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Case study

Think Aloud

Think Aloud

LJMU's Dr Amy Whitehead delivered training sessions to St Helens Rugby League Club

Client: St Helens Rugby League Club

Issue: Decision making in sports

Session: Training sessions

Training - Think Aloud

Background

Dr Amy Whitehead initially used and developed ‘Think Aloud’ as part of her PhD, looking at how Golfers make decisions. She asked players to verbalise their thought processes and decision-making both during practice and in competition, to see how they compared. 

Throughout her PhD, Dr Whitehead noticed that the golfers were reflecting on their decision making processes and reflecting through the use of ‘Think Aloud’. This led her to develop a course which supports sports coaches development, which was initially funded by LJMU, and delivered to a number of coaches at St Helens Rugby League Club. 

Challenge

Following the success of this initial course, St Helens Rugby League Club invited Amy back to the club to deliver more training sessions, this time under the proviso that they would need to invest in her time and expertise to develop their coaching staff. 

Working with Research and Innovation Services, Amy was able to establish a tiered level of coaching support for clubs/organisations to choose from, Gold, Silver and Bronze, applicable to the time required for Amy to work on the project.

Innovation

On the course content Amy commented: 

Coach education has suffered from focusing on reflection that links retrospection and review to projection, differing very little from the concept of performance evaluation. The view of projection refers to coaches considering ‘so what am I going to do next time’ without really considering the implications. Providers need a more holistic understanding of reflective practice, so that coaches can be supported to engage in reflective practices that are both meaningful and impactful.

This is what Think Aloud does. It moves away from Reflection-on-Action and develops reflection-in-action. Plus coach education is criticised for offering a snap shot of education, easily forgotten. Think Aloud offers coaches support over a 3 month period, where their development is checked and challenged, by myself, coach education providers or mentors.” 

Impact

Craig Richards Coach Education Manager, Saint Helen’s Rugby League Club:

Think Aloud gave coaches the opportunity to learn more about reflective practice, explore their coaching beliefs, feelings and philosophies, and ultimately develop them as talent coaches.The biggest change that I've seen is in my discussions with them after training. I’m able to reflect with them on what they’ve done in the session and not just what the players do. If coaches are developing and improving, ultimately it is going to have a knock-on effect on our players. There has also been a notable change in coaching style, where the coaches now see the value in using questioning to both challenge player knowledge but also to guide player reflection.

Steve Smithies – FA North West Regional Coach Mentor Manager

It has helped them (mentors) realise the benefit of reflection, it has given them (mentors) another tool in the tool box for reflection and also, perhaps more importantly, the most important thing, it has actually improved their understanding of reflection because it’s about the why.  Why do I reflect?  So I can actually make some adjustments or challenge my thinking or actions, which then helps the mentor help the coach or the person they’re working with.

Dr Amy Whitehead has engaged over 30 coaches and mentors in the Think Aloud programme so far, presented her findings at a variety of National Governing Bodies of Sport as part of a UK Coaching Development Day and will be presenting her findings as part of the FA Grassroots Coach Development Conference, RFL England Talent Pathway Conference and the FA Coach Mentor Conference. 

What Next?

Dr Whitehead is now developing this program further and working with Research and Innovation Services to refine and improve the delivery and effectiveness. Following the presentation of her work at the FA Coach Mentor Conference, where Dr Whitehead will deliver to over 200 mentors within the FA, Dr Whitehead hopes that she will see many more mentors across the UK adopting a Think Aloud approval to their practice. 

Think Aloud provides the coaches and mentors with a tool for their tool box which they can implement to improve their own practice. It is also hoped that this program will be adopted by a wide range of national governing bodies within the UK. In addition, Dr Whitehead is also working with colleagues in Norway, there the use of Think Aloud is being explored to develop both athlete and coach reflection.

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