We don’t talk any more…if we ever did — on (the absence of) coaching discourse amongst cricket coaches, and a possible role for Communities of Practice in coach development

When did you last have a serious coaching conversation with a fellow coach?

Not about who gets to use the bowling machine first, or about an individual a player, or the opposition for next week’s game. But actually about the art and craft of coaching?

Just before Christmas, I stumbled into what could evolve into a local Community of Practice (CoP). It started (indeed, still largely functions) as a WhatsApp group for a group of coaches to arrange social events and to vent about employment issues.

One of the team posted a video of a young bowler with a question about his action, and got back a range of replies, all with a slightly different perspective, all with the same objective of helping that bowler to develop a more repeatable, more robust bowling action.A

A hopeful beginning.

But where are the open discussion boards, the CoPs, the communities of like-minded individuals striving to provide the best possible experience to their charges?

Lots of talking online, maybe not much listening

I follow several coaches, coach developers, academics and coaching pracademics on Twitter (other micro-blogging sites exist…thankfully 🦣).

Exchanges on Twitter can be very rewarding, but the presence of “experts” can quickly close down discussions — “Here’s the answer, and I know because I am more qualified than you/played at a higher level than you ever did/coach with the CAG squads/am a Coach Developer/have a PhD/coach a bit in my spare time and I’m right.”

More structured “CPD” learning opportunities tend to follow a familiar pattern — expert coach speaks, everyone else listens.

Coaching conferences (interrupted by COVID) were mostly one-way presentations from the stage.

Online webinars, a welcome addition to the CPD landscape over lockdown, too often tend to towards “death-by-powerpoint”-style. Even “book clubs” events become an opportunity for the authors “in conversation” to talk through the main points of their books…although I do wonder how many of the participants have actually read the relevant books in advance…

Even with a Q&A, the conversation still comprises a generic, remote presentation by an expert, rather than a discussion between peers.

All rather too close to the stilted “I tell, you do” model all too prevalent in so much “coaching” (and coach education).

Discussion boards hosted by NGBs can feel stifled — conversations do sometimes need to be “seeded”, but they then need to be left to develop freely, not trained back to the inevitable “here’s something we prepared earlier” content.

Communities of Practice — the way forward?

I do wonder if the CoP model is the way to go?

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

“Introduction to communities of practice – A brief overview of the concept and its uses”. Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. June 2015

Key factors appear to be:

  1. The CoP needs to comprise a genuine community.
    • The CoP might perhaps come together for some reason other than just the CoP, but must ideally be committed to supporting the joint aims of the group.
  2. Shared practice.
    • Beyond “all coaches”, it might be as tightly drawn as “coaches working with the same squad or club” or “all All Stars Activators”.
  3. You don’t need an “expert” to “lead” a CoP.
    • …if all the expert does is provide answers from his experience — yes, it can be a valuable contribution, but the real strength in a CoP appears to be in the co-creation of solutions, in the act of developing Community.

If you are interested in finding out more about CoPs and sport coaching, I would recommend this video seminar, one of a series produced in conjunction with Myths of Sport Coaching, ed. Dr Amy Whitehead and Jenny Coe.

Myths of Sport Coaching Seminar: Communities of Practice

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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