Authors: Kim Ferner1, Lindsay Ross-Stewart2, and Drew Dueck2

1Department of Educational Psychology, University of North Texas

2Department of Applied Health, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Corresponding Author:

Kim Ferner, MS
1155 Union Circle #310769
Denton, TX 76203-5017

Kim Ferner, MS is currently faculty and a Psychosocial Aspects of Sport doctoral student at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX. Her research area includes coach education, coaching philosophy, and coach expectations of sport psychology services.

Lindsay Ross-Stewart, PhD, CMPC® is an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Health at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in Edwardsville, IL. Her research area includes a focus on sources of efficacy for athletes, including the impact of coaches on athlete development.

Drew Dueck, MS is a recent graduate from the Exercise and Sport Psychology graduate program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is a track and field coach who is interested in coaching philosophy development, leadership, confidence, and motivation.

The role of coach education in coaching philosophy development and implementation: A dual case study


Developing a coaching philosophy (CP) is important due to the influence coaches have in creating positive sport environments for their athletes. Despite the numerous benefits identified in literature for developing a CP, limited research exists on whether coaches implement their philosophies, which has created a gap in the coaching literature. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore coaches’ perceptions of their coach education (CE) experiences and the influence this has had on their CP development and implementation. A secondary purpose was to understand athletes’ perceptions of their head coach’s CP through their experiences with their coach. A case study methodology, which is useful when exploring experiences and perceptions, was employed for this study. Two NCAA head coaches—one female and one male, along with two athletes from each coach’s team, were recruited for this study. The researcher conducted a semi-structured interview with each participant and examined the data with thematic analysis. The current study identified four themes: Comprehension of CP, Influences on CP, Communication of CP, and Coaching Goals. A discrepancy between CP theory and practice was observed via the disconnect in athlete and coach responses. Coaches’ reported experiences with CE were also found to impact their CP development and implementation. These findings indicate having a well-developed CP and positive CE experiences may lead to athletes having a better understanding of their coach, which may lead to a more positive sport experience. This study may be of use to coaches and coach educators interested in CPs and highlights the need for future research with larger, more inclusive samples.

Key Words: coach development, coach perceptions, athlete perceptions


The importance of coaches developing a coaching philosophy (CP) should not be overlooked; CPs aid coaches in decision-making (7, 9), boost confidence (10), and help to establish consistency in coaches’ actions (7, 9, 19). A CP has been defined as “the beliefs a coach has about strategies, methods, and preparation” (25), “a set of beliefs and principles that guide behaviors” (7, 9), “a plan that coaches should follow when making decisions” (29), and “a view that coaches hold about coaching” (17, 19). The multiple definitions of what a CP encompasses has led to confusion as to how to develop and utilize a CP effectively (15-16). Consequently, the amount and quality of research focused on CPs in action may be more limited than previously thought.

Regardless of these shortcomings, researchers are in agreement that CPs offer many benefits to coaches via improved decision making and eliminating situation-specific, reactive decisions that contradict a coach’s values or beliefs (e.g., 7, 9), while promoting consistency throughout coaches’ decisions (7, 9, 19). CPs also act as a source of confidence for coaches in their leadership abilities, along with their overall self-confidence (10). Therefore, it is important for coaches to develop a CP.

The development of a CP can be influenced by a coach’s work experience, vicarious learning, literature, and former athlete experiences (1).  However, prior to developing a CP, a coach must develop self-awareness. Self-awareness was found to be key in developing a CP in two ways: 1) being aware of how true one stays to their CP through their actions, so any inconsistencies could be overcome, and 2) receiving feedback from others, so that others may either reinforce the coaches’ beliefs, or point out where the coach may be acting inconsistently (7). The common theme to becoming self-aware is for coaches to engage in self-reflective practices (7; 25).

