The employment of foreign coaches, primarily to enhance performances in the international sporting arena, has become a globalized phenomenon (e.g., Falcous & Maguire, 2005; Maguire, 1999). Significantly, the globalisation of coaching has presented many challenges for both foreign coaches and the national sporting organisations with whom they are contracted (Whelan, 2008). A key issue for foreign coaches is the need for assimilation into a different culture (Livingston, Tirone, Smith, & Miller, 2008); perhaps these coaches are technically proficient but unless they can assimilate into the host nation’s culture, and/or alternatively, the athletes/working staff are prepared to accommodate these cultural differences, it is unlikely the employment of foreign coaches will achieve the desired goal of optimising performance. Moreover, as well as the learning required to live and work in a foreign country, the rapidly changing nature of high performance coaching requires ongoing learning if quality craft is to be maintained. It is for these reasons that learning (or a lack thereof) is likely to be a central issue for foreign coaches and their employing organisations. However, there has been limited research published that has examined foreign coaches’ experiences of coaching in other countries.
In attempting to make sense of the learning of foreign coaches, this thesis draws upon Billett’s (2006) notion of relational interdependence (RI), which views workplaces as learning environments and brings together an interdisciplinary perspective towards the study of professional learning and development of sport coaching. Compared with other learning theories (e.g., CoP model or experiential learning that tend to privelege either the contribution of the individual or the social in the learning), this lens enables a broader consideration of the relationship between the individual and the relevant affordances (Rynne, 2008; Rynne, Mallett, & Tinning, 2006, 2010). Based upon a socio-cultural constructivism perspective, a single case (embedded) research design was chosen through the purposeful sampling of a sport organisation. The case focused on Chinese diving coaches employed within Diving Australia (DA) and involved data collection from three Chinese high performance diving coaches (CHPDCs), four administrators, four divers, and three paraprofessionals employed in DA. Through a three-part data collection method (i.e., one year of observations, three structured interviews, twenty-three semi-structured interviews, one focus group, and related document collection) between March 2011 - March 2012, information was collected regarding the coaches’ personal histories, affordances within and beyond DA and Australia more broadly, and individuals’ agency, engagement and practice in Australia during their employment with DA. All data were analysed with the assistance of MindNote software using a theoretical thematic analysis. After a series of deliberative data analysis processes, five major themes were identified in relation to CHPDCs’ premediate experiences, physical and socio-cultural affordances within/beyond DA, coaches’ agency and engagement, reshaping of practice of all individuals, and the nature of the interdependence in DA.
This study supports Billett’s notion of relational interdependence as an effective way of examining the complex nature of learning and coaching activities in DA. Several findings are of interest in this regard: (a) CHPDCs’ premediate experiences (i.e., early athletic/coach experiences in China and other working experiences) contributed to their professional knowledge and skills, which paved the foundation for potential foreign coaching opportunities. While further examinations of foreign coaches are necessary to enhance our understanding of foreign coaches in different sports system, on an individual level, it is possible to provide some explanations of the coaches’ formation of self and subsequent development; (b) while CHPDCs were situated in a workplace with a well-designed physical environment, there were certain socio-cultural challenges for them, which included the comprehension of diving and sport structures/cultures in DA and Australia, overcoming the English language barrier, and adaption of their communication with athletes/administrators/sport scientists; (c) while there were many learning activities, tasks, and opportunities (e.g., English environment in DA) identified within and beyond DA, there was varied interplay between the coaches’ agentic actions and the affordances of DA and Australia. It appeared that the relatedness and resonance between individual agency and affordances decided the quality of learning. As such, learning appeared to be shaped by the complex and variable interplay between the CHPDCs’ agency (i.e., respective roles and work in DA, personal preferences, sense of self) and DA affordances (i.e., physical and socio-cultural affordances within and beyond DA); (d) certain transformations and changes (e.g., coaches’ improved English and appropriate communication skills with Australian athletes, enhancement of athletes’ diving skills) occurred within DA after individuals’ long-term participation and collaboration. Moreover, individuals’ deliberative learning and innovation allowed DA and the CHPDCs to eventually achieve the desired results; (e) the interactions between CHPDCs’ agency and DA’s affordances were found to be person-dependent (e.g., English learning), hierarchical (staff roles and positions in DA), cyclical (e.g., the interaction between head coach and assistant coach), cooperative (e.g., the collaboration between CHPDC and divers), and dynamic (i.e., other affordances within/beyond DA) with the overall nature of interdependence in DA being described as relational and agency-dependent.
The findings of this research may be generative for those responsible for foreign coaches’ recruitment, professional learning and development. It is expected that further socio-cultural research on foreign coaches will serve to broaden our understanding of coaches’ professional practice, learning and development. It is recommended that the notion of RI, with its underpinning conceptualization of workplaces as learning environments, is an appropriate theoretical framework for future research related to high performance sport coaching.