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UK Coaching Research Team
Organising and Planning

A Framework for Critical Reflection

Critical reflection is important for any coach wanting to improve. So how should you go about putting it into practice?

Although training courses generally agree on the skills a coach needs to learn, it is difficult to prioritise these around individual needs. 

In response, Dutch researchers set out to create a course designed from feedback gathered directly from coaches. The focus was on “critical reflection”, which allows the coaches to change their behaviour, not their players' behaviour.

Designing a critical course

The researchers identified 35 football coaches to take part in the study – 30 men and five women aged from 18 to 62. Some coached recreationally while others coached competitively, with the group having an average of seven years’ coaching experience.

Discussions were held with the coaches to identify how they wanted to change and improve their coaching. They were also asked to illustrate what they believed made a good coach. Much of the data gathered concerned dealing with behavioural problems of players and parents. Therefore, this was a key focus of the course.

The researchers designed the critical reflection course based on a well-established approach from education initially created by Dr William Knaus in the 1950s.

This set a framework to help coaches change their behaviour by identifying the thoughts that influence how they behave. By changing these thoughts, coaches would then be able to change their behaviour. They were taught to reflect on these thoughts and constantly ask themselves questions, often thinking about how their ideal “good coach” would approach the situation and how they needed to change in order to approach it in the same way. 

The framework consisted

Step 1

Identify the aspect of your coaching behaviour that you want to change. (Think about how you coach in specific situations.)

Step 2

Ideally, how do you want to behave in this situation? Think of how your idea of a “good coach” would behave.

Step 3

Ask yourself how you need to change your behaviour in order to behave in the same way as your idea of a good coach. 

This stage is key – critical reflection is about constantly questioning your own behaviour and thinking of ways to change it in order to move closer to your idea of a good coach.

Step 4


Step 5

Reflect on your coaching by analysing how you behaved and asking yourself if your behaviour matched  how your idea of a good coach would behave in the same situation. If it did not, return to step 3.

Further reflections

  • Don’t be put off by being honest and admitting where you need to improve – remember, identifying the aspect of your coaching that you want to change is the first step to making that change happen.
  • Consider completing your confessional practice with a colleague or close friend. This might remove any feelings of discomfort when having to identify any shortcomings you may have.
  • Use your own ideas of how a good coach would behave in the coaching situations you encounter to help you develop strategies to change your behaviour. If you’re not sure how a good coach might behave, ask a coaching colleague or another coach for help.
  • Constantly question your own behaviour against your idea of a good coach – critical reflection is an ongoing technique that requires continual practice.

Now read the case study

Discover what happened when three coaches followed this framework. Did they experience a noticeable change in their coaching behaviour?

Read 'Perfectionism, Past and Empathy'

Related Content

  • Thanks Coach: A Decade of Self-Reflection on an Athlete's Critical Moments

  • Empathy (Part 1): Beyond Lip Service

  • Empathy (Part 3): The Most Useful Tool of All?


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UK Coaching Research Team