For example, novice coaches struggled to identify their own values or methods used in coaching (30). Since a coaches’ values are an important part of CP development, this uncertainty may cause coaches to avoid creating a CP. In addition to uncertainty, novice coaches face many tasks and often do not realize the importance of developing a CP; instead prioritizing tangible aspects of their profession, such as structure of practice or organizational matters (30). Although these tangible aspects matter, developing a CP should not be forgotten. Without self-awareness and engagement in self-reflection, a coach may struggle to identify and develop their values and CP (7).

Another important aspect of CP development  is flexibility (9).  There are many moving parts (e.g., players, personalities, social interactions, etc.) involved in coaching that exist outside of the coach and their CP (14, 42). Arguably, a large portion of coaching research lacks contextual transference because the research disregards  these external factors (21). For example, coaches face a unique win-loss scenario: attaining athlete-oriented goals while being judged on athlete performance (22). The pressure to win is one of the biggest reasons coaches make choices contrary to their values and beliefs (33). When developing CPs, coaches do not think about the pressures of competition and sport (9). This leads to some coaches adopting their CP superficially, citing a lack of confidence in their CP and a belief that it has minimal real-life application. Therefore, CPs should be flexible to the demands and ever-changing environment of the coaching profession.

Despite the highlighted importance of a CP informing coaching practice, it is common for coaches to not enforce their CPs daily (9). Multiple studies have found a disconnect between what a coach says and what a coach does (9, 28, 42), creating a gap between CP in theory and CP in practice. This gap in research demonstrates the lack of understanding of the role that a CP has in applied practice (16, 26, 34).  Once a coach understands the role a CP plays in their approach to coaching, then CPs can be used to help coaches grow professionally (33). One solution to this is introducing CPs to coaches through coach education.

Coach Education Programing

Many coach education (CE) programs elaborate on what a CP is and how it can be developed  (26) . However, many current CE programs fail to show coaches how to effectively implement a CP in practice (23, 30). This may be why coaches have not been found to attribute their CP development to CE (30). Producing effective CE programs is important due to the influence these programs have on CP development (11). Without CE, neophyte coaches may be left to come up with their own CP (33)—if they even choose to develop one.

Attempting to use a top-down approach (i.e., scientist to practitioner model) with CE to find clear, linear answers to best coaching styles and practices is unsuitable for the complex, ever-changing coaching profession (12, 21). Instead, CE programs may want to embrace the informality of the coaching profession and match this environment by employing informal learning experiences (e.g., 8, 20, 16, 26). If CE incorporated coaching experiences into programs, this could allow coaches to test their philosophies in practice (31). Consequently, coaches may view CE programs more favorably and understand this information is applicable to their coaching practice.

Informal CE may help bridge the gap between theory and practice. In 2006, Nelson and Cushion (31) identified informal learning as structured, educational learning that exists outside the formal education system—e.g., classes, courses, and certifications, and informal learning as continuous learning that people experience daily, such as mentoring and self-reflection. A major way that coaches learn is through self-reflection and informal learning via experiences of trial and error (8, 16, 26). Informal learning  may be especially helpful with experienced coaches, who often contest information that contradicts their current ideas and model, due to their developed habits (13). Utilizing CE as a tool for self-reflection may impact coaching behavior by identifying what guides their behavior (31).

Due to the importance of self-reflection when developing a philosophy and the lack of self-awareness (34, 40, 42), it is not surprising that informal learning has been most influential on coaching behavior and CP development (31). Integrating reflection with CE programs properly allows coaches to analyze their coaching behaviors and how this aligns with their CPs (13, 18). This process allows for coaches to be more self-aware and act intentionally, rather than subconsciously (13).

As previously stated, coaches learn predominantly through observation and experience (13, 31, 34). However, this model of coaching—where coaches “copy and paste” from other coaches’ frameworks, instead of developing their own CPs, stunts growth in the field (33). This “copy and paste” model can cause coaches to adopt a coaching style out of convenience rather than developing their own thoughts, values, and coaching styles. Therefore, formal CE should not be entirely replaced by informal learning experiences, but rather introduced early on in a coaches’ career. Since neophyte coaches rely on vicarious learning experiences (13), early CE programs would be one way to help coaches understand and mold their philosophies (41). This would promote professional growth individually and in the field of coaching.

