Researching Sports Coaching: Dr. Phil Kearney

Recently, coaches from the first cohort of the Masters in Applied Sports Coaching submitted and defended their research projects. These coaches work in a variety of contexts from grassroots to high performance sport across a range of individual and team sports. From these diverse contexts they brought their individual interests to the programme, and these interests were reflected in the topics that they chose to research over the final year of their part time degree. In this blog, I will provide a flavour of the research that they undertook.

Life skills are ‘‘those internal personal assets, characteristics and skills such as goal setting, emotional control, self-esteem, and hard work ethic that can be facilitated or developed in sport and are transferred for use in non-sport settings’’ (Gould & Carson, 2008, p. 60). There remains limited guidance for coaches on how these life skills are best developed. To that end, one project interviewed coaches from a range of sports, each of whom had a reputation for developing life skills.

How Coaches develop life skills

An investigation of turnovers within the sport of hurling revealed minimal differences between winning and losing teams, but a number of valuable implications for the design of practice sessions due to where and how turnovers occurred.

We heard of an investigation into high-performance rugby coaches’ and players’ experiences of half-time team talks which were summarised in the form of a plan on for coaches to structure that potentially crucial 15-minutes.

We learned about ethnodrama as a means of connecting research findings to practitioners in such a way that at that makes it more likely that the lessons will translate into changes in practice. While ethnodrama has an extensive history within nursing and and teaching, it is relatively new to sports coaching and is an exciting prospect for coach developers.

We heard about the effectiveness of a within-club coach development initiative drawing upon the iCoachKids massive open online course (MOOC); this project provides guidance for clubs across a whole range of sports as to how they might most effectively embed CPD for their coaches.

We learned about the lived experience of mentors and mentees within a national governing body mentoring program, identifying the lessons that could be distilled to design and deliver more effective mentoring programs.

We saw the creation of a leaflet designed to educate novice parent-coaches derived from interviews with both parent-coaches and child-athletes. This project aimed to provide some of the guidance that these parent-coaches felt had been missing when they started their coaching journey.

Within the sport of karate, we saw an exploration of what athlete-centred coaching looks like according to expert coaches with lessons dawn for both the individual coach and for broader coach education within that domain.

These examples provide just a sample of the many fascinating topics that were explored by coaches on the programme. We are excited by this initial body of research generated from the MSc in Applied Sports Coaching and look forward to the work future cohorts will do.

Further information on the programme is available through the website at or by contacting the programme coordinator: (061 202844).

Dr Phil Kearney is the Course Director of the MSc Applied Sports Coaching within the PESS Department here at the University of Limerick. View Phil’s profile:

Follow on twitter: @kearney_phil  
Research Profiles: Researchgate   ORCID    Google Scholar

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