top of page
  • Writer's pictureElisabeth

A critical examination of social media for professional development in sports coaching

Sports coaches are social beings working in a constantly changing sports world and they are generally aware of the importance of professional development and learning in a variety of different ways (Cushion et al., 2010; Jones, Armour and Potrac, 2002). Coaching development literature identified a preference of sports coaches for informal learning, especially self-directed learning experiences and communication with other coaches (Stoszkowski and Collins, 2015).

Social media sites offer endless opportunities for informal learning processes, social learning and can be a tool for self-directed professional development (Harvey, Carpenter & Hyndman, 2020). Greenhow and Lewin (2015) argue that the participatory aspect of Social Media is able to integrate formal and informal education.

These modern communication tools are characterized by interactivity and easy access for a large number of users, enabling fast, permanent, time-unlimited digital exchange and communication through social interaction, collaboration and participation (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). A distinction is made between open, interactive and participatory platforms, such as social networks (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn), photo and video portals (e.g. Instagram, TikTok), blogs and microblogs (e.g. Twitter), as well as forums and wikis. The so-called participatory web thrives on the creation and co-creation of content by users, which is referred to as user-generated content (Boyd and Ellison, 2008). Content is embedded in social contexts, which can be created, commented on, changed and forwarded in multimedia form (Greenhow & Lewin, 2015).

Social Media have not only changed people´s personal communication with each other, but they can also guide and influence social developments and behavior. In the context of education, social networks and other tools have transformed and evolved the relationship and interactions between educators and learners and opened up many new potentials and opportunities for communication, as well as professional development and learning (Harvey, Carpenter and Hyndman, 2020).

The research identified in the area of social media use for professional development in sports coaching is limited and often equates physical education teachers and sports coaches, so an extension of the literature review was made. The term sports coaches and physical education teachers will be used as a synonym. The literature review includes research from the last ten years and looks at physical education teachers and sports coaches as both educators and learners at the same time.

The main focus of the identified research has been on how they use social media for professional development and learning, what positive and negative effects it has on their work and what challenges social media brings for them (Carpenter and Krutka, 2015; Goodyear, Parker and Casey, 2019; Harvey and Hyndman, 2018).

Sharing ideas and establishing networks

Social media activities of coaches pursue different goals depending on their coaching role and workplace, but a common reason why they engage and interact with social networks is to share their ideas and connect with other coaches through an easily accessible digital tool (Pill, Harvey and Hyndman, 2017). The microblogging platform Twitter has emerged as a space for informal learning processes (McPherson, Budge and Lemon, 2015). It is mainly used by sports coaches for expanding their personal networks and connecting with like-minded fellow coaches to exchange information and ideas (Carpenter and Krutka, 2014). Establishing social networking online and creating a professional learning community on Twitter through creating hashtags and sharing resources has emerged as an informal learning space for sports coaches with a positive impact on practice (Goodyear, Parker and Casey, 2019; Harvey, Atkinson and Hyndman, 2020). Twitter is a platform where sports coaches interact and engage from two different perspectives at the same time. They participate in informal learning processes not only as learners but also as educators. The public sharing of ideas and experiences, the subsequent professional engagement, and the possibility to discuss issues is suitable to promote reflective practice and to improve the pedagogical training quality of sports coaches (Goodyear, Casey and Kirk, 2014; Harvey, Atkinson & Hyndman, 2020). Coaches can start, encourage, follow or only engage in discussions, dialogues or collaborations with others and design their own concept for their personal professional development through social media (Walker, Thomas and Driska, 2018).

Emotional support through communication

Accessing resources and sharing ideas and thoughts with fellow coaches on Social Media not only enhances professional skills, but can also serve as emotional support. Discussions, receiving feedback, asking for advice and solving problems together in the professional learning community are of great importance for the personality development of a sports coach (Goodyear, Parker and Casey, 2019; Kinchin and Bryant, 2015). Psychological characteristics such as self-efficacy and self-confidence as a coach can be strengthened through the use of social media and the support of the professional learning community. Social support and communication with other coaches help to make decisions in the best interest of the athletes and other involved parties (Carpenter & Green, 2018; Pill, Harvey and Hyndman, 2017). Researchers have found that an international and diverse online social network without hierarchies prevents social isolation of sports coaches and supports mentoring and a closer bond to the profession as a sports coach. Emotional support is of great importance for identification with the job (Carpenter and Krutka, 2015).

The fake side of Social Media

Social Media can help sports coaches with their professional learning and improve their practice in many ways, but the use of social network platforms has negative aspects, too. Due to the possibility of all users creating content, the amount of shared information, ideas and concepts is permanently increasing and there is hardly organization or moderation of online discussions (Harvey, Carpenter and Hyndman, 2020). The majority of the user-generated content won´t get fact-checked or validated and resources are not given, which raises the question of whether the content on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram even has much educational value (Friesen and Lowe, 2011). The quality of content and a lack of transparency what intention the social media activities of the content creators have, can cause doubts in the reliability and credibility of Social Media as a learning environment. Friesen and Lowe (2011) argue that social networks were created for commercial and profit purposes and not educational tools, so professional learning through Social Media must be critically reflected.

Furthermore, Social Media is an open space and publishing content, discussing and sharing information is not private. Therefore, Gleddie et al. (2016) argue that Social Media causes great pressure to live up to one's role as a sports coach and to always be exemplary and a role model on the internet. It is questionable whether the content in the social networks corresponds at all to real everyday training or whether the content creators idealize their concepts, experiences and approaches in coaching their athletes (Fox and Bird, 2015; Gleddie et al., 2016). Professional learning includes honest feedback, evaluating success and failure and reflecting openly and without boundaries. The lack of privacy of social networks can prevent learning processes and not reflect the totality of experiences in professional activities.

Research is as blurry as Social Media content

Social Media for professional development in sports coaching is slowly becoming a research subject, but there are no clear and unambiguous empirical insights into the actual benefits of Social Media for professional development in sports coaching (Harvey, Carpenter and Hyndman, 2020). Investigations into video and photo content on platforms like Instagram and TikTok have not really been done yet to discuss the benefits, challenges and difficulties for professional learning. TikTok and Instagram in particular have an enormous reach and many interactive and participatory features for delivering user-generated content. With sports coaches learning better through engaging with other coaches, sharing their experiences and requiring a holistic and interactive learning environment, the use of Social Media as a platform for professional development and learning will be of way more importance to establish a life-long learning philosophy for the future (Cushion et al., 2010; Parker and Patton, 2017). Nevertheless, the existing literature research shows that social media platforms are already becoming spaces for self-directed professional development and learning for sports coaches and researchers have stated positive aspects and benefits from using these social networks. However, to get a clearer picture of the research subject, further studies with different methodological approaches are needed to promote professional learning through Social Media.

Some personal reflections

From consumer to learner

I have had an