            The research on CP demonstrates the impact of formal and informal CE experiences on CP development and use. Specifically, formal education early on and informal education throughout a coach’s career, such as self-reflection and mentoring, have been deemed important. However, to date, all these areas have not been assessed in a single study. Therefore, the main purpose of this study was to investigate coaches’ experiences with CE and its impact on their CP development and utilization. A secondary purpose was to explore athletes’ understanding of their head coach’s CP.


The purpose of this study was to explore the coaches’ perceptions of their coach education experiences and the impact this has on their coaching philosophy development and utilization. In order to address this purpose, two case studies were conducted on two head coaches and two of their athletes—four athletes total. The case study methodology was chosen due to the role case studies play in the pursuit of knowledge (35). The case study methodology has also displayed many strengths and is informative of peoples’ experiences and perceptions (43). In addition to these strengths, a case study methodology is useful when there is not an abundance of research on a topic (36).


Two coaches were interviewed, along with a total of four athletes (two from each coach’s team) who were part of the same NCAA Division One (DI) program in the Midwest. Both coaches had been coaching at this program for over five years. One coach was a female who coached a team sport, and the other was male, who coached an individual sport. The athletes interviewed consisted of two lowerclassmen and two upperclassmen. Both coach interviews, along with athlete interviews, were conducted in one month in the spring during COVID-19 pandemic.


For this study, two NCAA coaches were interviewed. Four athletes were also interviewed—two athletes from each coach’s team. Coach One (C1) was a male, who coached a men’s individual sport at a Division One university. Athlete One (A1) and Athlete Two (A2) were on C1’s team. Coach Two (C2) was a female, who coached a women’s team sport at a Division One university. Athlete Three (A3) and Athlete Four (A4) were on C2’s team. A total of six interviews were conducted: two coaches and four athletes. The coaches picked two athletes from their team to participate in this study, knowing that they would be interviewed. The coaches did not know what questions the athletes would be asked during their interviews. The athletes were also aware that their coaches were being interviewed but did not know what their coaches were being asked during their interviews. All participants were aware of the purpose of this study prior to participating.

Sampling, Recruitment, and Consent

Coaches were recruited by one of the researchers via convenience sampling and asked if they would be willing to participate, and if they would be able to secure two athletes from their team—one upperclassman and one lower classman. A separate researcher, not personally known by the participants, conducted the interviews. Prior to the interview, the participants gave consent to participate and verbal consent to record the interviews through Zoom and turn the transcriptions on during the call. Zoom interviews with two coaches and two athletes from each coach’s team were conducted.  Transcripts were reviewed by both the interviewer and a research assistant, who listened to the audio recordings to fix any errors in the transcripts.

Data Collection Tools

Due to lack of established coaching philosophy measures, this qualitative study used open-ended questions presented in a semi-structured interview to gather data. Semi-structured interviews “…can produce powerful data that provide insights into the participants’ experiences, perceptions or opinions” (35). Zoom was the chosen platform to facilitate a conversation for participants to ask questions, elaborate on their ideas and to participate regardless of their location. Interviews were conducted to better understand coaches’ views on coaching philosophy and coach education, as well as athlete perceptions of their coach’s CP. Questions were posed as open-ended questions and aimed to avoid any language that may have been suggestive. The interviews with coaches asked them to identify different aspects related to their coaching philosophy and what their experiences were with coach education. Some examples include questions such as “What are the most impactful learning experiences you have had when developing as a coach?” and “What are your goals for your athletes?” and “Does your philosophy impact how you promote these goals?”. The interview with athletes asked questions related to their coach’s behaviors, goals, and CP. Example questions include “How important do you think winning is to your coach?” and “Has your coach ever gone over their coach’s philosophy with the team?”. Questions often had follow-up questions and/or clarification, based on the responses given by participants.

