Exploring the interpretation and implementation of reflective practice within an elite English football academy

Graham Mills

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingConference contribution


    This research intends to explore how reflection is being perceived and applied within an elite English football Academy setting. Specifically it aims to investigate how key staff, working as part of a multidisciplinary team, interpret and implement The FA’s Plan-Do-Review model in their own way according to the values and unique cultural environment of the Club. Engaging in reflective practice has become a seemingly essential characteristic of professional competence and, as such, has been identified as a vital aspect of coach education. Nevertheless, reflections on coach education programmes are often carried out in rational environments; decontextualised learning environments which fail to replicate the often chaotic, complex and unpredictable nature of the coaching environment, and the day-to-day learning experiences of coaches in the field. It has been suggested that whilst coaches may think they are reflecting, often they are confused between what reflection is and other mental processes (e.g., pondering, scrutinising, and ruminating). Research on reflective practice has yet to articulate ‘how’ it is implemented or experienced by coaches, and in what way do clubs initiate, sustain, nurture and influence this process through reflective activities within the real-world context. The purpose of the current study is therefore to explore how the workplace culture of a football Academy under the auspices of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), where the development of multidisciplinary support teams have become increasingly common, carries out the processes of reflection within the real-world of day-to-day practice.
    Following institutional ethical approval and written consent this interpretivist case study research included ten members of an Academy Management Team (AMT) who held key positions in specialist areas such as coaching, education, sports science and medicine, talent identification and recruitment. Semi-structured interviews enabled the collection of qualitative data regarding the relationship between critical reflection and workplace culture (that is to say how critical reflection impacts on the workplace culture and vice versa, and to what extent). A semi-structured interview guide was used to aid the researcher to gain a better insight into the participants’ perspective of reflection thus ensuring rich data, led by the participants, was collated. Data was analysed using thematic analysis to identify patterns or themes within the interview data.
    Initial results (which are pending) are presented as a collective case study which expose there are common pitfalls around the transfer of reflective skills learned through educational programmes and their application to real-world settings. The research also identifies aspects of existing practice strategies for approaching and structuring critical reflection in the workplace, highlighting examples of best practice. This work could influence the existing practices of football academies in order utilise reflection more effectively, along with subsequent implications for future coach education programmes. According to the research, there is a current disconnect between the understanding and learning of reflection through coach education courses and its application within the real world, which is comparable to the potential performance gap experienced by athletes who execute their desired performance in training but fail to replicate this level in competition.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationBASES Sport and Exercise Sciences Conference
    Publication statusUnpublished - 17 Apr 2019


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