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Strength & Conditioning Journal:
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000028
Article

Developing Expertise in Strength and Conditioning Coaching

Grant, Matthew A. PhD1; Dorgo, Sandor PhD, CSCS2

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1Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia; and

2Department of Kinesiology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas

Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding: The authors report no conflicts of interest and no source of funding.

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Matthew A. Grant is an assistant professor and EdS program coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at Valdosta State University.

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Sandor Dorgo is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Grant, Matthew A. PhD1; Dorgo, Sandor PhD, CSCS2

Free Access
Article Outline
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Author Information

1Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia; and

2Department of Kinesiology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas

Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding: The authors report no conflicts of interest and no source of funding.

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Author Information

Matthew A. Grant is an assistant professor and EdS program coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at Valdosta State University.

Article Outline
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Author Information

Sandor Dorgo is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Grant, Matthew A. PhD1; Dorgo, Sandor PhD, CSCS2

Free Access
Article Outline
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Author Information

1Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia; and

2Department of Kinesiology, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas

Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding: The authors report no conflicts of interest and no source of funding.

Article Outline
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Author Information

Matthew A. Grant is an assistant professor and EdS program coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at Valdosta State University.

Article Outline
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Sandor Dorgo is an associate professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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Abstract

ABSTRACT: THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE IS TO DESCRIBE AND APPLY THE SALIENT CHARACTERISTICS AND LEARNING PREFERENCES OF EACH OF THE 3 STAGES OF EXPERT DEVELOPMENT—BEGINNER, COMPETENT, AND EXPERT—TO STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING (SC) COACHING TO SUGGEST A MORE ROBUST AND EFFECTIVE CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION FOR SC COACHES. BASED ON OVER 4 DECADES OF EXPERT THEORY AND CURRENT SC RESEARCH, AUTHORS HIGHLIGHT LEARNING PREFERENCES AND COACHING RECOMMENDATIONS TO PRECIPITATE DEVELOPMENT OF EXPERT CHARACTERISTICS, EXPERIENCES, SKILLS, AND KNOWLEDGE WITHIN THIS FIELD. FURTHERMORE, RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH STUDIES BASED ON THE LITERATURE REVIEWED ARE PROVIDED.

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INTRODUCTION

Expertise theory defined an expert as one who consistently outperforms colleagues and nonexperts within a specific domain (17). The characteristics, experiences, skills, and knowledge required to produce expert performance developed through deliberate practice—the strategically planned exercises that aid in the betterment of performance described as repetitive and inherently unenjoyable (19,22). The requisite time needed for building these critical aspects of expertise was quintessentially determined to be 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice (21,45). However, to employ deliberate practice, expertise research needed to discover and define those salient qualities, characteristics, experiences, skills, or knowledge that top performers develop to become an expert within a domain.

Over the last 40 years, scholars catalogued many of these outstanding qualities or attributes of experts within various professional fields [Literature reviews of expertise theory detail specific attributes of experts based on general precepts of expertise (20,22), expert teacher instruction (5,7,25,26), expert athletic coach instruction (3,38,39,41,46), and expert athletic sport performance (27,29).]. Within education- and sport-related disciplines, researchers presented and used similar multistage taxonomies of expert professional development based on the skills and the amount of time needed to progress from beginner to expert (5,7,25,26). The majority of expertise researchers in education- and sport-related disciplines promoted a 4-stage taxonomy (beginner/novice, competent, proficient, and expert) when emphasizing and delineating the skills, knowledge, characteristics, and experiences of individuals at various developmental stages (3,5,39). However, much research also applied 3-stage taxonomies when dealing within the teaching profession (1,4,25,40). Furthermore, 3-stage taxonomy (beginner, competent, and expert) seemed easier and more effective to eliminate overlapping learning predilections of proficient-expert teachers and coaches (4,40). Therefore, for the purposes of this article, a 3-stage taxonomy was used to emphasize and demarcate the educational learning preferences of beginner, competent, and expert strength and conditioning (SC) coaches.