Data Analyses

A six-phase model of reflexive thematic analysis (TA) was the chosen methodology for data analysis in this study, along with the chosen inductive approach to coding (2-4, 6). The phases include the following: familiarizing, coding, theme development, refinement, naming, writing up.  First, the transcripts were read, reviewed, and analyzed multiple times to allow researchers to familiarize themselves with the data. Researchers wrote down initial thoughts about the data but did not assign codes. The researchers coded the data with a semantic focus, which had the researchers analyze the data based on what the participant was explicitly stating. The researchers used the “bottom up” or inductive approach – allowing the data to drive the analysis, rather than the researchers using a framework to interpret the data. This was chosen in order to limit biases when interpreting and analyzing the data. Recurring and related codes were then developed into themes, with sub-themes constructed as necessary. Each developed theme was reviewed to ensure that it was centralized around a consistent, distinct concept. Then researchers evaluated  each theme to ensure relevancy to the research questions posed. Theme names were then assigned, with the goal of including all coded concepts into the theme name.  To ensure thematic analysis is meaningful and themes are not just reiterating the data, researchers related findings back to the research purpose. The researchers established the link between the themes identified and research questions through analytic commentary (41).


Trustworthiness was assessed using guidelines for best practice in the field (3-5, 24, 32).  In addition to an acknowledgement of the researcher’s viewpoint and the reality that all researchers’ perspectives impact their analysis, both coders of the data assessed their own views and were systematic in assessing the impact of these views throughout the research. Furthermore, the two independent coders engaged in Negative Case Analysis to assess any divergent data and discuss these findings to make sure they were appropriately accounted for in the data coding.  Internal auditing was also done by a researcher who did not conduct the interviews or the coding to address any potentially biased interpretations of the data. To address issues of transferability, thick description was used in this report of the data, following the guidelines of using a 50:50 ratio of text and analytic commentary, which was considered in the results and discussion sections (3). Finally, confirmability is addressed by giving a detailed account of the research process in this manuscript.


Four major themes were identified in the data: Comprehension of Coaching Philosophy, Influences of Coaching Philosophy, Communication of Coaching Philosophy, and Coaching Goals. The Influences of Coaching Philosophy theme warranted three sub-themes: Informal Coach Education, Formal Coach Education, and Trauma.

Comprehension of Coaching Philosophy

The Comprehension theme encompasses the understanding coaches and athletes have of a CP, how they define a CP, and a description of their own (or their coach’s) CP.

C1 defined a CP as “…your overall view on coaching. The mindset behind the work that you put into the team.” C1 then described his philosophy as “… we talk about being a good student, obviously, working hard in the classroom, and then community.”. C1 also cited three expectations for athletes: hard work, common sense, and respect.

C1’s athletes—A1 and A4, defined CP as “…the approach my coach takes and helping us develop as athletes and as people” and “…every certain student athlete has a certain way that they need to be coached, and it’s a coach’s job to harness and mend to that certain person.” Although A1 and A4 were unable to recall all aspects of their coaches’ CP, A1 stated “I think our head coach’s philosophy is if we focus on becoming good people and developing strong work ethic then results will improve by themselves”. Meanwhile, A4 stated: “My head coach’s coaching philosophy is more of a—he likes to coach in the room, uh, work technique, um, keep us fresh for tournaments and really work the technical side and less of the work outside”. This differed from the coach’s CP where he focused on hard work, common sense and respect.

C2 defined CP as: “I look at it as a purpose and a way only about functioning, the way you go about your daily activities”. C2 then described her philosophy as “I think the biggest piece is talking to each individual and trying to get the best out of each individual” and “I think the full potential thing is not just a [my sport] thing, it is an off the court thing as well.” A2 described the CP of C2 as “how the coach thinks, and how what they think would be best for the team to succeed” and A3 stated “the way that the coach views the game—every aspect of the game, and the interactions between everybody involved.” Both described C2’s CP as inconsistent, with A3 stating “I think sometimes, you know, from our perspective, it feels like it depends on her mood. So that’s–that’s where I think the inconsistency would go against her philosophy” and A2  “I would just say that sometimes whenever she’s having a hard day or something, we all have bad days, and she doesn’t give us another chance on drills if we don’t make a certain score.”

