Coaching with Vygotsky- The application of Vygotskian concepts to improve coaches’ practice within rugby union
As far back as 2003, Cushion, Armour, and Jones (2003) critiqued sport coaching as a coach led, one dimensional repetitive cycle based on physical development and technique. From personal experience of coaching rugby union for over twenty five years it seems little has changed. Nevertheless, within sport coaching research over the past ten years, there has been a greater focus on pedagogy with an increased recognition of the social, relational elements to learning (Jones & Thomas, 2015; Jones, Thomas, Nunes, & Filho, 2018). Subsequently, the work of Lev Vygotsky has been suggested for use within coaching practice, but at present, little empirical research related to his work exists. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to enhance rugby union coaches’ theoretical understanding and application of Vygotskian and neo-Vygotskian concepts to improve athlete learning. Consequently, the study used the notions related to contextual understanding, procedural knowledge and how language and metaphor are used as mediation tools to develop coaches’ and subsequently players’ scientific concept formation. In order to facilitate the coaches’ pedagogical knowledge and develop their coaching practice, action research (AR) was deemed the most appropriate methodology. Two coaches were purposefully recruited to participate in the AR process, they were selected because they were already coaching within the university rugby programme in which I was head coach. The AR process lasted six months incorporating four AR cycles, each comprising of 5-6 weeks. Data was collected via four methods: (1) Voice recorded observations, transcribed into field notes; (2) Semi structured interviews with the coaches at the beginning and the end of the AR process; (3) Coaches’ written reflections; and (4) End of AR cycle, focus group discussions with the coaches. Reflexive thematic analysis was utilised to evaluate the findings, with results suggesting improvement in both coaches’ practice, with one coach describing the change in his practice as transformational. Improvements related to providing contextual, game related practices that varied pressure on the players. Furthermore, evidence suggested significant improvement in the use of instruction and questioning, with club metaphors becoming part of the coaches’ everyday language. Additionally, data also suggested improvements in the players’ scientific concept formation. The study contributes to the developing body of empirical evidence, promoting Vygotskian pedagogy as a credible theoretical lens to develop coaching practice.