Methodological toolboxes for scrutinising sports coaching

Anne Tjønndal
Faculty of Social Science, Nord University

Nicole M. LaVoi (red)
Women in Sports Coaching
270 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2016 (Routledge Research in Sports Coaching)
ISBN 978-1-138-83796-6

In nearly all professions the percentage of women is on the rise, with the exception of women in sports coaching” (LaVoi, 2016: 13). Women coaches are constantly tested, compared and evaluated to determine if they are ‘as good’ as a male coach. At the same time, women coaches are expected to lead in a different way than a man would. In other words, women coaches commonly face a double standard where male coaches are permitted to use coaching methods that female coaches are not (e.g. authoritative leadership styles), and women coaches are often held to a higher standard than male coaches. I know this because I am a woman and a coach. The many voices of the female coaches in LaVoi’s anthology Women in Sports Coachingalso describes this double standard:

Women are expected to win, but don’t outshine the men. Women are expected to stay within the budget, while men are not. Women are expected to train hard and compete hard, but don’t get too strong, don’t get too ‘masculine’ and make sure you keep your femininity (Shannon Miller, women’s hockey coach, interviewed and quoted in LaVoi, 2013:29).

In this text I review two separate edited volumes that each makes a rich contribution to sports coaching research: Nicole M. LaVoi’s Women in Sports Coachingand Research Methods in Sports Coachingı, edited by Lee Nelson, Ryan Groom, and Paul Potrac. However, on some points, these two stand-alone works intersect as they both discuss strategies for conducting sports coaching research. While editors Nelson, Groom and Potrac’s anthology represents a more general introduction to different methods utilized to study a variety of topics relevant in the sports coaching field, LaVoi’s book presents a more specific discussion related to doing research on women in sports coaching.

In Women in Sports Coaching, LaVoi has an admirable dedication written at the beginning of the book: “This book is dedicated to all the women coaches around the globe who give their time, effort, passion and service. You inspire this work. You matter!”. As a female boxing coach, this was a very nice and supportive thing to read – and something you would not normally find in a scholarly anthology. This supportive message might be included here because LaVoi herself is a former collegiate tennis coach. LaVoi is also a senior lecturer in Kinesiology and Co-Director of the Tucker Center for Girls & Women at the University of Minnesota.

LaVoi’s book is written with the intent of addressing barriers women coaches face. The authors do this by raising awareness of the lived experiences of women coaches today. Women in Sports Coachingconsists of an introduction and fourteen individual chapters divided into four parts. Part I (chapters 1-3) presents an ecological-intersectional model for understanding the experiences of women coaches globally. The second part, titled “Women coaches and other intersectional identities” contains six chapters (4-9) with empirical perspectives on different women’s coaching identities. The third part of the book (chapters 10-13) focuses on different strategies for doing research related to women in sports coaching. The fourth and final part consists solely of LaVoi’s concluding thoughts, centered around strategies for changing the situation of women coaches today.

The authors are committed to bringing about a fair and open environment where women worldwide have the opportunity to pursue the simple desire that is to be called “coach”. This intent shines through the book, as the chapters highlight different challenges women coaches face, such as juggling motherhood and coaching (chapter 6, written by Bruening, Dixon, and Eason) or coaching male athletes (chapter 7, written by Walker). It also brings up challenges that different groups of women coaches experience, such as lesbian coaches and homophobia (chapter 4, written by Norman) and women coaches of color (chapter 5, written by Carter-Francique and Olushola). LaVoi’s book is a strong contribution to the literature and demonstrates why women coaches matter and why it is important to have women in leadership positions in sport. A high point of the book is the many interview quotes from different women coaches, contributing to a good narrative storyline of women in sports coaching.

While the book was delightful to read, I have one critique of its content. The book aims to talk of women in sports coaching globally and makes points to this here and there in the chapters; however, the book is mainly centered around women coaches in North America. Sometimes the abbreviations of American organizations and leagues can be overwhelming, along with references to things such as “Title IX”, which a lot of non-American readers will be unfamiliar with.  The North American domination of the book’s content is probably related to the fact that fourteen of the eighteen contributing authors are based in the US, with the remaining four hailing from Canada and Great Britain. Hence, the book says little about women coaches’ struggles in other parts of the world. There is, however, one exception to this, being chapter 11 (written by Sheila Robertson), which includes perspectives from countries around the world.

Lee Nelson, Ryan Groom & Paul Potrac (red)
Research Methods in Sports Coaching
272 pages, hft.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2014
ISBN 978-0-415-62682-8

Two chapters in LaVoi’s focuses on the methodology of doing research on women in coaching. Chapter 12 discusses the theoretical foundations of doing quantitative analyses, while chapter 13 provides insights into the underpinnings of qualitative analyses of women in coaching. These chapters tie well into the second book of this review – Nelson, Groom and Potrac’s Research Methods in Sports Coaching, first published in 2014. This anthology is meant as a teaching tool for research methods courses on undergraduate and postgraduate coaching programs. The book consists of 23 chapters that are presented in six sections:

  1. Philosophical considerations (chapters 2-5)
  2. Preparing and initiating the research process (chapters 6-10)
  3. Quantitative approaches to coaching research (chapters 11-14)
  4. Qualitative approaches to coaching research (chapters 15-18)
  5. Contemporary approaches to coaching research (chapters 19-21)
  6. Disseminating coaching research (chapters 22-23)

In this book, the editors aim to cover all facets of the research process in a sports coaching project, including how to design, conduct and disseminate sports coaching research. In my opinion, they manage to fulfill this aim excellently, and they are certainly well qualified for the task.. Nelson is a lecturer in the Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at the University of Hull. Groom is a senior lecturer in sports coaching at Manchester Metropolitan University. Potrac is a professor of sports coaching at Edge Hill University.

