Naturalistic Decision Making in High Performance Team Sport Coaching

in International Sport Coaching Journal
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  • 1 West Virginia University
  • 2 Leeds Beckett University
  • 3 Leeds Beckett University
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A defining element of coaching expertise is characterised by the coach’s ability to make decisions. Recent literature has explored the potential of Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) as a useful framework for research into coaches’ in situ decision making behaviour. The purpose of this paper was to investigate whether the NDM paradigm offered a valid mechanism for exploring three high performance coaches’ decision-making behaviour in competition and training settings. The approach comprised three phases: 1) existing literature was synthesised to develop a conceptual framework of decision-making cues to guide and shape the exploration of empirical data; 2) data were generated from stimulated recall procedures to populate the framework; 3) existing theory was combined with empirical evidence to generate a set of concepts that offer explanations for the coaches’ decision-making behaviour. Findings revealed that NDM offered a suitable framework to apply to coaches’ decision-making behaviour. This behaviour was guided by the emergence of a slow, interactive script that evolves through a process of pattern recognition and/or problem framing. This revealed ‘key attractors’ that formed the initial catalyst and the potential necessity for the coach to make a decision through the breaching of a ‘threshold’. These were the critical factors for coaches’ interventions.

Stephen Harvey is an associate professor in the Department of Coaching and Teaching Studies at West Virginia University. His research is focused on advancing teaching/coaching pedagogy and practice, particularly through the utilization of game-centered approaches. He is co-author of Advances in Rugby Coaching: An Holistic Approach, and co-editor of Contemporary Developments in Games Teaching, both published by Routledge.

John Lyle is professor of sport coaching at Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. He is widely published, with an emphasis on conceptual development in sport coaching and coaches’ decision making. He now combines his role as an academic with consulting for a large number of national sport organisations.

Bob Muir is a senior lecturer in sport coaching at Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. He works with several professional and Olympic sports to explore effective coach and coach development practice. A practicing basketball coach for 21 years across participation and performance pathways, he currently works with a senior men’s British Basketball League team.

Address author correspondence to Stephen Harvey at
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