What is an expert coach? What is the difference between an effective coach and an ineffective coach? If these questions can be answered then better coaches can be developed which is important as coaches shape peoples experiences of sport. However there is a lack of consensus in the literature over the definition of an expert coach. Nash et al (2012) reviewed 50 papers between the years 1993-2009. It was found that there were 27 different definitions of coaching expertise. Abraham, Collins and Martindale (2006) suggest there is a need to define expert coaching so that these criteria can be used for future research.

A definition proposed by Cote and Gilbert (2009) is that coaching effectiveness is “the consistent application of integrated professional, interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge to improve athlete’s competence, confidence, connection and character in specific coaching contexts”.  An effective coach is someone who aligns their coaching expertise to the athletes they are working with. If a coach then shows a consistent improvement in athlete outcome over a period of time in a specific coaching context then this coach can be considered an expert.

Despite the issues of defining coaching expertise a number of characteristics have been identified by Nash et al (2012). The first is that expert coaches use a large knowledge base when solving problems although the coach may not realise this, and they work independently producing innovative solutions. The study also showed that effective reflection skills and lifelong learning are important skills in becoming an expert coach. This is in line with the definition by Cote and Gilbert (2009) where the knowledge of expert coaches was split into professional knowledge (involving sport-specific knowledge, sport science, teaching methods and how to carry out tasks), interpersonal knowledge (individual and group interactions) and intrapersonal knowledge (knowing oneself and the ability to reflect).

Nash et al (2012) also found that expert coaches have a track record of developing athletes from one stage to another. Cote and Gilbert (2009) model supports this as effective coaching should influence athletes competence, confidence, connection and character. Although athlete competence is the most obvious outcome of coaching the effective coach should positively influence all four aspects of athlete’s outcomes.

The final aspect of the Cote and Gilbert (2009) model relates to coaches in specific coaching contexts (Participation coach for children, participation coach for adolescents or adults, performance coach for children and performance coach for adolescents or adults). Support for this can be from Nash et al (2012) where expert coaches take into account their strengths and weaknesses and manage a complex planning process which relates to being competent at different levels of coaching.

Given that the characteristics of expert coaches have been identified, how are expert coaches developed? First, coach education programmes have focused their attention on the development of professional knowledge with little emphasis on interpersonal knowledge or intrapersonal knowledge. Therefore coaches must look to develop their own interpersonal and intrapersonal knowledge. Interpersonal knowledge can be developed through understanding the athlete’s requirements and understanding what the coach will need to learn to relate to the athlete in the particular social and coaching context. Intrapersonal knowledge can be developed by translating experience into knowledge and skills through reflection on experience. Professional knowledge must be developed in context where it interacts with all other aspects of coaching.

In order to develop the athlete in terms of competence, confidence, connection and character there is a need to develop the correct environment. Deci and Ryan (2000) suggest in order to develop highly motivated individuals requires the right environment which provides the opportunity to make decisions, develop competence and feel connected to others. An effective environment provides the social support necessary for connection to be developed. The coach athlete relationship is the determining factor in developing confidence in athletes. In order to develop character the sporting experience and real life should not be separated. Sport should be seen as a means to develop citizenship qualities.

The final aspect of developing effectiveness in coaching refers to the coaching context and helping the athlete fulfill their goals as defined by the coaching context. Participation coaches are characterized by short-term goals, enjoyment and health related outcomes. Performance coaches are characterized by an intensive commitment to preparation and a planned attempt to influence performance.

Despite the evidence reviewed, the development of effective coach education programmes is hindered by a lack of consensus on what an expert coach is. Future research should focus on the use of the expert performance framework (Ford, Coughlan and Williams, 2009) as a means to understanding expert coaching. Given that coaches influence people’s health, personal and sporting development, and the achievement of people’s goals, there is a need to improve the development of coach education. Future research in this area using the expert performance framework can aid that process.