Recent SC coaching research has focused on the various aspects of pedagogical practices within the profession (33,34,35). These studies used qualitative methods to describe the actions of SC coaches within the instructional environment with athletes. Beyond the pedagogical practices of SC coaches, several researchers employed expertise theory when seeking to understand the professionally developmental practices of more competent SC coaches (23,47). Furthermore, Chiu (13) questioned whether formal education and the use of professional literature, e.g., peer-reviewed journals, were enough for the development of a professional practitioner in SC coaching. By connecting expertise theory, educational preferences, and current SC coaching literature, the purpose of this article is to provide pertinent suggestions for effective education and professional development of SC coaches.

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STAGES OF EXPERTISE

This article presents a 3-stage taxonomy of expertise development: beginner, competent, and expert (41). In sections to follow, the coach characteristics (salient qualities) and learning preferences (favored manner of knowledge acquisition) for individuals at these various stages within education- and sport-related fields are applied to SC coaching (Expertise theory predominately used qualitative analysis, interviews, and observations of “vetted” experts to locate and present these characteristics and preferences. The investigation of contributing factors of development outside the control of the individual, such as opportunity, power, and control, was not within the scope of these studies and consequently might not account for these factors. Although expertise development might be influenced by such factors, which might allow access to more advantageous experiences that individual practitioners reading this article might not have an opportunity to use, i.e., educational resources or mentorship, the supporting literature provides sound suggestions of multiple sources of learning through sound methodological practices that should be considered when contemplating professional development.). Based on these sections, developmental recommendations for SC coaches desiring to progress to the next stage of expertise are presented.

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BEGINNER

Beginner coaches normally have a mixture of experiences within their chosen field before entering their career (2,39,41). A beginner SC coach may have some level of involvement in a SC program as an athlete, likely has educational preparation in a relevant academic field as a student, and preferably carries a relevant certification and some level of practical experience obtained through an internship within an educational institution or sport organization (26). Whatever the background, the beginner coach carries a previous knowledge of the basic requirements of the job, or “observation of apprenticeship” (31), and believes he or she can contribute to the field based on the past observations or experiences, or “subjective warrant” (30). In other words, beginners are not neophytes but “newbies,” with less than 3 years of experience, who need to show that they are capable contributors to their field (39).

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Characteristics

On entering the SC coaching profession, a beginner coach becomes responsible for new, unanticipated tasks (3,37). Normally, this experience is overwhelming. Consequently, a beginner must focus on learning new procedures and enforcing rules to effectively, efficiently, and safely complete these tasks (5,39). This preoccupation with rules and procedures keeps beginners fixated on noninstructional tasks instead of learning or teaching content (8,28). Furthermore, beginners can neither prioritize tasks nor follow a routine because they cannot differentiate the important from the unimportant (39). Therefore, those in this first stage of expertise development take greater time and effort to complete rather simple, noninstructional tasks and less time educating and developing athletes.

A beginner lacks control over their environment (5,41). With so much time devoted to enforcing rules, learning procedures, and completing noninstructional tasks, it is little wonder that a beginner cannot control occurrences within the weight room. “Because beginners are so focused on the learning environment and enforcing rules, they seldom feel any personal control over the conditions and events of the workplace, and, therefore, may lack a sense of responsibility for their own actions” (5, p. 34). This focus not only leads to inflexibility in disciplining within the learning environment but beginner coaches often blame the athlete for a lack of success (5,39).

