Part 11 – Communities of Practice
Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
This is the eleventh article in a series of 13 on developing your coaching skills. For the full list of articles in the series see the articles page.
There are a number of ways that you can develop your coaching skills by interacting with other coaches. Our previous article looked at how you can use feedback to increase your understanding of how you coach. You can also improve your coaching by having discussions with coaches and sharing the problems that you face. In this article we will look at how social learning can be used as a coach development tool, by examining the use of Communities of Practice.
Social learning occurs through interacting with people and exchanging ideas. This is done by sharing knowledge and discussing your experiences. There are three types of groups that you could be part of as a coach that will help you to develop your skills: Networks of Practice, Informal Knowledge Networks, and Communities of Practice.
Each of these networks provides the opportunity to gain coaching knowledge. Within social learning it is the interaction with others that stimulates the greatest development. Of the three networks, the regular interaction within a Community of Practice will provide the greatest opportunity for learning. This is the network that we will focus on for this article.
What is a Community of Practice?
“Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” – Etienne Wenger.
A Community of Practice could be formed by a group of coaches who want to work together to learn about coaching and to develop their knowledge of how to coach effectively. The coaches would meet to build and share knowledge with each other. Figure 1 lists some of the activities that a Community of Practice could involve.
The members of the group need to share a common interest that they are passionate about. This shared interest would be what the group meets to discuss and exchange ideas about. An example could be coaching and the development of their coaching ability. This common interest provides the group with a shared purpose and defines the issues that they discuss.
The community is built through the interaction of the coaches. This could be through discussions, activities and the sharing of information. By building relationships the members are able to learn from each other. This requires the group to meet regularly and for the members to interact with each other in order to deepen their knowledge and understanding.
The third component required for a Community of Practice is that the members are actually doing what they are focused on. As part of this practice they develop a set of shared resources, stories, tools, and ways of addressing common problems. A Community of Practice is not just a group of people that talk about a topic that interests them; they are engaged in actively experiencing it and putting into practice what they discuss. This means that the members will actually be coaching, giving them experiences to discuss, and actively working to improve their coaching ability.
The example above shows how the three components of a Community of Practice can be used within a coaching context. A group of coaches met regularly to discuss coaching, the topic of interest for them. Their discussions were based around developing their understanding of coaching and addressing what they needed to do to coach effectively within their sessions. From their meetings they developed resources which all of the coaches could use (the index cards for the session plans). Wooden would bring his own research to the group to help everyone to further their knowledge. Lastly, they were all practicing coaches, giving them a context, a set of experiences, and the ability to physically apply what they learnt and discussed.
What are the benefits of a Community of Practice?
Taking part in a Community of Practice can be a great way of developing your knowledge of coaching. Sharing your experiences with other coaches can help you to make sense of them, and you can learn from the experience of people coaching in a similar environment. Discussing the challenges you face can help you to find solutions that you can apply, and as a group you will develop a range of strategies to address the issues you all face when coaching.
As a group you are committed to learning and development, which can help you to be motivated to keep improving your coaching. By discussing ideas and sharing research, all members of the group are able to stay current. The sense of community that you gain from being part of the group can make your coaching role more satisfying, and you have a group of like-minded coaches that you can call on when needed.
How do I make the most of being in a Community of Practice?
To get the most out of being part of a Community of Practice you need to be fully engaged with the process. This means interacting with the group members, sharing your knowledge and experiences, and keeping an open mind regarding what you can learn from others. To really get a lot out of the process, however, the Community of Practice needs to operate effectively. Figure 2 lists some of the requirements for a Community of Practice to be effective.
If you are in an effective Community of Practice, you can get the most from it by relating it to what you are trying to improve through your Coach Development Plan. You could do this by raising issues that you face which are tied to areas in your plan, and discussing your experiences with other coaches. By listening to the experiences of other coaches you may able to identify further areas that you can reflect on or look to develop.
Being an active part of the community is the key to benefitting from the experience. If you are entering a Community of Practice, it is important that you are open to sharing ideas and learning from other coaches. If you are worried about sharing your ‘secrets’ then it is unlikely that you will be open enough to gain much benefit. You also will be unable to contribute to the group, preventing you from being a valuable member.
If you are interested in joining a Community of Practice, or in setting one up at your school or club, talk to your Regional Sport Organisation or your local Regional Sports Trust. By working with a group of similar coaches you will learn from each other and grow as a coaching group.
A Community of Practice is a great way to learn from other coaches and to widen your network. Having a shared focus on coach development and addressing common issues allows you to help each other to become more knowledgeable while improving your coaching. Having spent a nearly a year looking at how we can use a Coach Development Plan to improve your coaching, we will turn our attention in the next issue to evaluating your Coach Development Plan.