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The Role of the Coach: Where Professional Learning Meets Professional Sports

By Margareta Tripsa
The Role of the Coach: Where Professional Learning Meets Professional Sports

(Photo source: Margareta Tripsa) 

Ready, kick, goal! The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) World Cup, Qatar 2022 has concluded! People from around the world cheered for all the teams and enjoyed this exciting event which left people in awe. Qatar, a country of less than three million, where only about 10 percent of the population is Qatari and roughly 90 percent of the population are expats, has welcomed the world into its “tent.” In the words of Ghanim Al Muftah, a young Qatari, during the opening ceremony, “when we call you here, we welcome you into our home.” In a message of unity and tolerance, he noted that “we were raised to believe that we were scattered on this earth as nations and tribes so we can learn from each other and find beauty in our differences.” Thirty-one teams from around the world, who have players born in various corners of the globe, needed to demonstrate excellent performance, play in sync, and coordinate their actions as well-oiled machines. But could they achieve this alone? Certainly not! Who was the actor behind this, the one who helped the team perfect its craft? It was their coach!

Good coaches help turn groups into teams. Good performance cannot be achieved without strong coaches who work closely with the players to improve their performance. However, it is not the coaches who score the goals. The coaches do not perform on the field under the dazzling lights of the stadium, nor are they watched by millions of people. Do coaches have a magic formula that works for all? Definitely not! One size does not fit all! The role of the coach is to help players shine by providing personalized and customized support.

We want our teachers and leaders to excel in our schools. However, in the education field, we often forget that one size does not fit all. Providing professional learning opportunities to groups of people does not ensure improved learning and practice. But what role can coaching play in improving professional learning and practice? Yarborough (2018) posited that “coaching can help young leaders learn how to reflect on their experience, extract insights, and use those insights to inform their leadership practice” (p. 48). "We do not learn from experience, but from reflecting on our experiences," said John Dewey. The great benefit of coaching over other forms of professional development is the personalized nature of learning (Huggins, Klar, Andreoli, 2021). When professional learning is accompanied by coaching, the value of learning increases exponentially. Coaching makes learning more visible, meaningful, and contextual. Coaching helps the learners apply their learning for the purpose of helping them generate solutions. Coaching aims at building capacity through guidance and support.

There are many different types of coaching. One type is cognitive coaching, or reflective coaching, as designed by Costa and Garmston (1994), and revolves around activating the existing dormant knowledge of the coached. In other words, the coach does not act as the expert, but rather as the actor that helps the coached find the answers he or she was looking for. The aim of a cognitive coach is to assist the other individual in becoming more reflective and inquisitive with the teacher ultimately arriving at a state of “holonomy” (Costa & Garmston, 1994, p. 4). The coach is the one who pushes the player to go beyond what we once thought possible.

Where does professional football/soccer meet professional learning? The intersection between professional soccer and professional learning lies in the work of the coach. Professional learning should not be about imparting knowledge, but about developing relevant skills, building meaningful practice habits, and shaping states of mind that lead to visible change. It is not about the coach but about the player. It is not the coach who needs to score goals but the player. The impact and effect of strong professional learning are not measured by simply gaining professional knowledge and skills but by demonstrating or applying knowledge and skills. When working with adults, Knowles (2005) has taught us that adults learn differently than kids. Andragogy, the practice or method of teaching adults, emphasizes how critical it is for adults to know the goals and outcomes of the learning experience or projects they are working on in order for them to be on board with the execution of the learning plan. The principles of adult learning also emphasize the importance of planning activities that are relevant to the profession, engaging, and practical. Adult learners, as autonomous and self-directed learners, demand meaningful guidance, relevant and timely support, and clear articulation of the how and why of learning. This is where coaching comes into play. When coaches are able to guide the learners to find the needed resources within themselves, constantly challenging them to move to the next zone of proximal development, learning sticks and becomes part of the acquired professional repertoire. In addition to ensuring the learner is skilled in using a variety of strategies systematically, coaches also act as motivational speakers. They focus on enhancing the wellbeing of the learners and their commitment toward a shared goal. They are good listeners and observers, and, finally, are the ultimate cheerleaders! Don’t just teach them, coach them!



Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (1994). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.

Huggins, K. S., Klar, H. W., Andreoli, P. M. (2021). Facilitating Leadership Coach Capacity for School Leadership Development: The Intersection of Structured Community and Experiential Learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 57(1), 82–112.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (6th Ed.). Elsevier: Burlington, MA.

Yarborough, J. P. (2018). The Role of Coaching in Leadership Development. New Directions for Student Leadership, 158, 49–61.

Margareta Tripsa is a professional learning designer at the Education Development Institute, Qatar Foundation in Qatar. She has worked in education for over 20 years on three continents (Europe, North America, and Asia), both as an educator and as a leader. She has a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) from Greensboro, North Carolina, USA, an education specialist degree in instructional technology from Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA, and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

Twitter @margotripsa, @EDI_QF, @QF

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