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The Lost Continuum of Physical Education and Sport

This is an excerpt from Coach Education Essentials by Kristen Dieffenbach & Melissa Thompson.

By Kristen Dieffenbach


In the past, in many countries, sport coaching training had connections with physical education teacher training. Currently, these bonds are often tenuous at best. And in many places the connections between the two areas of professional preparation seem all but forgotten, disregarded by both sides (Dieffenbach and Wayda 2010).


As noted, outside the physical education classroom and away from individuals trained in youth development, youth sport experiences have increasingly adopted many of the characteristics of professional sport entertainment. Globally, matching uniforms, youth scouts, manicured fields, and intensive practice and travel schedules have turned what was once a youth pastime into a booming global industry. We now see international youth competitions such as the Youth World Series and Youth Olympics, web-based high school sport channels, and youth sport scouting reports. While these are not in and of themselves negative, the outcome-oriented emphasis inherent in them overshadows the greater values of developing physical literacy, sport participation skills, and lifetime athleticism. Further, the emphasis has been placed on the development of perceived “elite talent” at a young age rather than on a system that seeks to develop athleticism in order to facilitate talent development with age. This has led to a system that encourages and rewards early specialization, a reduction of recreational sport participation opportunities, and an increase in youth athlete injuries, all at the expense of the athlete (e.g., Brenner 2007; Caine, DiFiori, and Maffulli 2006; DiFiori et al. 2014). This influence can also be seen in the approach youth sport coaches take, running youth practices and employing training and competition strategies more appropriate for far more advanced
players.


As sport participation models evolved in many parts of the world, an early uncoupling of sport coaching from formal physical education teacher preparation began. As Lyle (2005) noted, sport coaching has overwhelmingly been viewed through a one-dimensional lens rooted in a tradition of coaching based on one's own sport experiences. This coach preparation approach has been perpetuated by the athlete-turned-coach formula used to fill coaching roles at the youth through elite levels of sport. This myopic approach has led to an “I played therefore I am sufficiently prepared to coach” myth similar to but less well documented than the “subjective warrant” often seen in pre- and early-career physical educators. The concept of subjective warrant in teaching is concerned with “individual's perceptions of skills and abilities necessary” (Dewar and Lawson 1984). In the physical education setting, that warrant is often influenced by early experiences as a student or participant rather than by formal, evidence-based education.


The “personal experience as adequate preparation to coach” bias skews away from a perceived need for or valuation of formal coaching education and training, deferring instead to hands-on experiences and apprenticeships. This is not to say that hands on learning is not valuable, as both can be potentially valid approaches. However, when unregulated, concerns arise regarding the consistency and quality of these experiences, whether athlete learning will occur (depending on the individuals involved), and whether quality and depth of knowledge of a profession can be developed properly without a learning framework (Kuhn 2008; Young and Baker 2004).


Unfortunately, the mentality that unmediated, informal, self-selected learning experiences are sufficient to prepare someone to be an effective coach has been noted not only in coaches and spectators, and at the sport organizational level, but in research as well (Sheehy, Dieffenbach, and Reed 2018). Such research has documented coach “learning preferences” without significantly challenging whether an individual's preference is sufficient preparation for such a complex task. While this lack of informed preparation approach has not always been the case (see Dieffenbach and Wayda 2010 for a review of the 1960s separation of physical education teacher education and coach education in academia in the United States), a similar bias can be seen in current academic physical activity teaching training programs as well (Schoenstedt, Vickers, and Carr 2016).


Interestingly, in discussing the development of expertise in coaching, Schempp, McCullick, and Mason (2014) note that the “I played” mindset is a hallmark of the novice, with higher-order professional development being distinguished by a quest for new ideas and knowledge from multiple sources outside one's self and one's own experiences. It could, by extension, be argued that a similar lack of sophistication or maturity in thinking related to coach professional development can be found in many sport programs and organizations.