The book’s chapters are well structured and outlined, with key questions that young researchers often have when conducting research projects presented under the heading “applied issues and considerations” which can be found in every chapter from chapter 6 and onwards. This section links each method directly to the practical challenges of doing coaching research and is very helpful for students and new researchers coming into the field of sports coaching. Another feature of the book that is worth highlighting is the sections called “Reflections from the field” in which each contributing author discusses their own experiences working with the specific method or approach. For instance, the reflections of Rhind, Davis, and Jowett on developing a new version of a questionnaire in chapter 11 (pp.120-121), provided helpful insights into this vital part of working quantitatively in sports coaching research. These types of personal reflections from coaching researchers on the field gives Nelson, Groom & Potrac’s book an edge over many other teaching tools on doing sports-related research.

One part that could be improved upon is Part I on philosophical considerations. For postgraduate students and young researchers, this part can be seen as overly simplified. For instance, in chapter 2 on the philosophy of knowledge I was expecting to find more space given to a discussion of the ontological, epistemological and methodological underpinnings of doing coaching research. While this is mentioned in chapter 4 on interpretivism, I would have liked to see this introduced earlier and discussed more in-depth. Additionally, not all of the chapters in Part II works well as introductory chapters to the different paradigms. Particularly reading chapter 3 requires some background knowledge on philosophy of science to fully appreciate (more than what is given in chapter 2).

Finally, my personal favorite part of this book was chapter 6 (written by Gilbert, Camire, and Culver). Specifically, the story of being a supervisor and Gilbert’s personal reflections and advice on supervising students conducting research at a master and doctoral level. The story can be found under the section reflections from the field (pp. 61-65). I highly recommend those who hold the supervisor position of students conducting sports-related research to read these pages. There is a lot to be learned from Gilbert’s reflections from the field here.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2018


Table of Content, Women in Sports Coaching


Part 1: Underlying Theoretical Framework
Nicole M. LaVoi

  1. A Framework to Understand Experiences of Women Coaches Around the Globe: The Ecological-Intersectional Model
    Nicole M. LaVoi
  2. A Socio-cultural Examination of a Lack of Women Coaches in Sport Leadership Positions
    Mary Jo Kane
  3. An Ecological/Multisystem Approach to Understanding and Examining Women Coaches
    Laura J. Burton & Nicole M. LaVoi

Part 2: Women Coaches and Other Intersectional Identities

  1. Lesbian Coaches and Homophobia
    Leanne Norman
  2. Women Coaches of Color: Examining the Effects of Intersectionality Akilah R. Carter-Francique & Joyce Olushola
  3. Coaching and Motherhood
    Jennifer E. Bruening, Marlene A. Dixon & Christianne M. Eason
  4. Cross-Gender Coaching: Women Coaching Men
    Nefertiti Walker
  5. Female Athletes Conceptions of Leadership: Coaching and Gender Implications
    Vicki D. Schull
  6. Female Assistant Coaches: Planting Seeds and Growing Roots
    Janelle E. Wells

Part 3: Seeing, Listening to and Researching Women Coaches

  1. Women in the Sport Media: Where are the Coaches?
    Nicole M. LaVoi & Austin Stair Calhoun
  2. Hear Their Voices: Suggestions for Developing and Supporting Women Coaches from Around the World
    Shelia Robertson
  3. Women in Coaching: Theoretical Underpinnings among Quantitative Analyses
    George B. Cunningham
  4. Women in Coaching: Theoretical Underpinnings among Qualitative Research
    Brian T. Gearity, Joseph P. Mills & Bettina Callary

Part 4: Strategies for Change Concluding Thoughts: Creating Change for Women Coaches
Nicole M. LaVoi


Table of Content, Research Methods in Sports Coaching

  1. Introduction
    Lee Nelson, Ryan Groom, and Paul Potrac

Section 1: Philosophical considerations

  1. Philosophy of knowledge
    Clifford Mallett and Richard Tinning
  2. Logical positivism
    Ronald Smith and Frank Smoll
  3. Interpretivism
    Paul Potrac, Robyn Jones, and Lee Nelson
  4. Poststructuralism
    Zoë Avner, Luke Jones, and Jim Denison

Section 2: Preparing and initiating the research process

  1. Navigating the research process
    Wade Gilbert, Martin Camiré, and Diane Culver
  2. Reviewing the literature
    John Lyle
  3. The place of theory
    Lee Nelson, Ryan Groom, and Paul Potrac
  4. Writing and representing research
    Ryan Groom, Lee Nelson, Paul Potrac, and Brett Smith
  5. Ethical considerations
    Graham McFee

Section 3: Quantitative approaches to coaching research

  1. Questionnaires
    Daniel Rhind, Louise Davis, and Sophia Jowett
  2. Systematic observation
    Gareth Morgan, Bob Muir, and Andy Abraham
  3. Analysis of quantitative data
    Adrian Midgley and Bryna Chrismas
  4. Judging quantitative research
    John Toner and Aidan Moran

Section 4: Qualitative approaches to coaching research

  1. Interviews
    Laura Purdy
  2. Ethnography
    Christopher Cushion
  3. Analysis of qualitative data
    William Taylor
  4. Judging qualitative research
    Brett Smith, Andrew Sparkes, and Nick Caddick

Section 5: Contemporary approaches to coaching research

  1. Autoethnography
    Brian Gearity
  2. Discourse analysis
    Joseph Mills and Jim Denison
  3. Conversation analysis
    Ryan Groom, Lee Nelson, Paul Potrac, and Christopher Cushion,

Section 6: Disseminating coaching research

  1. Presenting research
    Phil Marshall
  2. Publishing research
    Pierre Trudel, Diane Culver, and Wade Gilbert


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