Influences on Coaching Philosophy

The Influences theme identifies different sources or experiences that coaches attribute to developing and molding their CP. This theme yielded three subthemes: Informal Coach Education, Formal Coach Education, and Trauma.

Informal Coach Education

Informal coach education refers to unstructured, CE experiences that existed outside of formal education. This included ongoing development that a coach engages in on their own, such as mentoring, reflection, vicarious learning, or self-directed education. C1 and C2 both cited their first form of CE being an informal learning experience via observing other coaches.

C1 reflected on his informal CE experiences: A lot of good coaches, mostly. I was lucky, I always talk about that. I didn’t think I was going to get into coaching…But I always had good coaches. And so, I think I’ve taken a little bit from a lot of different people and that’s kind (of) molded my philosophy.

Not only does C1 use coaches he had as an athlete, but current assistants, making the following comment about learning from a current graduate assistant: “I’ve been picking his brain a lot of that kind of stuff like hey what, what was your guys recruiting philosophy, what was your, ya know, how did you guys handle, pre-match warm up, that kind of thing.”C1 also actively seeks out informal education experiences, “I try to read now, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries.”

C2 utilized her experiences with past coaches as a way to develop her CP, stating: “I don’t believe coaching is, it’s not always having this great creative mind, it’s stealing from others.” C2 also mentioned her use of mentors to keep up with her development as a coach:“…just learning a lot of things from them [former coaches] and then using them now as mentors and connecting with them off and whenever I have, you know, whenever you think you’re stuck on something or not sure it’s working right, just floating ideas off some great people”.

Formal Coach Education

Formal coach education was structured, CE experiences that existed within formal education. This includes conferences, seminars, courses, certifications, and professional development meetings.

C1 is well-versed in formal CE and places value in these experiences. He explained: I did a coach’s Leadership Academy that the National (my sport) Coaches Association, that’s our board…I go down to our convention every other year where they do a lot of learning and different breakout sessions that you can do. And then, we’re in this coach’s leadership group with [SPC], we’ve done some things with the Marines and their leadership.

C1 remains open-minded to learn new things, despite coaching for many years. C1 stated: “You’re always picking up good things” and “…especially when there’s other good coaches that you haven’t heard from, it might just be a little change in philosophy, but I like it”. C1 was not introduced to formal CE until three years into his coaching career. However, when asked about the most impactful learning experience he had when developing as a coach, he cited a formal CE experience. C1 stated:

You know what, honestly, one of the biggest things was the coaches Leadership Academy, it was really good… I had to put together a package of your coaching philosophy, that was something I hadn’t really ever sat down and thought about, what would be your direction for the program? And all those things so…it was funny because I did that coaches Leadership Academy after I had applied at two positions. And all of this, like if I done it a year earlier, would have been so helpful for everything that I needed to do, I did that backwards.

C2 did not attribute much of her development to formal CE programs, stating things such as: “I don’t know if I’m looking for classroom setting, stuff like that” and then reverted back to speaking about informal education, stating “I don’t think there’s a book you can read or anything that can tell you, well this is the type of person they are so, this is how you do it… just learning how different coaches did that from more visual learning and watching.”


This sub-theme encompasses traumatic life experiences that C1 and C2 both indicated had an everlasting change in their CP.

C1 shared a near-death experience that influenced his philosophy:

I had a pretty crazy incident … a few years ago, I was hospitalized and pretty close to not making it, so that definitely changed my philosophy on some things. I mean in sports–the goal is to win. So that is something that’s important. College is about shaping yourself for the rest of your life and like I said giving yourself opportunities.  I think it maybe shifted the focus a little bit more from the winning aspect to the, to the other, I think, always both were important to me. But I think that definitely changed it a little bit.

