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Understanding coach learning in disability sport: a Bourdieusian analysis

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posted on 29.03.2018, 15:37 by Robert C. Townsend
The purpose of this research was to answer longstanding calls to explore the learning and development of coaches in disability sport (DePauw, 1986; Reid & Prupas, 1998). We know very little about coaches in disability sport and although there exists a growing body of work that has explored coach learning, there is an absence of in-depth sociological research on disability coaching and coach education. In order to address this gap in the literature, this research sought to examine the nature of coach learning through analyses of coach education and coaching practice. Drawing upon a critical sociological framework, the research was conducted on the premise that understanding social practice can generate critical insights into the nature of coach learning. The research begins to answer some of the criticisms levelled at previous research by operationalising the sociological framework of Pierre Bourdieu in conjunction with disability studies, to analyse data generated through a two-year case study evaluation of an impairment-specific mode of coach education, and ethnographic data generated from eighteen-months of fieldwork in a specific disability coaching context. Altogether, data were collected through in-depth observations, interviews, focus groups and qualitative surveys to generate data that had both breadth, gathering data from large numbers of participants, and depth, by understanding in detail a particular coaching culture (Polkinghorne, 2005). The findings reveal how knowledge about disability was often marginalised in coach education, with engagement in the field functioning as principle source of knowledge about coaching in disability sport. As a result, disability-specific coach education contributed marginally to coach learning and functioned as a platform for the transmission of medical model discourses about disability, in terms of the pedagogy adopted and its effects on coaches knowledge. In the ethnographic study, analyses revealed how disability was assimilated into a high-performance coaching logic that structured coaches learning according to high-performance ideals. The process of learning was revealed to follow the logic of reproduction as alluded to by Bourdieu (1977, 1990a), and reinforced in social practice through the continual (re)adjustment of class habitus to structural conditions. The mechanisms underlying this process revealed learning to have a symbolic nature, mediated by power, resulting in the uncritical reproduction of ideology related to coaching disabled people. Thus, the research extends an understanding of coach learning, taking into consideration social structure and agency, as a basis for further critical inquiry into coaching in disability sport.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


© Robert Townsend

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.