New book on general coaching, of some interest for sports coaches

Anne Tjønndal
Nord University, Norway

Reinhard Stelter
The Art of the Dialogue in Coaching: Towards Transformative Exchange
149 pages, paperback.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2019 (Coaching Psychology)
ISBN 978-1-138-54355-3

Reinhard Stelter, professor of coaching psychology – and head of the Coaching Psychology Unit at NEXS, University of Copenhagen – has published a new book with Routledge, The Art of Dialogue in Coaching: Towards Transformative Exchange. Stelter is an experienced scholar with a long track record of writing and publishing books in the field of coaching. His newest book is part of the Routledge series on Coaching Psychology with Stephen Palmer as the series editor.

While some of Stelter’s earlier work is directly related to sports coaching, such as his book Med kroppen i centrum[With the body in focus] from 1999, neither The Art of Dialogue in Coaching nor the Coaching Psychology book series focuses specifically on sports coaching. Stelter’s book is the sixth title in the book series, which aims to highlight innovations in the field of coaching psychology by linking theory, research, and practice. The aim of the book is to invite the reader to engage in transformative and fruitful dialogues in everyday life. Stelter does this by providing the reader with insight into ‘third generation coaching’ as a theoretical starting point (chapter 1), before outlining some basic themes in fruitful dialogues (chapters 4-6), and finally – giving the reader some empirical examples on such dialogue practices (chapters 7-10). In his preface, the author invites ‘anyone who is interested in helping others develop greater self-insight to read this book’ (p. x). Undoubtedly, this can be considered as part of good sports coaching, particularly in recent years, as sports coaching has increasingly gained a more holistic approach, where the focus is more and more on ‘developing the person as a whole’ and not simply developing the athlete for peak performance on the field. However, developing performance and athletic ability remains the core objective of sports coaching, and hence, Stelter’s book will perhaps be perceived as more useful in coaching professions outside of sport.

The book is divided into three parts, (I) “Theoretical basis” (chapters 1-3); (II) “Basic themes of fruitful dialogues” (chapters 4-6); and (III) “Reflections on dialogue practice” (chapters 7-10). Part I seeks to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the fundamentals in third generation coaching, transformative dialogues, and the role dialogue plays in individual identity development. In chapter three, titled “Searching for one’s own self – identity as one of the key challenges of our time”, Stelter utilizes the classical sociological theories of Foucault, Goffman, and Giddens to describe identity and modern society, which gives an interesting depth to the book. However, the descriptions are too brief to introduce those theoretical perspectives to new readers and too shallow to be meaningful for sociologists with former knowledge of these classical sociological thinkers.

However, in this case, this is mainly true for sports coaches who are coaching adult athletes, as Stelter’s book focuses mainly on perspectives that are easiest adapted with adults.

Part II introduces three key themes that form the basis of fruitful dialogues and third-generation coaching: 1) meaning-making, 2) values and 3) narratives. The final part of the book (Part III) focuses on the practice of fruitful and transformational dialogues. While Stelter underlines that it is difficult to speak about practice (“it should be practiced after all”, p. 80), this was the part I found most interesting to read. Reading Stelter’s own experiences practicing meaningful dialogues in different settings gives the reader ideas of how one can go about improving one’s own dialogue skills, something that is also applicable to sports coaches such as this reviewer. I particularly enjoyed reading chapter 8, titled “The narrative co-creative practice”.

One of the main arguments the book makes is that coaching “should not be limited to a performance-oriented and goal-driven agenda” (pp. 3). Viewing coaching in this way is arguably a trap that sports coaches are prone to falling into. And from this perspective, learning some tools to improve meaningful dialogue between athletes and coach through reading Stelter’s book is useful for sports coaches. However, in this case, this is mainly true for sports coaches who are coaching adult athletes, as Stelter’s book focuses mainly on perspectives that are easiest adapted with adults. For instance, in many places the book deals with focus areas such as personal standpoint, rootedness, values, and meaning-making. Topics that are more easily adapted to adult athletes. In other words, sports coaches who are coaching children and youth might not find Stelter’s tools for developing transformative and fruitful dialogues as helpful as sports coaches with adult athletes. While some of Stelter’s coaching examples deal with minority youth at social risk in Denmark, the majority of the book seems to be aimed at adult coaching dialogue.

Overall, Stelter’s book is a useful tool for sports coaches who want to improve their dialogue skills by engaging in more meaningful dialogues with athletes and fellow coaches. However, this is not a book written specifically for sports coaches. This is reflected in the examples used throughout the book, as none of them relates to a sporting context. Hence, while this is an enjoyable read, I’m unsure wether professionals in the field of sports coaching will find it relevant enough for the practice of coaching athletes at different levels.

Copyright © Anne Tjønndal 2019

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