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Learning preferences

Beginners prefer learning through gaining more experience and observing more skilled practitioners (5,39). Essentially, beginners need to learn through real-world experiences and experimentation (5,38). Even though the individual might have successfully completed sufficient certifications, formal education seems less credible than actually designing a program or instructing athletes (41). That said, it could be that the formal learning (Expertise theory predominately used qualitative analysis, interviews, and observations of “vetted” experts to locate and present these characteristics and preferences. The investigation of contributing factors of development outside the control of the individual, such as opportunity, power, and control, was not within the scope of these studies and consequently might not account for these factors. Although expertise development might be influenced by such factors, which might allow access to more advantageous experiences that individual practitioners reading this article might not have an opportunity to use, i.e., educational resources or mentorship, the supporting literature provides sound suggestions of multiple sources of learning through sound methodological practices that should be considered when contemplating professional development.) needs connection to an experience for the beginner to understand the true meaning behind formal instruction. Regardless, learning seems to depend on experience at this level.

In conjunction with (but secondary to) gaining experience, beginners watch and listen to more expert coaches they deem successful to gain insight into coaching athletes. This educational experience does not necessitate the presence of a personal contact with the more successful coach. “[Beginners] usually develop their instructional repertoires by combining observations of more experienced coaches, personal trial and error, and recalling coaches from their days as athletes” (39, p. 148). Through these observations, beginners extend their experiences beyond their personal practice by gaining more solutions to be tested when situations arise. Progressively, beginner SC coaches develop their teaching practices, through which they more effectively influence their athletes' behavior (34).

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Recommendations for strength and conditioning coaches

Beginner SC coaches generally obtain a foundational knowledge base through education programs in exercise science or a relevant field. A bachelor's or, more desirably, a master's level educational preparation includes rigorous coursework [Scholars recommend that courses include human anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor learning and development, nutrition, measurement and evaluation, sport psychology, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid, sport injuries and rehabilitation (13,24,34), and sports pedagogy (13,16,34). This general educational program acts as a foundation to more practical domains (16), including exercise technique, exercise prescription, program design, and testing and evaluation (13,32).] and some practical experience through completing university coaching coursework, i.e., weightlifting, track and field, etc. (13), through competing in sports with heavy emphasis on SC (26), or by obtaining practicum or internship experiences (13,34). With the required minimum competencies for SC coaching (36), entry-level practitioners have generally obtained relevant certifications and credentials.

Although the formal education program within SC is extensive, Massey (34) argued that the educational experiences of beginner coaches often do not go far enough in preparing SC students for entering the profession. In some cases, relevant university courses are offered on an elective basis, which may lead to deficiencies in some knowledge areas or practical skills. For example, SC coaches may have worked with male and female athletes from a limited number of sports during their educational preparations although basic knowledge of many sports are more desirable for career preparation (32). Consequently, this critical multiple sport preparation of SC coaches would need to be procured in the first few years of working within the profession—the beginning stage of expertise.

Therefore, to progress to the next stage of expertise, beginner SC coaches must build on their minimal competencies and practical experiences in several ways. First, coaches should stay current in the profession by keeping up with the most recent literature related to training techniques and modalities and following current research relevant to the field (34). Second, for professional development, mentorship under the tutelage of more experienced and competent practitioners was a critical educational relationship (13). For example, beginner coaches should develop sound teaching practices that allow them to communicate effectively and influence their athletes' behavior (34). To accomplish this, mentors and/or experienced SC coaches would develop these skills through frequent observations, corrective feedback, and the creation of deliberate practices. Such deliberate practice leads the beginner coach to improved skills and, possibly, to develop a personal coaching philosophy (13), all of which may drive the practitioner through the next stages of expert development. That said, in some contexts, such as highly competitive environments, locating a mentor with whom to forge a relationship might be problematic. Furthermore, colleagues, past professors, or educators who might be able to provide sufficient support and could aid in the creation of deliberate practice might not be available.

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COMPETENT

After SC coaches gain initial experiences through practicums and internships, they may become assistant SC coaches for at least 1.5–3 years and more (32): a prerequisite before obtaining a head position. During the years of assistant coaching, the SC practitioner may progress to the competent stage. Although time allows enough trial and error to make connections between past learning and new experiences, time is not the defining or critical factor. More simply, expertise does not automatically develop because one stays in the field. Advancement is measured through the progression of characteristics, skills, experience, and knowledge.

