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UK Coaching Team
Coach Developer

Observing Coaches and Coaching Practice

Senior Coach Developer at UK Sport Andrew Gillott shares his experiences of working with and supporting coaches' learning and development

Senior Coach Developer at UK Sport Andrew Gillott offers the following tips to support your coach observations.

Understand where the coaching starts and finishes

Coaching doesn’t always start and finish at the practice. Consider at what point it would be useful to engage with observing your coach. Perhaps there is a pre-training briefing or post session debrief which allows for more intervention pre- and post-practice and less intervention during the practice.

Remember, where coaching and coach development happens can be fluid and depends on the context and the situation.

Generating feedback is valuable

For any coach being observed, being able to provide meaningful feedback is crucial.

Understanding what this feedback looks like is important as it helps the developer and coach have a conversation using a common language and lens.

As a coach developer, can you consider ways you might be able to help your coach generate their own feedback and reflect effectively on their delivery?

Consider the differences between expectations and outcomes

If you're able to support the coach in articulating their expectations for themselves, the practice and the athletes, it can increase the potential for effective conversations between coach and developer.

Coaching is a dynamic process and what is planned in a session doesn’t always happen, giving the opportunity for your pre- and post-practice conversations to delve in to the differences between the plan and reality.

What does your coach observation look like?

What observation looks like depends completely on the sport or context.

When observing a coach, try to consider:

  • Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood: try and find out a little more about the coach, their environment and what they would like to take away from the observation prior to imposing your views and ideas.
  • If you have the facilities to do so try and mic up the coach (but not on the first observation), and set up a camera to film the practice.
  • Try to set a stopwatch to link back to timeline of what happens in the observation.
  • Look out for the interactions between coach and athlete(s). It might be useful to note the style of interaction and who the coach interacts with.
  • Take time to observe the athletes who are not in interaction with the coach and how they engage with the challenge or practice.
  • Pay attention to what groups of athletes say to each other and their own body language after coach interventions.
  • Try to observe the coach with a specific filter. For example, how the coach plans, reviews and reflects.
  • If you have been able to record the practice you might want to take time to code the footage and use this as a basis for post practice discussions.
  • Consider the coach’s thoughts, feelings and emotions towards the footage and how they articulate their reflections on the practice.

Remember, coaching is a dynamic process, so no two sessions are the same.

During the observation, what would be useful to look out for?

What you are watching for during the practice very much depends on what you are working on with the coach and their own learning and development objective.

If you're just starting a process of observation with a coach, consider what you are looking 'at' before you move to what you are looking 'for'.

What does effective feedback to the coach look like?

When giving feedback, remember that the coach developer is just as human and fallible as the coach, so it would be important to create the right environment for feedback to be given and received.

  • Have clarity in your feedback, and when asking questions ensure they are open and applied to what has been observed in the practice.
  • Consider the time and space of where feedback is given. After the practice it may be late at night or in an environment where it is not possible to have a meaningful conversation.
  • Try to be as flexible and possible and create space and time to meet subsequently with the coach.
  • If you have been able to record any element of the practice use this date to navigate your post practice conversations. It is not just the coach who needs to be reflective through the feedback process, the coach developer should also consider the impact they are having on the coach and ways they can refine and develop their support.

Some practical considerations to guide observations

  • Always consider the context: recording equipment isn’t always appropriate in every environment (swimming for example).
  • If using recording equipment look for tripod stands that sit lower to the ground, so they are less likely to be blown over, and bring plenty of charged or new batteries.
  • Waterproof paper and covered clipboards to save you from the elements can be useful.
  • Always be aware of what is going on in the practice: make sure you don’t get in the way!


Consider your role as a coach developer and the way you approach coach observations.

  • Are you effective with your time?
  • Do you create a safe environment for feedback and honest discussion?
  • Are you able to ask open questions?
  • Have you been able to support the coach in developing their own mechanism for generating feedback?
  • Do you observe the coach before and after practice with their athletes, rather than just during?

Use this as an opportunity to consider your strengths as a coach developer and how you can be even more effective of supporting your coaches through observation.

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Related Resources

  • Developing World Class Coaches With a Head for Heights

  • The More Knowledgeable Other

  • Understanding the Coach Developer


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