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Mark Scott
Rapport Building and Communicating Coach Developer

Getting Your Community of Practice Members Ready

The second article in a five-part series exploring the value of Communities of Practice (CoPs). The series uses findings from a research project undertaken between UK Coaching and The Albion Foundation to demonstrate the impact of CoPs on coach learning and development

Learning in a community of practice (CoP) looks and feels very different to traditional education methods that we are used to. This is one of the main strengths of learning in a CoP, as it allows everyone to participate and get involved in the learning in a relaxed and more informal way.

However, this can also result in the people in the CoP feeling uneasy and unsure about how to go about taking part, so it is worth trying to upskill the members of a CoP in the formative stages, before getting the CoP fully operational.


In the collaboration between UK Coaching and The Albion Foundation, CoP members told us:

“We were ready to learn in that way because as coaches, we wanted to develop ourselves. We were open to the idea of doing this [CoP] but unsure if we were allowed to talk about things informally in the way that we were allowed to. As time went on, we knew we could talk about anything around the topic.” 

Some people were ready to take part but they didn’t know what can be said, what can’t be said. I think that’s where people were a little bit unsure.” 


What do these quotes from coaches mean to you? Do you appreciate why they might have that particular opinion? 


As described in the quotes above, it is likely that some people may be apprehensive about joining in the CoP and perhaps don’t have some skills needed to maximally get involved. You may need to put things in place to support members and introduce them to the CoP style of learning. 

If there are any new or inexperienced coaches taking part, they might feel intimidated by older or more experienced coaches, those with high qualifications or reputations, or indeed those with forthright opinions. 

These issues of power and identity should be considered. Talking to the more inexperienced coaches to explain that their opinions are valued as much as others’ can help, as can talking to the more experienced coaches to encourage them to seek input from others.

The following quotes show how some of these power issues can be broken down as a CoP becomes established and the members buy into the process of learning from each other:

“There’s the hierarchy that we had; so, it would go tier 1 management, tier 2, tier 3, tier 4 community coach. Tier 1 is almost your master coaches. 

“The regional talent centre (RTC) director, (tier 1 coach) came into our facility to deliver a session and one of the tier 4 coaches, who had been through more formal education, was explaining about non-linear pedagogy. The tier 4 coach told him to have a little think about the work on non-linear pedagogy and actually physically handed over a book to him.

The tier 1 coach showed vulnerability to say I’ve got an area in my delivery I want to try improve… it flipped from a master coach having all the experience and a high-profile role in the RTC and the community coaches now bringing something to the party to develop you as a coach.” 

“Not all the best information comes from someone higher than you in your role. By talking to people, I’ve learnt that people on a similar level as you go through the same thing every day. It gives me a comforting feeling to know that someone else is going through what I am going through.” 


As you can see from the quotes above, learning in a CoP can break down hierarchy and power-relations amongst those involved. Over the course of a year, as members became more used to sharing, collaborating and discussing things in an informal way, they became more comfortable learning from each other.

If people have not learned in this way before, they might not be ready for the more informal nature of a CoP where they are expected to join in, contribute and take away their own learning from the discussions and go away and learn independently. 

Have a go

Think about making coaches feel more comfortable by:

Consider group sizes – some people may be uncomfortable in large groups.

Offer discussion topics that are quite neutral and everyone can contribute to. Initially this might include topics that are of interest to the members eg, discussing tactics in a sport.

Offer some training on reflective skills – how to take and utilise learning from a CoP discussion, including members considering self-directed learning and formulating ideas of what they want to learn in the future.

Encourage and develop listening and questioning skills – the more members make use of these skills, the more people will feel included. 


Setting Up a CoP Series

Part 1

Using Observations to Help Evaluate a Community of Practice

Read it now

Part 3

Developing People to Lead a Community of Practice

Read it now

Part 4

Creating Ownership in a Community of Practice

Read it now

Part 5

5 Top Tips for Starting up a Community of Practice


Related Resources

  • Communities of Practice in Action

  • Getting a Community of Practice Going

  • Listening vs Understanding: Solutions for Effective Communication


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Mark Scott