C2 recalled a traumatic event that influenced her philosophy:

I just taken a job, barely been there a month and I had a player that committed suicide. Yeah, that changed my philosophy. I think current players will maybe disagree with this, but I used to be harder. I would call it more disciplined, demanding and not, I don’t want to say not caring about, maybe not always recognizing when someone was struggling.  …but I don’t want kids leaving practice, they can be upset, they can be disappointed, they can be mad, they can have all the emotions they want, but they have to understand it was practice. And it’s–this is a game, and it’s what we love, it’s what we do. But this is not who you are. It’s what you do. So yeah, I think that changed me.

Communication of Coaching Philosophy

The communication theme covers what and how the coach communicates their CP to their staff and athletes.

C1 explained how he communicates his philosophy to his team, “Yeah, we have like our team rules that we go over…we go through the beginning of every year here. Here are some of the rules you know, for example, NCAA has rules that we have to abide by, [the university] has rules, that kind of stuff, and then we go over expectations.” Another way C1 communicates his CP is through modeling, saying “I feel like I’ve always tried to lead by example”. When asked how C1 acted in line with his philosophy, both athletes struggled to describe this. A1 stated:

I think it’s (he’s) helped me grow as a person and help me deal with results more than I would in the past, before when I had a result I didn’t want  I would get really down on myself but…he’s always really there to remind you of all the good things that have happened, all the good things you have done, and kind of show you that hey, this isn’t your whole life, this is one moment in it.  

Meanwhile, A4 stated: “Um, he works to actually like, let him know that he cares about us and he calls us on a daily basis to make sure that he actually—we’re keeping up with everything we need to in life.”

C2 discussed the change that the athlete-coach dynamic has faced in recent years, stating: “…years ago it was an instant trust thing if the coach said something, you trusted it, you did it 100%. That’s not really where we’re at with this generation. They want to see it work, they need more than just that blind faith, so I think sometimes it’s showing them things”. However, when asked how C2 communicates her philosophy with her team, she stated “I share it with staff, I don’t share every intricate detail of it, but I share the general consensus in little pieces, but not as a whole.” When asked how she integrates her philosophy through her actions, C2 stated:

I think it’s implemented by your actions and by your communication with them. You know I just think it’s in the day-to-day conversations… that they know that I have their best interest and that I’m trying to sometimes, you get on them sometimes, you push them sometimes, you criticize them, sometimes you praise them, but I’m hoping that they feel that that is all for the betterment of them.

Coaching Goals

C1’s initial response to goals were performance-oriented, saying: “…our goal is to be a top 25 team. We want to have all Americans and national champions”. However, C1 goes on to say:

…we want our guys to graduate, and one of the big things that we talked about is not just graduation and GPA, those are great but it’s not the hardest thing in the world to do those. It’s when you give yourself opportunities when you graduate and that is something that is a big goal of ours to make sure that within a month or two after graduation all our guys have at least options for good jobs.

  A1 and A4 both emphasized the importance C1 put on athlete development. For example, A1 stated “I think winning is very important to my coach. I think he also cared about winning in the right way.” The “right way” was described as “…still treating you like human beings, not treating us like we’re his employees, treating it so that we do it for ourselves, not for him”.  and  “I don’t know if there’s anything more important [than athlete development]. I don’t think there’s anything more important when it comes to coach.”

A4 agreed in his response: Winning is—I think it’s a priority I don’t think it’s—I think he [C1] would rather see us be successful, young men rather than you know us winning goals and I do think it is important because we are here for a reason we’re here to win national titles and all American, everything else so, I think it is important, um, but he’s more focused on the individuality of our sport, cause that’s what we are: an individual sport.

C2 described her goals as a coach as:

I think the biggest piece is talking to each individual and trying to get the best out of each individual. It’s giving them an opportunity to get their degree and better their life and their education because of it, and then also on the court, it’s to keep gaining knowledge and getting better. …constantly trying to improve each individual player, and then collectively, I think that will help you grow, but I really think it’s about the growth of individuals and it’s not just about the growth on the court.

