Exploring the link between teaching and coaching – Paul Kinnerk

Teaching and coaching are sometimes viewed as distinct professions with distinct goals. This distinction is most obvious in sports coaching settings where coaches are always referred to as “the coach” and never “a teacher,” even though the primary roles of a coach involve the teaching of skills, technique and strategy (Drewe, 2000).

While acknowledging the notable differences (e.g., emphasis on winning, pressure to win) that exist between teaching and coaching, this blog wishes to explore the impact ‘teaching’/teachers have had in the world of sports coaching and identify some ways that coaches can incorporate methods primarily associated with teaching into their coaching fields.

It takes only a quick google search to identify some of the renowned coaches in world sport that have teaching backgrounds. Gerard Houllier, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink, Louis Van gaal (Soccer), Joe Schmidt, Eddie Jones (Rugby) are some of the names that appear immediately. Closer to home, GAA coaches such as Eamonn Fitzmaurice, Mickey Harte, Ger Loughnane, Brian Cody, Cian O’Neill and Mick Bohan all hold teaching backgrounds.

This blog is not suggesting that in order to be a ‘good’ sports coach you need to change your profession and become a teacher. Absolutely not but the case is being made that within coaching settings, learning should take place, and therefore the role of the coach should be to teach and impart knowledge. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City Soccer player) highlights this point well when speaking of his highly regarded and successful soccer coach, Pep Guardiola – ‘He’s a great teacher. I’ve got to be honest, it has made me realise how important it is for managers to be actual teachers, no matter what level the footballer is at’ (cited in Turner & Dart, 2013). Guardiola does not have a teaching background, but clearly impacts player learning.

The skill of questioning which is commonplace in teaching is one such skill where coaches may seek to bolster their coaching repertoire. Questioning promotes critical thinking, problem solving, athlete engagement and an alternative athlete centred social involvement (Harvey & Light, 2015). However, the employment of questioning in sports coaching settings is scarce (Cushion, 2013). The use of questioning in coaching settings challenges the traditional view of what a coach should do. Moreover, questioning requires practice and perseverance (Kinnerk, Harvey, MacDonncha, & Lyons, 2018), something that teachers are exposed to on a daily basis which allows them to hone their questioning skills for coaching settings.

In a study carried out over the past year we (Dr. Mark Lyons, Dr. Stephen Harvey, Dr. Ciaran MacDonncha) interviewed 12 senior inter-county Gaelic football coaches, one coach highlighted the significance that his teaching background has had on his employment of questioning in coaching:

“There’s a specific skill-set you have as a teacher, and then you have to take it to a whole new level when you have what you have as a PE teacher. Because it’s what we do, it’s what we’ve been taught to do. Albeit in an educational environment, to me football or whatever sport is an extension of that. The similarities are quite stark and of course there are some differences but most of what I do in a coaching setting is exactly what I trained to do as a PE teacher. That’s a real added bonus, it doesn’t mean you are going to be a better coach than someone. But I do think you’ll have better questioning skills, I think that is something that you really get in PE. You are not afraid of the silence. You’re not afraid to probe. You’re not afraid to redirect. If a player is looking at you totally confused, you’re not going to give the answer because he is confused. You might say “well John help him out here” … we do that naturally”.

So in summary, there are clearly discrete skills regularly required in teaching that are transferable to the coaching field. Whilst being a teacher is not a pre-requisite for coaching, and not all good coaches are teachers, practicing or aspiring coaches [who are not teachers by trade] could do a lot worse than exposing themselves to some of the pedagogical teaching methods espoused in the academic literature. Furthermore, reflecting on their favourite teacher and what made her or him special is also worthwhile.

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Paul Kinnerk is a postgraduate researcher studying for a PhD in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  His current interests include sports coaching, sports coaching pedagogy in team sports and game-based approach pedagogies.  You can contact Paul via email at paul.kinnerk@ul.ie or follow Paul on Twitter.


Cushion, C. (2013). Applying game centered approaches in coaching: A critical analysis of the ‘dilemmas of practice’ impacting change. Sports Coaching Review, 2(1), 61-76. doi: 10.1080/21640629.2013.861312.

Drewe, S. B. (2000). An examination of the relationship between coaching and teaching. Quest, 52(1), 79-88.

Harvey, S., & Light, R. L. (2015). Questioning for learning in game-based approaches to teaching and coaching. Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 6(2), 175-190. doi: 10.1080/18377122.2015.1051268.

Kinnerk, P., Harvey, S., MacDonncha, C., & Lyons, M. (2018). A review of the game-based approaches to coaching literature in competitive team sport settings. Quest, 1-18. doi: 10.1080/00336297.2018.1439390.

Turner, G. & Dart, J. (2013, August 14). Football’s most successful former teachers. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/aug/14/the-knowledge-football-successful-former-teachers

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