Online Learning in a High-Performance Sport Environment—A Mixed-Method Study

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Glenn Fyall University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2040-450X *
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Blake Bennett University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

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https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2991-8758
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Jackie Cowan University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7852-4897
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This study investigated a high-performance rugby academy program in New Zealand during the COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020. Unsurprisingly, this challenged academy staff who were abruptly charged with conceptualizing and implementing the program in innovative ways including a move to online learning and the adoption of online learning tools. A mixed-method sequential exploratory design was employed to explore the managers, coaches, and learners’ experiences. Phase 1 explored three coaches and two academy managers conceptualization and subsequent experiences of the online program. Phase 2 explored 44 academy players’ experiences of the online learning program. Our findings reveal that an explicit focus on player well-being and connection online appeared to increase a “sense of community” within and across both cohorts through enhanced communication, participation, and interaction. The challenges encountered included: accessibility, the amount, flow, and direction of information, “app fatigue,” and online technologies that were not fit-for-purpose. Our discussion reinforces that purposeful design and constant reflection is requisite to the successful and sustainable implementation of online coaching environments. We conclude with five fundamental lessons learned from COVID-19 that are worthy of consideration in the purposeful design of future online high-performance sporting programmes.

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