When asked about athlete development, A2 focused on skill instead and did not feel C2 was focused on athlete development. A2 felt C2 was performance-oriented and stated, “Honestly, I don’t think they [C2 and staff] handle losing very well.” and “…she [C2] doesn’t take it as like, Oh, well, we’ll go next time. It’s like she’s actually hurt by it and like it affects her.  Neither A2 or A3 discussed C2’s investment in their development or her goals for them, other than winning.


The primary purpose of this study was to explore coaches’ experiences with CE and how it impacted their CP development and utilization, as well as how athletes understand their head coach’s CP. It was found that the understanding of a CP differed between coaches and athletes. Although a common idea of “approach” existed in all definitions, athletes and coaches emphasized different aspects of coaching, such as team success, coach-athlete interactions, and meeting athletes’ needs. The difference in definitions is in line with the literature on CP (1, 16, 34).

Although in 2020, Partington (33) suggested the definition does not matter as much as CP in practice, issues with expectations arise when CPs cannot be defined. The frustration of the athletes is a prime example of why having a consistent definition for a CP is important. A4 emphasized this idea that the coach is responsible to meet the needs of each individual athlete,  which differs from that of his coach (C1). These differing definitions resulted in different expectations, ultimately leading to athlete frustration. Furthermore, even when the coach and athletes had similar definitions of their CP, the coach’s inconsistency was what athletes saw. The comments made by the athletes in this study indicate that having a consistent definition and enforcement of CP in practice are equally important facets of CP in research and practice.

When it came to implementing their CPs, C1 discussed holding his entire team to a standard enforced by team rules, along with modeling the behaviors he expects from his athletes. This, along with his athletes stating they understood his approach, goals, and motives, indicated that C1 was effectively implementing his CP in practice. This differed from C2 who struggled to explain how her CP fits into her goals as a coach, which was not surprising as she noted she had never written down or communicated her CP to her athletes.  This lack of effective implementation of her CP was highlighted by the athletes’ reports of inconsistent behavior.

A challenge that coaches face is the win-lose scenario of attaining athlete-oriented goals but being judged on performance (22). Despite both coaches emphasizing the importance of athlete development, C1 was the only coach whose athletes reported the emphasis that he placed on athlete development. C2’s athletes reported that her inconsistency seemed to stem from her focus on winning. The lack of a well-developed and effectively implemented CP seems to be the source of C2’s issues with performance pressure and consistency among her athletes.

C2 is a prime example of the “copy and paste” model of coaching, taking ideas from other coaches and developing her approach to coaching in that way (33). Although informal CE is a prime learning tool for neophyte coaches, limiting CE experiences to strictly vicarious learning may actually harm a coach’s ability to develop their own ideas about coaching. The value of formal CE programs, specifically early on in a coach’s career, should not be undervalued. This is especially true when promoting CP development, which has been described as a ’starting point’ for coaches.

Prior to developing a CP, C1 reported never sitting down with his thoughts and deciding what direction he wanted to take a team. He recalled the positive and impactful experience of a formal CE program that asked him to write out his CP. Despite having to do this previously for a job interview, he stressed the importance and positive effect that formal CE had on him and his philosophy early in his career, noting it should have been earlier in his career. The exposure he had with formal CE early could be a reason why he remains open to CE. Meanwhile, C2, who does not report any experience with formal CE, is closed off to the idea of formal CE. Although she feels that it is a good idea, she does not engage or feel it would be beneficial to her. This observation demonstrates the importance of positive and/or impactful formal CE experiences early on in a coaching career—such as development of a CP.  CE experiences early on may shape the way coaches view CE and their willingness to participate in these programs going forward.