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Characteristics

Coaches progress to the competent stage after extensive experience. In addition to attaining practice and formal learning, a competent coach begins to make connections between current and past experiences or lived situations to create new solutions (41). This ability to see across these contexts extends beyond a reaction to individual incidences and allows for the creation of contingency plans (3,39).

Competent coaches also recognize the difference between the important and unimportant (5,41). For instance, beginning teachers see that all managerial activities are important to the exclusion of instructional teaching. In the competent stage, teachers and coaches can understand what is critical for the learning of their students or athletes and what can be ignored (40). This fundamental understanding allows coaches to create routines and use of strategic knowledge—the knowing of when to hold fast to the rules or to allow minor infractions so that learning can continue (39). These characteristics lead a competent coach to obtain confidence in the learning environment, responsibility for both the successes and failures of their athletes' learning, and flexibility when dealing with athletes, which results in the competent coach verging on progressing to expert (5).

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Learning preferences

The competent coach has obtained enough experience through trial and error and observation to understand those skills that need improvement. Through the continued use of a mentor, competent coaches develop deliberate practices that provide specific, significant repetitious activities that lead to the acquisition or improvement of desired skills that strengthen coaching performance. Competent coaches used outside sources to develop their deliberate practices. Books, magazines, and other media sources also influence the competent coaches' learning and help coaches reflect on their actions and practices to guide development (3,9,18). Furthermore, competent-level coaches are likely to participate in discussions with other professionals—such as conference presentations, roundtable discussions, special interest group meetings, and local or state clinics—for professional development purposes (13). Therefore, at the competent stage of expertise, mentorship, reflection, and outside sources become the preferred ways of learning (3,9).

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Recommendations for strength and conditioning coaches

At the competent level, through the combination of educational and practical experiences, SC coaches likely develop their personal coaching philosophies, which guide the application of their knowledge to achieve optimal outcomes for their athletes (13). Competent SC coaches understand the complexity of the profession and the most prevalent activities that require their attention. Massey et al. (33) found that experienced SC coaches were predominantly engaged in the observation of their athletes (silent monitoring), organization of the training activity (management), and providing verbal statements to encourage greater effort (feedback). Total time spent on these activities was almost one-half of all observed behaviors for the experienced coaches. Competent SC coaches understand that effective coaching requires good teaching and management skills (34). Consequently, developing effective teaching skills becomes vital for the SC coach at this stage. In fact, SC coaches often view themselves as teachers and perceive teaching as one of the most important aspects of the coaching job (34,35). Therefore, creating an effective learning environment and teaching for mastery are what SC coaches must strive for at this stage (34).

SC coaches are responsible not only for the improvement of their athletes but also for their career development as a whole (13). Deliberate practices for coaches at the competent stage include the ongoing quest for new knowledge and experience and the critical assessment of the information presented to them. Sources of information may come from peer-reviewed journals, including both SC-specific research studies and other sports science research (13). Other sources of information seen as critical include interacting with other coaches and attending clinics, seminars, or conferences (13).

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EXPERT

Becoming an expert within any domain is rarely achieved (17). For anyone to consistently outperform colleagues over time through outstanding accomplishment (17,39), experience and effectiveness alone are insufficient (39). Years of deliberate practice are required to cultivate characteristics, refine skills, create experiences, and acquire the knowledge necessary (17,39). Most coaches find success at the competent stage and then plateau instead of subjecting themselves to deliberate practice and continually pursuing greater understanding and performance (39).

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Characteristics

Of all the stages presented, the most extensively researched stage within the continuum is the expert. Expert coaches use an extensive knowledge base (12,14,21,37,45), attending to the atypical (5,8), solve problems accurately (9,11,41), perceive acutely (10,27,41), make intuitive decisions (38,39), perform automatically (5,6,38,39), act flexibly (3,5,26,28,41), reflect using self-monitoring skills (38,39), and follow routines and rituals (2). This daunting list reflects the depth and breadth of characteristics, skills, experiences, and knowledge needed to be an expert.

