The role of the coach is to guide and assist the player to develop their skills and providing constructive feedback to the player is particularly important to achieve this.

Similarly, a lifetime of coaching will not necessarily make a coach any better – it may just mean they continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Like players, “coaches need to know how to best learn through their experiences. Reflective practice is a major learning tool in this regard”. 12

Reflection is at the heart of any learning process and it is what links experience with knowledge – providing an opportunity to constructively explore performance and to then make adjustments based upon that considered reflection.

A simple reflective technique (that many coaches will do) is to record on the practice plan how the team performed in a particular activity (e.g. how many shots were made) as well as how the activity itself worked and note any change required for next time the activity is used.

“Reflective practice” is simply the process of identifying whether or not there is a better way to do something and, if so, implementing changes. The process is shown as a continuing cycle below.

Often, coaches embark on a process like this only when something has gone wrong, which may be identified (for example) through a poor team performance or a player asking questions, having not understood the teaching points at a recent practice.

However, coaches should plan to undertake such reflection regularly, not just in response to a perceived issue.  Indeed, reflective practice may validate that things are going well!

There are many ways that a coach can “self-reflect” upon their performance.  However they do it, self-reflection is simply thinking about your coaching, evaluating your performance and identifying what needs to be done to make it better.

It can be anything from kicking yourself for neglecting an important point in a skill demonstration to patting yourself

on the back for fostering a positive and supportive training environment.

The key features of self reflection are:

  • Self-reflection focuses on what the coach is doing
  • Self-reflection links thought to action
  • Self-reflection makes improvement a continuing process

There is no formula for effective coaching, only principles that a coach can adapt to suit their individual needs.  By focusing on what they actually do as a coach, self-reflection provides a powerful means for checking that they have successfully applied the principles of effective coaching.

Just thinking about your coaching does not lead to much improvement.  To be of value, self-reflection needs to systematically link back to your practical coaching.  The self-reflection process is similar to a circle, which includes action as a vital stage.  Without taking action the circle is broken.

Analysing and Evaluating

When analysing and evaluating their performance coaches should consider:

  • Objectives set for the team, individual players and the coach;
  • Content of a particular practice or context of a particular game;
  • Progressive learning demonstrated by players (what is their skill level now compared to at the start of the season?)

The coach should be systematic in gathering feedback, or evidence, upon which to make their evaluation.  Many coaches will tend to see what there is left to do rather than also seeing what has been done!  It is accordingly important that coaches have an objective reference point.

Similarly, after losing a game on the last shot or losing a game by a large margin, a coach may immediately feel that the team (and they as coach) has performed very poorly because of that result.  However, their evaluation must be broader than simply looking at the scoreboard at the end of a particular game. 

Other sources of feedback

Coaches can gather feedback from a range of sources, such as:

  • Players
  • Colleagues
  • Parents
  • Mentor coach.

In seeking feedback, the coach may have a specific focus and if that is the case they should let the person know before asking for the feedback.

For example, if a coach wants to evaluate their communication with athletes during a practice session they may ask a coaching colleague to watch the session.  The coach does not need to understand basketball to provide feedback on the level and effectiveness of communication during the session.

Feedback can be gathered through a range of methods, from asking participants to complete an evaluation sheet, interviews or, less formally, by simply asking questions and listening to the answers!

Another effective method can be to obtain video of the coach in action – whether that is a practice or a game.  The video can focus quite closely on the coach, which will give good information to evaluate the coach’s communication style and, in particular, unconscious communication such as their body language.

Another technique can be for the coach to keep a journal or diary, where they record on a daily basis their thoughts, feelings, questions and concerns related to their role and responsibilities as a coach.  They can then review this with a mentor or colleague on a regular basis (weekly or fortnightly).

Identifying things to Improve

This part of the process enables the coach to identify their strengths and weaknesses in a range of areas, such as:

  • Group management;
  • Communication;
  • Analysis and correction;
  • Safety;
  • Transition between activities;
  • Interaction and relationship with athletes and officials.

In undertaking this stage, the coach should equally reflect upon what they do or did well as well as any aspects that require improvement.

Where a number of things are identified, they should be prioritised based upon the effect that a change is likely to have.  The coach should then focus their initial efforts on those changes most likely to make the most productive change.

Developing the Plan for Improvement

It may be relatively evident how to improve a particular aspect or it may require the coach getting input from a colleague, mentor or club official on how the aspect can be improved.

It is this aspect that beginner coaches may find the hardest, as they have less experience to draw upon to develop strategies.

The coach will undoubtedly identify areas they would like to improve, which might be:

(a)   “technical knowledge” – what they are teaching;

(b)   teaching points –being more effective in how they teach;

(c)   communication skills – particularly remembering that communication is “what is heard, not what is said”;

(d)   general coaching skills;

(e)   relationship skills – how the coach deals with players, parents and officials.

It is better to identify a small number of things to work on than try to do too many things at once.  It can also be worthwhile to discuss with a colleague what you have identified, as they may have some ideas on things you could do to improve.

A plan for improvement should be as specific as possible:

  • What will you do? Attend a coaching clinic, work with a mentor, observe some other coaches, research (books/DVDs/online resources) etc.
  • When will you do it? Be realistic in how much time you have. Prioritise the different things so that you can determine what to do first.
  • How will improvement be measured?
Implementing the change is simple in one sense – it is just doing what is set out in the plan for improvement.

Sometimes though, that may mean the coach changing an aspect of their behaviour that is a habit and may be something they are not even conscious of doing (e.g. not listening when a player makes a suggestion or asks a question).

To help implement the change, the coach can consider:

  • asking someone they trust (e.g. assistant coach) to remind them if they are reverting to the habit (e.g. the assistant coach could tap them on the shoulder if they start to speak over an athlete);
  • arranging to do activities with somebody else;
  • simply telling friends and colleagues what they are doing, and why. This help to make sure it gets done. Having told other people can make the coach accountable to those people, who will naturally ask “how is the change going?”;
  • writing a note to remind themselves of the change – e.g. at the top of a practice plan.

Most importantly, the coach needs to continue to reflect upon their performance so that they can see how effective the change has been.

Coach Behaviour

Most coaches are not fully aware of how they act during a game and it is therefore useful for all coaches to get some feedback, which can be provided by a coaching colleague, or anyone that the coach asks to watch the game.

For example, a coach may ask an observer to note down how many times a coach addresses players during periods of active participation and how many times they do it during pauses in the game (without counting timeouts or half time).

A simple tool can help collect this information:

Comments made during play

Comments made to a player not involved in play

1st Quarter


Related to present task (Yes/No):

1st Quarter


Related to present task (Yes/No):


Related to present task (Yes/No):


Related to present task (Yes/No):


Related to present task (Yes/No):


Related to present task (Yes/No):

Whether or not a comment is related to a “present” task is simply whether the comment was general in nature or a direction in relation to a particular skill or strategy.

Obviously, the observer may not always be able to hear what is said, but even noting the coach’s demeanour when they said it can be useful.

The coach may appear to be angry, and even if the coach feels that they were not angry, it is likely that the players will have also perceived that the coach was angry.

It can also be useful to keep track of when in the game the coach is providing the feedback. Often, coaches act differently (without realizing it) toward the end of the game (particularly if the score is close) than they do earlier in the game.

Farres, LG (2004, Fall). Becoming a better coach through reflective practice. BC Coach’s Perspective, 6, 10-11