefit to the organization as they can hit the ground running so to speak.  Should the sport or organization’s focus change, however, players from a Shooting Arrow pathway will not have had the range of developmental experiences to enable them to change their behavior.  In such a Shooting Arrow pathway scenario, decisions on the environment, relationships, target setting, and performance monitoring would be expected to be based on the more naïve extreme of the Organizational EC.

Figure 2.
 The Shooting Arrow Talent Pathway

Figure 2

The Pinball Effect.

An alternative talent pathway design (see Figure 3) to be considered is the Pinball Effect (97).  In this context the athletes are exposed to a huge level of variation in their experiences and the coaches that manage their development.  Here players may be passed from naïve to sophisticated coach, to different sophisticated coach back to a naïve coach as they progress through the system.  As they bounce and ricochet their way from level to level and from coach to coach they will become confused.  They will be supplied with a range of different opportunities or ‘truths’ on how best to develop themselves.  In such a system as this, athletes who have been exposed to a huge array of knowledge and learning opportunities may not unfortunately have had sufficient time or focus to make meaning from potentially worthwhile events.  The end result is an athlete who may be so adaptable that they are perceived as the jack of all trades – master of none and are overlooked and denied access to higher level progress within the sport. 

Figure 3.
The Pinball Effect Talent Pathway

Figure 3

The Goldilocks Paradigm

Finally, (see Figure 4.) the paper now offers the Goldilocks – just enough analogy where athletes are exposed to a range of carefully managed experiences to facilitate learning at an optimum level whilst still being guided by the sport’s externally driven performance measures (97).  Here athletes may have been exposed to many varied techniques, tactics, patterns of play, etc., but have been supported in such a way that they have assimilated enough knowledge and understanding that they are able to self-monitor and moderate their performance depending on the specific context and outcome required. 

Figure 4.
The Goldilocks Talent Pathway

Figure 4


In each of these three talent pathway exemplars it is evident that the coaches (A, B, C, and D), their roles, and their impact on the player is crucial at each and every level.  This reinforces the support and need for the coaches’ EC’s to be examined to ensure optimal relationships are being established and implemented as highlighted in our previous studies, but it also directs attention to how the sport itself manages the developmental process and the coach-player, coach-manager, and inter-coach relationships within it.  In the exemplars above, a sports organization that has an explicit EC focus for its pathway would carefully position their coaches (A, B, C, and D) according to the developmental experience they wish to create.  Furthermore, if the organization had already explored the coaches’ own personal ECs then this manipulation of the players’ developmental experience could be maximized with coaches holding alternative ECs (naïve or sophisticated) being positioned accordingly.

 Therefore, to summarize the theoretical direction being developed, this paper proposes that the merit of the EC of DM whilst apparent, valuable, and important at the individual level could have even greater bearing and impact at a sport’s organizational level.  It could have great utility in assessing the design, implementation, and effectiveness of a sport’s talent pathway, whilst also offering a framework by which modifications and improvements can be made and evaluated.         

The EC at the meso, macro level in sport and beyond.

Developing the above themes at a meso level of program delivery the EC should also be explored as a tool to aid the design, implementation and to assess the effectiveness of sports performance coaching programs.  (As with other psychological and life skills training programs eg. UNIFORM, ELITE, etc.)  At this level where groups of coaches interact and support each other the EC would provide a framework against which coaches could share ideas and opinions in a community of practice to support each other develop their expertise. Learning situated within this elite coaching community would include the use of critical friends and mentors, role-play, and scenario coaching from each of the stakeholders’ perspectives.  The intention here would be to expose, reflect, and then revise / develop the coaches’ ECs against their own personal coaching philosophies. Despite access to sporting coach education curriculum design not being available, a case study approach with a small community of coaches motivated for self-development would collect valuable data which could inform future sports coaching CPD.

As coaches’ interaction is crucial at the program level, not simply during but also at key handover periods at the beginning and end of a program, the group dynamics of a coaching group with respect to the alignment or not of their individual EC’s would be another interesting avenue to explore.  Such research could inform a team, squad or university coaches’ team building activities, explore cognitive dissonance between the coaching hierarchies and ultimately help measure and improve the group’s performance.   

With regard to the macro level, the utility of the organizational EC framework developed above could be expended upon. One area introduced should be the conscious placement of staff to various roles within the talent pathway based on the individual’s explicit EC and the type of talent pathway that each sport is striving for.  A research study that used the organizational EC and then hypothesized and tested the coherence of staff EC’s, making recommendations for coach redeployment accordingly would provide a new and novel take on the creation of the most effective TDEs. 

Due to the fluid nature of any sport, future research should also focus on the EC’s of sports’ new leaders and managers as they are appointed in respect of agreeing and establishing the organizational values for their own specific performance departments.  This would further enable investigation into the organization’s individual and group practices against its newly defined organizational EC.  This data similar to that collected with regard to the talent pathway focus of this paper, could be replicated in many other areas such as investigations into organizational management, the resultant culture change, and the new performance management structures being implemented. 

Finally, when considering the EC at the macro level studies it is vital to examine multi-stakeholder perspectives of impact by interviewing the players, parents, and sport science support staff within of the chosen sport’s talent pathway.  This approach would be invaluable in triangulating the effectiveness of the EC application and in illuminating the socially complex and dynamic nature of sport coaching practice. Possibly of greater interest however would be perceptions of the sport’s EC from those currently outside and excluded from the pathway.  The views here of coaches, players, parents and the media would shine a fascinating lens when contrasted with those who have first-hand experience of the EC in action.  




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