A regional coach conversation

I had the pleasure of delivering at the East Midlands Regional CPD event yesterday, which I saw as a great opportunity to engage in yet another meaningful coach conversation. I was joined by #johncollins #kenrickliburd #mattshaw #karenburton as we shared our thinking, our practice and our research with an enthused audience of coaches. Below is some of what I had to say.

Coach behaviours have been the focus of my research for the past seven years. They can be described as the actions, reactions and responses exhibited by a coach during the delivery of their practice. These behaviours are thought to originate from a “combination of tradition, intuition, and the emulation of other coaches” (Partington & Cushion, 2013, p.374). The behaviour of the coach has been associated with the concept of effective practice (Lacy & Darst, 1985) and is a prominent theme across the sports coaching literature (Becker & Wrisberg, 2008; Ford, Yates, & Williams, 2010; Galimore & Tharpe, 2004). Results from many of these studies have found the behaviour of the coach to yield a significant impact on athlete performance (Cushion, Ford & Williams, 2012; Terry, 2006). Furthermore, the literature establishes ‘instruction’ as the dominant behaviour within the practice environment (Gilbert & Trudel, 2004).

Instruction has been consistently found to be utilised 48% of the time during training / practice. That is, explicit and direct instruction as a means of informing and shaping athlete development. Sociologist argue that the retention of power by the coach shapes this approach to our practice and describes this form of coaching as Coach-centred. An alternative approach is to consider the athlete, their current level of knowledge and understanding, and their ability to solve problems. This form of coaching is described as athlete-centred.

I propose that we (basketball coaches) begin to consider our coaching behaviour, what we do and say, as a means of improving the climate we create within our practice environment? Traditionally, basketball practice is constructed of training form activities (skill and drill) and overt instructions. However, as a means of moving towards a more research informed approach, researchers suggest that practice should be more aligned to competition and should reflect playing form. Moreover, it is felt that the coach should employ a less instructional approach to their practice. This may include the provision of small-sided games, both advantage-disadvantage and non-advantage, as a means of creating problems for our athletes to solve. In order for this approach to be successful, we need to employ the use of questioning.

The Debate of Ideas

The ‘Debate of Ideas’ (Gréhaigne & Griffin, 2005) is a framework that can be used to challenge and extend learning within our practice. Originally developed as a means of advancing tactical decision-making within invasion based sports (such as basketball), the concept is akin to social constructivism and promotes reasoning, reflection and decision-making. Gréhaigne and Griffin (2005) referred to the concept as a ‘tactical timeout’, which essentially is the provision of time and space to consider the tactical decisions employed within the game. The framework has four broad strategies that can be employed by the coach:

  1. Promoting Exploration: Concepts such as allowing moments of deliberate play, time and space to explore problems of difficulties within the Moment of the Game. After some exposure to the problem, players may fail to perceive any problems, at which point the coach should provide further opportunity to explore, collaborate and work towards a solution. The coach may wish to add further modifications to the activity as a means of guided-discovery.
  2. Asking Open-Ended questions: When a problem or challenge is identified by the athlete(s) the coach may decide to bring them together to debate among themselves or with them through the use of open-ended questioning.
  3. Asking Specific Questions: After posing a divergent question the coach may observe and allow the athletes time and space to problem-solve before offering further facilitation.
  4. Applying strategies: Once a solution is reached, athletes should be encouraged to explore / test the strategy.

You may wish to consider the following questions:


  1. How did you achieve your intended outcome? I would like you to consider the principles of the game you employed and why you employed them.
  2. How did you identify the particular strengths of your opponent? Consider their pattern of play, individual talent and the strategies they employed in their last three defensive possessions.
  3. What did you do well within the MOG to combat these strengths?
  4. What things does your team need to further counteract the strengths of the opposition?
  5. How will you do the things you have just mentioned in question 3?




Higher order questioning seeks to involve the athlete, explore their thinking and elicit an opinion that is individual and the sole possession of the person from which it came. Targeting our questioning empowers the athlete to think for themselves, to make decisions, and ultimately, to develop a ‘Independent Thinking Athlete’.

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