#Science explained

Chris Cushion and Stephen Harvey on coaching behaviour

Professor Chris Cushion & Professor Stephen Harvey, 23 Mar 2023


In this talk, Professor Chris Cushion and Professor Stephen Harvey reveal why a coaches' behaviour is so important, and set out a systematic approach to help coaches develop on and off the pitch.

Coaching behaviour is an important area of research because it could have huge implications on a team's performance and well-being. In this session, Professor Chris Cushion of Loughborough University explains why we should potentially analyse the way coaches behave and some of the benefits a systematic approach to coach development could yield for coaches, players and clubs. Following the presentation, Professor Cushion takes part in a Q&A hosted by Dr Paul Bradley of FIFA, and featuring Professor Stephen Harvey of Ohio University.


Explain why it is worth analysing coach behaviour. Identifying some of the most commonly-observed behavioural traits among coaches. Consider how we can help coaches improve the way they interact with their players.


Coaching behaviour is controllable, so we can work on it. However, some coaches are not as self-aware as they potentially could be. If deemed appropriate, changing a coaches behaviour could require a systematic process, and that process might need to be backed by clubs. Like players, coaches need practice in order to improve.


Since coaches' behaviour is controllable, it should be planned. Generally speaking, most coaches can improve their level of self-awareness and various other aspects of their practices. The first step could be to analyse what individual coaches are actually doing, as opposed to how they think they behave. This analysis can then be used as a starting point for a systematic approach to honing their skills.

Watch presentation

Welcome from Dr Paul Bradley
Part 1: Introducing coaching behaviour and systemic observation
Part 2: Findings from existing research
Part 3: Changing coaching behaviour
Part 4: Q&A

Read summary

Part 1: Introducing coaching behaviour and systematic observation
Many aspects of the way coaches behave are controllable, which means behaviour can be changed and developed. However, before we can change behaviour, we need to observe it. One way of doing this is by using systematic observation. The advantage of this approach is that it gives researchers a structure they could use to cover the full range of coaching behaviours, as opposed to focusing on the areas they are most interested in. It also provides a method for gathering hard data about behaviour, because it can be used to measure the durations and intervals between behaviours, as well as how frequently they occur.

Part 2: Findings from existing research
Previous systematic observational studies in football have identified a number of recurring patterns in coaching behaviour. For instance, they demonstrate that coaches tend to talk more and ask fewer questions than they think they do, and are generally poor at describing their own behaviour accurately. Moreover, their understanding of the link between their behaviour and various coaching outcomes is often vague. This behaviour may be due to a number of factors, including coaches' prior experience in football, the pressure to conform to accepted norms, and the need to win matches. On the other hand, some coaches exhibit behaviours that are correlated with better training outcomes, such as talking less, analysing more, and providing better, more personalised feedback. The challenge is to help more coaches adopt this approach.

Part 3: Changing coaching behaviour
So, how can we meet this challenge? In this section, Professor Cushion describes some of the tools that we might apply with a view to helping coaches develop. These tools include proper analysis (as distinct from merely commenting on behaviour), deliberate planning, and coaching players as individuals. Moreover, analysis of coaching behaviour has to start with the coaches themselves, because they are the ones controlling their behaviour during sessions. Clubs should be mindful that coaches need to practice in order to improve, and that developing coaches requires a clear commitment at an organisational level. To illustrate this, Cushion talks us through the work he has done at Leicester City FC, which serves as an impressive example of the results a systematic approach to coach development can produce.


Could you tell us more about why coaches should be analytical and what that approach means in practice?

How often should you reflect on your coaching practices? Is there any research that provides any guidelines on that?

Technology is part and parcel of football now. Do we need technology to analyse coaching practice?

Why is building self-awareness one of the key elements for developing coaching practice?

How do we really cultivate self-awareness within a coaching context?

What behaviours do "good coaches" exhibit, and why are those behaviours effective? Should a coach focus on what they are really good at,  rather than modelling themselves on someone else? 

Who might be able to help coaches develop and improve their behaviours? What kinds of resources might coaches need? 

If you could give someone watching some advice regarding simplest and most effective ways to develop their coach behaviour, what would that advice be?

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