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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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In the Introduction to Effective Coaching Article I mentioned the idea that Coaching is a skill in itself.  Sport in the UK has been well organised across most National Governing Bodies (NGB) with Coaching awards linked to the National Occupational Standards.  Here Coaches are assessed on what they can Do as well as what they Know.  Technical knowledge is important, but the application of how to Coach that knowledge is just as important. The UK Vision for Coaching calls for “a structure of innovation, constant renewal and continuous professional development” (Miles and Borrie, 1999). This has not happened within the Karate world, with the current state of affairs being that there is no NGB.


Part of Continued Professional Development (CPD) is Reflective Practice ; “It is no good having a lot of experience but not learning from it.” (Moon, 2004). Reflection helps turn experience into learning which then allows us to change and develop our coaching style and practice.  This may be done on an ad hoc basis, but it is best to do it in a more structured format that allows the Coach time and opportunity to reflect and use their peers and perhaps a mentor to assist in the process.


There are many different types of reflection and various theoretical models that are used to structure the process of reflection.  One way is to divide the practice into Critical Reflection and Creative Reflection.  Critical reflection challenges the status quo and asks questions such as “why do we coach this way?”, “why do we do kata at the end of a class, not the beginning?”, “why do we do static stretches at the beginning of a class when research tells us this inhibits power in the short term?”


Creative reflection looks at what we do know and then trying the same thing in a new way.  This can be things like footwork patterns from different sports, or using stopwatches to time work: rest intervals in basic classes, or to train on different surfaces, or to disrupt the learning processes by changing regular patterns of combinations.


I should think that most Coaches like to think they are good at Creative Reflection, but the Karate environment does not like Critical Reflection.  The top –down hierarchical structures do not encourage the “why” questioner, because it is “disrespectful”.  There is a time and a place for this type of questioning. 


In the JKS we have this opportunity to Critically Reflect. As part of the Coaching CPD folder, coaches are provided with a form (see below) that they can use for their own reflection, but we also have the opportunity to ask questions of the Chairman and Technical Director.  Indeed, when Masao Kagawa came for the technical seminar in March he invited all JKS members in an informal environment after training to ask questions about the JKS and why they did things. A good coach will be able to answer the “Why do we do this?” questions, if not, then why are you doing it?



Types of RP


Alone- you can sit in a darkened room alone with your thoughts, or you can get a pen and paper and write down some ideas of how things are going. The use of a journal or CPD folder is a more structured format. Looking back on your reflections you can then summarise these and see if there are ways to improve. Writing things down can help clarify your thought processes.  I find that this almost always leads to new lesson plans as I see gaps in my knowledge and delivery.    


Use a mentor- get someone who is not participating, perhaps a parent, another coach or an injured Karateka to observe your coaching style and also different students to see how they adapt to the lesson.  Use them to help reflect on your perception of what went well and also what didn’t.  Is there a gap between their observations and your own? It is useful to get this feedback to see if you have any blindspots or worse still annoying verbal and physical tics!


A group debrief- on what is happening within your club is a good idea.  The use of questionnaires can be helpful, or an informal coffee morning or drink in the pub depending on the size of your club.  Have an agenda (open and published, not hidden) and distribute it in advance.  This gives your students the time to reflect a bit more on what they want. If you just ask out of the blue they may well be thinking “why is he asking me this?” rather than thinking about their goals and your coaching style.


Observation- observing other Coaches and their methods is a good starting place for reflecting on your own practice.  What does he do well and not so well (not his ushiro mawashi geri is brilliant, his back stance is rubbish!) does he teach whole, part, whole or does he have a theme throughout his lesson.  Does he instruct, or invite questions?



Typical RP questions


What is my coaching like?

Why is it like this?

How has it come to be this way?

What aspects of it would I like to improve?

Whose interests are being served by my coaching?

What nourishes and /or constrains what I do?

What pressures prevent/ limit me from coaching in alternative ways?

What alternatives are available to me now?



When to do RP


If things are going well in your club and organisation, then you may be thinking “why do I need to change?” Well, whilst keeping things the same is comfortable and safe in the short term, it is disastrous in the long term.  Physically, mentally and hierarchally change is a natural process that forces you to adapt and therefore improve.


Ideally you should do some form of RP at the end of each session, and create a plan for improvement as a result. However, unless you are a professional Coach this is unlikely.  It should definitely be a once a month process though, give yourself half an hour of quiet time to do it.


Once a session or camp has finished you can sit back and reflect on what has happened. But good coaches can also do this within a session. Is it going to plan, can the students cope with this information, is the class too easy- are types of question to ask and adapt too within the session.





RP is not just something to do when things have gone wrong; it is not a “quick fix”.  It is a tool that allows you to develop your coaching.  As a result of using RP you will be able to understand your own self better and use this knowledge to deliver more enjoyable and innovative training sessions.  Good luck.


REFLECTIVE  PRACTICE :  Learning from doing. Sample of one RP session in my CPD folder.



Describe a recent Coaching experience:

Teaching morning training at JKS summer camp.




What did you do..

10 minute wa shai jog, plus conditioning exercises.  Some kihon kata variations, two Tekki shodan applications




                                         ..and why?

Morning training loosening exercises, 1 new back exercise for people. Kihon variations for small area practice, Tekki applications as we had done the kata twice on the course with some applications.

What went well…

Variety, explanation of why we were doing what we were doing.  Use of some sport analogy to get  body contact into training.







         …and what could have been better?

Linking the kihon variations to what Scott and Alan had taught already on the course.  Better demos for bunkai.  Could use cricket batsmen analogy for concentration skills when performing kata or in normal training.

What would you do differently if you were in the same situation now?

Add cricket analogies, Federer/ golf swing for kime on Tekki applications, as Koike was practicing his golf swing before training! Demonstrate both sides so that every person could see. 


Describe what you learnt from this experience?

Not to teach people when they are hungover and tired! Teaching age range from 10to 56 and brown belt to 5th Dans requires simple but varied explanations.  Verbal and visual were okay, but didn’t use any feel explanations.





James Marshall MSc CSCS*D






Miles, A. and Borrie, A (1999). Achieving and maintaining standards in sports coaching in the UK. Paper presented at the 5th Biennial Forum of the European Network of Sport Sciences in Higher Education. 

Moon, J. (2004). A handbook of reflective and experinatial learning: theory and practice. London: Routledge- Falmer.