It would seem, based on this account, that an expert coach does not need to plan programs, create practice plans, or think thoughtfully before performance. Interestingly, experts are keenly aware of both the importance of preparation and the amount of knowledge they have yet to acquire. Housner and Griffey (28) found that expert teachers take longer to create lesson plans than do beginners (28). This might be because of them taking time to consider the underlying principles before finding a solution (12). Furthermore, experts seek knowledge pertaining to issues, such as sport-specific techniques, team and player management, coaching principles, and planning skills by leaning heavily on outside sources (3,15,43). In other words, an expert coach craves knowledge of all aspects of their sport and coaching.

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Learning preferences

Experts use people, reading materials, and self-reflection as sources for knowledge acquisition and skill development (42,43,44). First, expert coaches rely on information from other people, such as coaches, athletes, and people they worked with through the years (44). For example, an expert coach might seek out other peers who have extensive knowledge, skill, or experience that could aid in understanding a current problem of technique, activity, drill, behavior, and/or communication (44). By talking with other colleagues, including those with whom they are in direct competition, expert coaches gain insight into factors surrounding their topic of interest.

Second, expert coaches read extensively within their sport (3). This includes books, journals and magazines, films, and popular media. Although this is similar to a competent coach, it is the extensiveness of the materials and the subject matter accessed that are critical distinctions. For instance, many of these sources are not limited to publications in their sport alone. Although Ericsson and Charness (18) found that experts had large libraries devoted to their subject, expert coaches were shown to have used books, magazines, journals, workshops, and other coaches as sources of their knowledge to pass that information on to their athletes (3,44).

Finally, expert coaches use self-monitoring techniques for knowledge acquisition of their practice. Experts use reflective self-monitoring, such as reflection-on-action (42) [Schön (42) provided several types of reflection, such as reflection-in-action (thinking about practices during performance), reflection-on-action (thinking about practices after performance), reflection, and retrospective reflection-on-action (thinking about practices at the end of a season). Although reflection-on-action was suggested as an example of reflection for experts, this was not to suggest that reflection-on-action was the sole type of introspection used by experts. All types of reflection should be used for professional development.], to assess their weaknesses and make strategic plans to correct their shortcomings. It is from these self-monitoring practices that expert coaches create both challenges and actions specifically designed to produce better coaching (39).

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Recommendations for strength and conditioning coaches

The SC professional who reaches expert is likely a head coach of a successful SC program, has been recognized by other professionals as an authority in the field, and possesses special skills (13). At the expert stage, regular professional interaction with other successful and experienced SC coaches becomes essential. Reading the most up-to-date research and practical recommendations presented in peer-reviewed journals may become a regular practice of expert SC coaches. Experienced SC coaches report that clients, colleagues, and research contribute greatly to their learning and development (47). In addition, expert SC coaches strive for developing effective teaching techniques (34) and use self-monitoring and systematic self-assessment effectively to improve instructional behavior and to experience a heightened self-awareness of coaching behavior (24). Such modification and development of coaching behavior ultimately leads to better serve the athletes and the teams trained (24).

Tod et al. (47), when evaluating SC coaches at the competent and expert stages, noted that over time, coaches' understanding of their role broadened and their decision-making process became more internal (34). Coaches' practices became more client centered, their ability to serve clients effectively improved, their attention to create a rapport with clients increased, and generally their anxieties decreased while their confidence increased. The athletes' development became a central assessment of their own coaching effectiveness, and they progressively assumed more responsibility for the athletes' competitive performances. Over time, the SC coaches became less prescriptive and technique focused, more flexible and facilitative, and more capable of adjusting their training program to the needs of their athletes (34).

