The path to coaching expertise is not well understood. On the one hand, there has been considerable research exploring the art and science of coaching, in particular the work of Smith and Smoll (see Smith and Smoll, 2007
; Smoll and Smith, 2010
for reviews of this work). Most studies in this area consider the specific behaviors demonstrated by the expert coach (for example, see Horton et al., 2005
), typically showing that expert coaching is characterized by meticulous planning of practices so that training reflects the specific needs and objectives of the athletes and team. On the other hand, although interesting, Abraham and Collins (1998
) argue that this type of research has limited utility because it does not provide tangible information for improving coach development, particularly given the considerable time constraints involved in elite-level coaching where decisions often need to be made rapidly and accurately.
A limited number of studies have also considered the specific cognitive (as opposed to behavioral) qualities that define the expert coach. For instance, Vergeer and Lyle (2009
) considered decision-making of gymnastic coaches to determine whether competency improved with increasing experience. They had coaches consider a specific scenario (i.e., participation of an injured athlete at a competition) and analyzed their responses. More skilled coaches showed more extensive and complex decision-making strategies, a higher number of statements and a deeper (i.e., less superficial) focus of attention when compared with less-skilled coaches. Studies such as these add to our understanding of the acquisition of coaching skill; however, our understanding is far from complete.
To complicate this discussion further, coaches have multiple roles in athlete training and development. Brack (2002
) discussed the different requirements of team sport coaches noting three roles that a coach has to fill, each with its own specific competences. For example, in the “Trainer” role coaches have to demonstrate field competence while in the “Manager” role a coach needs to have strategic knowledge. Clearly, the role of the coach is multifaceted and variable, and understanding the process(es) of coach development is important for facilitating the development of the next generation of coaches.
In many sports, it is common for top coaching positions to be held by former players; however, despite this progression, we have little understanding of how playing
may develop useful skills for coaching
. Like other experts, skilled coaches appear to develop their capabilities over years of involvement. Schinke et al. (1995
) suggested that in addition to developing through coaching experience, coach development could occur if they spent significant time as an athlete. Gilbert et al. (2006
) examined the development profiles of successful coaches from a range of sports and competition levels, and presented preliminary data indicating these coaches had several 1000
h of accumulated time spent participating as an athlete (i.e., “pre-experience”). Subsequent to involvement as an athlete, they spent many 100
s of hours each year directly involved in coach-related activities (athlete training, competition, administration, and coach education; Gilbert et al., 2006
). It is possible that participation as an athlete augments the development of skills necessary as an expert coach. Studies of athletes have provided a wealth of information about the skills underpinning elite performance in various sports (cf. Abernethy et al., 2007
; Mann et al., 2007
). Differences between skilled and less-skilled athletes have been found in components of perception
, and decision-making
(Bar-Eli et al., 2011
) and these skill differences may have some role in “creating” the expert coach. For example, the ability to rapidly read patterns of information on the field of play (a hallmark of skilled performance as an athlete; see Hodges et al., 2006
, for a review) could be valuable for making quick decisions regarding the most effective offensive or defensive strategy. Unfortunately, few studies have considered the specific perceptual-cognitive capabilities of skilled coaches and how these relate to the capabilities demonstrated by skilled athletes. Understanding these relationships has the potential to improve our understanding of expert coach development and further elucidate the value of time spent as an athlete.
A range of methods has been used to uncover the difference in perceptual-cognitive capabilities of skilled athletes. For example, the Flicker-Paradigm, developed by Rensink et al. (1997
), examines “change blindness,” a phenomenon where participants attempt to perceive subtle changes in a visual display. Experts typically perform better on these types of tasks than novices (cf. Werner and Thies, 2000
) but only in scenes where information is structured in meaningful ways (cf. Werner and Thies, 2000
; Reingold et al., 2001
). Similar results have been found in a range of domains using various pattern recognition tests; differences between experts and novices are restricted to scenes with medium to high levels of structure (as compared to unstructured scenes; e.g., chess, Simon and Chase, 1973
; snooker, Abernethy, 1994
; soccer, Williams et al., 1993
; Williams and Davids, 1998
; Ward and Williams, 2003
In addition to perceptual capabilities, skilled athletes have a more sophisticated knowledge
than less-skilled athletes. For example, a series of studies by Allard and colleagues (see Allard et al., 1993
for a review) considered differences in declarative knowledge between coaches, players, and judges. They were able to show among athletes and judges/officials in figure skating, diving (e.g., Allard and Starkes, 1991
), and basketball (e.g., Deakin and Allard, 1992
) that different types of declarative knowledge are required for different sporting tasks. More specifically, declarative knowledge is specific to an individual’s role in the sport, differing between coaches, players, and judges.
An important distinction in understanding skilled performers’ decision-making
processes relates to intuitive (i.e., automatic) versus deliberative (i.e., explicit information processing) decisions. Highly skilled athletes use both intuitive and deliberative processes; in high game tempo situations, they are able to make fast, intuitive, and accurate decisions, but when given the opportunity they are also able to deliberate this decision and propose other options (cf. Hogarth, 2001
). Although there is some disagreement about the value of deliberation in decision-making (see Raab and Reimer, 2007
), it appears that highly skilled athletes are superior at both intuitive and deliberative decision-making.
The research summarized above indicates skill-based differences among performers in dynamic, time-constrained sports. Given that elite coaches often spend a significant amount of time as athletes, it is important to determine whether the perceptual-cognitive skills developed by elite athletes over the course of their career have any relevance to being an exceptional coach. Our study considers differences on a range of perceptual-cognitive characteristics from varying levels of information processing among high- and low-skilled soccer coaches and high- and low-skilled players. Moreover, we considered whether the coaches’ skill in this area is explained by experience as a player. Because there are few studies on this topic, our hypotheses were rather preliminary. We assumed that there would be differences between coaches and players, particularly at higher levels of information processing (e.g., decision-making and strategizing; extended on the basis of Bar-Eli et al., 2011
). Additionally, we hypothesized expertise differences at all levels of information processing. The interaction of both should become relevant in tasks that demand decisions and strategies but not for task of pure knowledge and perception.