The issue that many CE programs face is coaches being resistant to absorb new information that challenges their current beliefs (13). C2 exemplifies this issue via learning vicariously through her past coaches and lack of openness to attend formal CE programs. She indicated that she had an established approach to coaching and dismissed new information that formal CE may provide her. This lack of interest in CE will lead to her missing out on professional development opportunities in the future (13).

However, if introducing formal CE experiences early in a coach’s career is not feasible, CE should not be ruled out. Specifically, informal CE experiences, such as mentorship, can be implemented into a coach’s development. Rather than vicarious learning experiences, mentorship experiences allow for coaches to grow and develop individually. For example, C2 utilizes mentors and discusses the usefulness of them. Although C2 has a lack of understanding and experience with formal CE, mentorship is a form of CE that C2 has embraced. This is a great example of how mentoring programs could be a great tool for coaches to engage in informal CE for continuous development. C1 also mentioned his positive experience with informal CE such as reading, videos, and podcasts that allow him to educate himself on his own time. Although formal CE is important, both coaches engage in informal CE on their own as a continuous tool to develop. If CE programs could incorporate these methods into programming, this may promote participation from coaches with little CE experiences, as it may be more palatable for coaches.

In past research, coaches have been found to exhibit low self-awareness, yet much of CP research has relied on self-report data. Allowing athletes to speak on their experiences with coaches has helped to identify inconsistencies. C1 and his athletes were in line with most of what they said, with his athletes understanding his CP and the standards they are to uphold. His athletes identified that he acts in line with his CP. For C2, there were multiple inconsistencies between what she reported and what her athletes reported. She may be exhibiting a low self-awareness; not realizing her inconsistency and the lack of understanding her athletes have of her intentions. C2’s lack of reported self-reflection and reluctance with formal CE may be a factor in her low self-awareness. Self-reflective practices, along with formal CE, may help coaches become more aware of their actions and the effect these have on their athletes.

The nature of qualitative research and utilizing reflexive TA yields some limitations. The sample size was small and therefore is not representative of all coaches, athletes, and sports. Furthermore, coaches were able to choose the athletes that participated, which may have led to selecting athletes they have a better rapport with and who understood them best. Gender, competition level, and classman level (i.e., underclassman or upperclassman) of the athletes, as well as athletes’ perceptions of coaches based on the coaches’ gender may have affected results and should be explored in the future. To expand on the current research, it is recommended that CE research begin to supplement the qualitative literature with quantitative studies focusing on more diversity in the coaches assessed.


This research supports past findings that it is imperative that coaches have a clear philosophy and know how to effectively communicate it with their athletes and implement it in their coaching. Many coaches are unaware of CPs until they attend a CE program, or until they are asked directly about their CP and are often unprepared to answer. The two coaches interviewed for this study highlighted the need for coaches to engage in formal CE to establish an effective CP. In addition to this, the secondary purpose of this research helped to establish the disconnect in coaches’ theory and practice. The interviews with the athletes in this study exemplified the difficulty coaches face with implementing their CP when it is not fully developed and communicated. Gaining an insight into athletes’ understanding of their head coach’s CP can help guide future research when looking at CP in action. Furthermore, these two case studies show the impact that formal CE has on initial CP development and impact informal CE has on CP continued development and implementation. This research supports the important role that CE programming plays in CP development; utilizing formal CE to develop a CP and informal CE to help coaches ensure they are implementing their CP through continuous development.


Coaches already engage in informal CE experiences, but they do not seem structured and intentional (e.g., mentorship). Coach educators can promote the development and use of coaching philosophies by offering more intentional informal learning experience into their programs. Coaches may also want to be exposed to formal CE early on in their coaching career prior to developing an idea about coaching solely based on vicarious experience, to allow coaches time to develop their own, original  CP. Tailoring coach education experiences to coaches in a more applicable way early in their careers may help coaches better establish and utilize their CP in action. 


Thank you to Emily Schwartz and Dr. Matthew Jones who were an important part of the data analysis phase of this study. This study was supported by the Research Grant for Graduate Students funded by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.


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