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Initiating a National Coaching Curriculum: A Paradigmatic Shift?

Tania Cassidy and Lynn Kidman

The Big Idea

When most anyone—whether in or out of the institution of sport—brings up the idea of coaching education programs, the quick response is “Yes, but . . .”. The “yes” is near-universal agreement that such education is necessary; the “but” is near-universal hesitation about what such programs should entail. The typical compromise results in creating programs that are big, dependent largely on generic and formal coaching courses, and entail elaborate qualifications and certificates. Cynicism usually follows. And coaching education programs can then become mere union cards instead of genuine developmental experiences for the coach.

The big idea in this paper is that things can change, even in the typically conservative worlds of pedagogy and sports. These researchers follow an old but often forgotten idea that our practices ought to be the consequence of thought, and not the other way around. In this case, by studying two organizational published policy documents as part of an effort to restructure sport in New Zealand, they uncovered a subtle paradigmatic shift away from orthodox coach education to a suggested curricular change to coach development.


  • Long gone are the days when all a coach needed to do to become one was announce that he or she was one.
  • Today coaches are often asked to prove they are qualified by way of formal pedigrees, accreditations, or certificates offered through large scale coaching education programs.
  • Yet there is little empirical evidence that these programs are worth the time and effort required to complete the qualifications for them.
  • Looking into this predicament in New Zealand, these researchers studied two policy documents which were intended to significantly improve the structure of sport there.
  • These mandates for change were in part intended to improve coach education requirements and qualifications.
  • Instead of studying these documents as policy they studied them as curriculum for change. Seen as potential curriculum the authors found the beginnings of a paradigm shift from coach education programs (and all the fiats associated with them), to coach development programs (and all the opportunities following from them).
  • The result is an example of a country who has (at least at the policy level) moved from accredited and certified coaching education programs to an ongoing professional development process—in time to even a national coaching curriculum—grounded in an applied athlete-centred philosophy.

The Research

While these coach education programs have grown considerably within and between nations, research literature on the quality of coaching education curriculums is sparse. In this study, the authors have analysed and reviewed The New Zealand Coaching Strategy (2004) and the Coach Development Framework (2006); both documents were published by the newly created Sport and Recreation New Zealand {SPARC}). These documents were published as a result of the 2000 Ministerial Taskforce on Sport, Fitness and Leisure, a taskforce created to re-examine and improve the structure of sport in New Zealand.

In the NZCS document, 10 issues were cited as needing attention; six of which identified a need for “coach development.” Five tactics for change were established:

  1. Build sport-specific coaching strategy and development program capability.
  2. Provide resourcing for coaching roles.
  3. Improve coach education requirements and qualifications.
  4. Establish world-class coaching eligibility.
  5. Implement sector support and consultancy services.

The third tactic was the driving force behind the appearance of the 2006 CDF. A large working party with an inclusive membership (coaching sector and a range of stakeholders) was charged with producing the line of thinking in the CDF policy document regarding ways to improve coach education requirements and qualifications.

Could a coaching policy document be viewed as curriculum?

Using both the NZCS and the CDF these researchers followed an old idea of curricular change occurring in three phases: initiation, use, and assessment. They ask, what if the thinking entailed in the policy documents themselves actually hides a significant clue to a positive change in thinking about initiating a national coaching curriculum? The authors studied the language used in the both the NZCS and CDF documents to develop an understanding of what and how meanings connected to coaching have been realised and created. In the process they animated the otherwise neutral policy documents, and reconstructed the strict matters of content into a developmental curriculum framework with social, cultural, and historical implications. In the end they may have uncovered a paradigm shift in the very idea of what coaching education in New Zealand could and should become.

The follow-up on this line of thinking resulted in the two studies reported in this paper: 1) an informal textual analysis of the two documents; and 2) interviews with the designers of the CDF document to understand the perceptions of the working party.

Coach education to coach development

It was clear from this textual analysis that even though tactic three in the NZCS explicitly called for “Improving coach education requirements and qualifications,” the CDF working party took the proposed

mandate in a different direction. In their first meeting the working party collectively agreed that previous and orthodox coach education programs in New Zealand were not working. Those most familiar with common practices pointed out that coaches negatively associate coach education with formal classroom studies of the “what” knowledge in coaching and not the “how” or “whys.”

The consequence of the discomfort with the status quo in coach education was to ask themselves how they could change the existing structures by shifting to a different model. The newer line focuses on continuous ongoing professional development. Such development is based on both formal and informal learning opportunities rather than what was implicit in tactic three: requirements and qualifications. The intent was to expand coach education into wider personal development and growth; to consider coach development and growth as ongoing; to be athlete-centered so as to meet collective and individual athlete needs; and to nurture the application of knowledge in a practical way. The upshot of this excursion into newer visions eventually resulted in changing the title of the produced document from Coach Education Framework to Coach Development Framework.

Paradigm over politics?

In the remaining sections of this paper, and including the interview data, the researchers validated their position that this paradigm shift continues even if more implicitly than explicitly as the working party continued their discussions. This can be seen in the discussions of creating coaching communities instead of giving generic courses; and from perpetuating formalised accreditation to the provision of learning opportunities and experiences for all coaches.

Overall, the results of this examination of both text and interview conversations suggest a departure in the direction of coach education in New Zealand towards coach growth and development. The New Zealand Coach Development Framework is an example of a policy document in the field that can be understood as a coaching curriculum with faithful connections to good pedagogy.