Excellent Coaching Practice Part 2: Common Features

By Dr Justine Allen – School of Sport, University of Stirling

In part 2 of this series of brief reports on the findings of a project examining excellent coaching practice in hockey in Scotland we focus on the common features of excellent coaching practice along the participant pathway.


Current approaches to coaching place the participant, the coach, and their working relationship at the centre of a quality player pathway and coaching system (UK Coaching Framework, 2009). Recently, sportscoachUK funded researchers from the University of Stirling to work with Scottish Hockey to identify examples of excellent coaching practice for each of the 5 hockey coaching environments: Children, Youth, Adult, Talent Development, and High Performance. Coaches, players, support staff and parents were interviewed to gain their perspectives on excellent coaching practice in hockey.

 Common Features of Excellent Coaching Practice 

  • Guided by a ‘bigger picture’ for hockey development and balance.

“If you spent time with the youth squads, and then you spent time with the seniors and the finished product, when you went back down you knew what you wanted to make at the end.” (YouthCoach)

  • Plans for individual sessions, blocks, and longer.

“[Coach] does a lot of homework so to speak, …he does a lot of work in the background… he knows from day one what he wants to achieve with that team.” (Adult Athlete)

  • Creates a positive environment focused learning and development.

“Empowering the player with the freedom to express themselves and learn in a decision rich environment.” (TDCoach)

  • Develops quality coach-athlete working relationships.

“You need a rapport with them… banter is a massive part of it, that is what gels you … If the coach can fit into that then that is a huge advantage.” (HPAthlete)

  • Employs quality intervention techniques including:
  • a variety of delivery methods, explanations, demonstrations
  • observing, analysing, individualising feedback, and reflecting
  • encouraging athlete input and decision making through discussions, questioning, and listening
  • Is characterised by adaptation and flexibility.

Adaptation and Flexibility

“especially with kids, you get days that you do all the best work and it just doesn’t work so be smart, adapt and change or call it quits and have some fun, leave the serious stuff, we have now until Easter to work on it.” (YouthCoach)

“we are in a practice and one of the players says they have an idea for what they can do at this short corner, fine take it, you don’t have to be the fountain of all knowledge” (HPSupportStaff)

Understanding players

“I am an absolute believer that you have to listen to your players… to understand what they are thinking… so I can correct it, change it, agree with it.” (ChildCoach)

“In terms of delivery you have to listen to your players as well… It is important to deliver in a way that your athletes take the information on board.” (HPCoach)


No matter which environment a coach works in excellent coaching practice involves a vision for player development, deliberate planning, and a focus on creating a positive learning environment through quality interventions techniques and coach-athlete relationships. Most of all excellent coaching practice adapts to the needs of players and is flexible enough to adjust to the dynamic nature of the environment.

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