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CONSIDERATIONS

In this article, researchers applied the salient characteristics and learning preferences of the 3-stage expert development taxonomy—beginner, competent, and expert—to SC coaching to suggest methods for effective continuation of professional and developmental education for SC coaches. Although the career trajectory of SC coaches may start as undergraduate students participating in internships or obtaining graduate assistantships and progressing to assistant coaches and, eventually, to head coaches, the trajectory does not parallel the process of moving from beginners to competent to, perhaps, expert. Indeed, it may take many more years of deliberate practice to gain the requisite characteristics, skills, experiences, and knowledge than just attaining a head coaching position. Therefore, from the information presented above, 2 key considerations for the development of expertise in SC coaching need review.

First, the attainment of academic degrees and relevant certifications does not seem sufficient to achieve coaching expertise, even to attain competency within the field: degrees only aid in learning the minimum level of expertise to begin as a practitioner (13). The completion of this formal education is the starting point on which experience and trial and error must be applied to move beyond the rudimentary process of completing tasks. Important to this process is access to mentorship, someone who can help understand experiences, direct deliberate practice, and create routines for better management of the learning environment and completion of tasks. Although this sounds inviting and beneficial, finding such a relationship may be difficult. Practitioners might obtain references from professional organizations, past professors, or successful coaches. Recently, within sport coaching education, a movement toward providing mentorship relationships has begun in professional organizations, such as the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Organizations that support and cater to SC professionals might take the same initiative and help facilitate similar programs that could greatly improve the quality and expertise of SC coaches.

Second, professional development is a career-long process. As described above, for one to progress from beginner to competent to expert, continual professional education, skill refinement, and experience acquisition are necessary. To combine these demands with the ever-changing environment and professional requirements within the SC coaching (47), a SC practitioner must continue to access others (mentors and colleagues), sources (books, media, etc.), and self (self-reflection and reflection-on-action) to keep from plateauing and to continue progressing to the next stage of development. In other words, expertise in SC coaching is a dynamic construct (13). Therefore, as the field evolves, coaches must constantly improve their skills and knowledge that allowed them to their level of expertise; otherwise, they will fall behind others who keep up with the dynamics of this field.

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RECOMMENDATIONS

The purpose of the article was to present the current summative understanding of pedagogical concerns for ongoing professional development of SC coaches. As detailed above, the current body of research within SC needs data-driven support to move forward in understanding and improving professional development education for SC coaches. In specific, 2 recommendations need consideration for future research.

First, authors found a lack of support and emphasis for the importance of developing a mentorship relationship. Consideration for finding a mentor should be a priority for newer SC coaches who need to gain experience and competent professionals aiming to continue to grow within their chosen career. Future research could aid in this pursuit by investigating contextual factors surrounding mentor relationships, such as barriers to locating suitable mentors, cultural obstacles within SC coaching, and insight into effective mentorships within SC coaching.

Second, ongoing professional development that leads toward expertise within SC coaching inevitably involves individuals choosing to read, watch, discuss, and learn more and more about their field, filling in the gaps within their coaching practices. Additionally, as Chiu (13) suggested, current literature might not provide applicable information for developing deliberate practice that leads to improved skill, experiences, knowledge, and performance in SC coaching (13).

The aim of this article was to present a case, based on expertise theory and current SC research, to provide a wider scope of pedagogical concerns for continuing professional development education within SC coaching. Research within SC has shown that SC coaches are equipped to teach athletes on leaving formal educational settings. However, the extent to which these new SC coaches have enough experience is questioned. Furthermore, questions also arise regarding the provision of adequate literature and postformal educational opportunities for learning. Based on the above information, the authors' hope is that future research in continuing professional developmental education will use this article as a guide in helping individuals seek mentors to help guide practitioners in designing deliberate practice, finding educational resources, and locating other coaches who excel in areas needing improvement.

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Keywords:

expertise theory; strength and conditioning; coaching; skill development; pedagogy

© 2014 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association

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