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UK Coaching Research Team
Organising and Planning

How Coaches Can Learn from Psychology to Analyse the Self

An academic in Canada interprets the work of a leading self-insight psychologist to provide guidance to coaches when analysing themselves

The academic writing the study delved into was the work of Professor David Dunning, formerly of Cornell University and a leading expert on self-insight. The study analyses Professor Dunning’s work on the self, and translates the learning into the coaching context. It aims to give coaches a better understanding of how to form more accurate self-views.

The theory – thinking outside the (coaching) box

The theory focuses on understanding the many errors we all make when trying to form accurate self-views. The logic goes that if we can be more aware of these errors, we will move our perceptions of the self more closely in line with reality.

The author argues an accurate understanding of the self is critical for anyone seeking personal development, particularly coaches.

There are two key themes of relevance to coaches:

  1. Understanding the difficulties of reaching an accurate self-judgement, and
  2. Exploring the information we have available to form more accurate judgements but that we tend to ignore.

Challenging New Coaches

Analysing self-performance is particularly difficult for new or beginner coaches, due to what is termed the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is where the skills needed to assess whether one is good at a cognitive task are the same skills needed to perform the task itself. So new coaches are likely to lack the specific skills they need to see what it is they are not yet good at.

Think of it like this. Coaching is full of metacognitive skills – planning how to approach a specific task and evaluating progress towards the completion of it are just two examples. By the nature of being a new or beginner coach, it is unlikely these skills will have been developed sufficiently. Therefore to expect a coach to use these skills to understand how good they are at coaching is illogical.

The Dunning-Kruger effect found people in these positions, completely understandably, tended to overrate their ability, and as such, it is argued that accurate self-judgements should not be expected from new coaches.
The academic continues by explaining a trap both beginner and experienced coaches fall into that can lead to overrating self-performance – considering incomplete information. Coaches see the effects of their chosen actions and base their self-judgements on these.

However, what about other potential solutions that could have had an alternative effect?

Take choosing a starting line-up for instance. If the coach’s choice results in an improved attacking performance, they may reflect by thinking they made the optimum decision. But what if a different line-up created better balance and led to an improvement in attack and defence?

If coaches do not consider other possible solutions, it becomes easy to overestimate the quality of the solutions they do choose.

Ignore at your peril

The second theme challenges one of the primary methods of coach development – learning from experience.

Whether coaches take feedback from the outcomes of their coaching actions or receive it directly from others, the tendency is to monitor feedback inaccurately or fail to consider that the feedback itself may be inaccurate.

The research provides a number of things coaches can be aware of when judging the outcomes of their actions. As well as considering other potential solutions, as detailed above, coaches should take care when establishing cause-effect relationships between coaching actions and changes in performance. As we cannot always trace a direct link between an action and a consequence, it is important to be aware that there may be other factors contributing to the change witnessed, or even contributory factors that are hidden and cannot be seen.

Related Resources

  • Eight Steps to Great Coaching Reflection

  • Planning to Get Feedback from the People You Coach

  • Self-Analysis and Feedback Questions


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UK Coaching Research Team