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Understanding reflection and reflective practice in high-performance coach education

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posted on 09.10.2020, 08:40 by Lauren Downham
Reflection is a contested but taken-for-granted concept, privileged in the vocabulary of coaches and coach developers through connections to ‘emancipatory’ effects. However, to date, research has not challenged these notions critically, with limited attention paid to understanding the meaning of reflection and the socio-cultural issues facing coaches and coach education that aim to cultivate reflective practice. In order to address this gap in the literature, this research aimed to understand reflection and reflective practice in the context of high- performance coach education. The purpose of this research was to position reflection as a social process, to understand something of the complexity of reflection and its articulation within and through coaches’ and coach developers’ subjectivities. Data were collected from a national high-performance coach education programme in the UK. Coaches from two programme cohorts (cohort one; n = 9 and cohort two; n = 11) and coach developers responsible for one- to-one support (n = 8) and on-programme support (n = 4) participated in the research. Critical analysis of ethnographic data generated from two years’ fieldwork identified accepted meanings, practices and pedagogies associated with reflection. A Foucauldian framework supported critical analysis of these findings, unsettling the meanings, confronting the taken- for-granted and introducing an ‘awkwardness’ into the discourse of reflection. Altogether, data were collected from multiple in-depth observations and semi-structured and unstructured interviews. Findings showed how reflection was formed through discursive practices that constructed ways of understanding, practicing and supporting the concept. This construction was imbued with relations of power-knowledge, as findings revealed how reflection operated as a disciplinary technology. Humanistic ideas related to being ‘critical’ and ‘learner-centred’ with ‘empowering’ intent disguised and exacerbated power’s exercise, as coaches were ‘taken in’ by the internal ruse of confession and a rhetoric of autonomy. This meant that reflection required self-discipline as a self-surveillance and functioned as regulation through self- regulation. In making visible a different, destabilised and problematised version of reflection, this research adds a new dimension to our understanding of reflection within coach education as connected to, and as emerging from, the interplay between people and context.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© Lauren Downham

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




Chris Cushion ; Rachel Sandford

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