Qualitative Analysis in Coaching

The Problem

How often does it occur that an athlete is given different advice by different coaches and becomes anxious and confused. For example, the advice from one coach is to work on the technique of the pull and is prescribed a variety exercises for this purpose. However, another coach advises the athlete that their pull technique is good but should work more on fluency and confidence of movement under the bar. Who should the athlete believe? Situations such as this can be eased if coaches use qualitative analysis, a disciplined approach to assessing an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and developing coaching strategy.

The need for qualitative analysis. Cartoon of Weightlifting coaches discussing an athlete's performance.

Faced with two alternative opinions, an athlete might display one of three tendencies:

  1. They may prefer the opinion of the coach who is deemed to have the greatest experience but if this coach is not their everyday club coach, it presents a considerable quandary. How does the athlete then deal with advice given by their normal coach? Knowing this issue, it is unsurprising that a club coach may sometimes fear sending their athletes to a national training camp.
  2. The athlete may prefer the opinion which is most recently given. For example, the athlete may have worked for a while with a coach but then moves to a new coach who has quite different views on how to improve performance. In such circumstances, it would be difficult for the athlete to ignore their new coach even if they offer advice which seems contrary to their previous coach.
  3. The athlete may attempt to satisfy both coaches. In some situations this may be workable but sometimes adopting conflicting coaching strategies can be harmful.

It is typically the case that coaches will differ in how they evaluate an athlete’s performance. These differences arise due to a variety of reasons including lived experience, depth of technical knowledge, acuity of perception, and importantly whether they have ever received appropriate training to assess performance. In fact, it should not be assumed that the skills to assess performance is resident in sufficient measure even among experienced coaches.

What is qualitative analysis?

In a sports coaching context, qualitative analysis is a process that involves the systematic observation of an athlete for the purpose of providing the most appropriate coaching intervention to improve their performance (Knudson, 2000; Gangstead & Beveridge, 1984).

What separates qualitative analysis from the everyday performance assessment that coaches, athletes and spectators make, is the systematic nature of the observation. For example, qualitative analysis is much more than simply observing an athlete and giving opinions on perceived technique errors.

To be considered as ‘systematic’ the observation process must follow stated guidelines and procedures to observe, record and analyse the performance of the athlete with the assurance that others viewing the same performance would agree with the recorded data (Darst, Mancini, & Zakrajsek, 1983).

The statement that “others viewing the same performance would agree with the recorded data” is a key goal. While we generally agree that there will always be differences between coaches in how they view an athlete’s performance, it would be helpful for coach education systems to include training on qualitative analysis. To achieve this end, it would be valuable to collect the opinion of experienced coaches on performance criteria that can be used to build useful tools for assessment purposes. This would be an enabling step towards helping less experienced coaches feel they can assess athlete performance with more validity and reliability.

Qualitative Analysis Tools

The link below will provides a qualitative analysis tool to evaluate an athlete’s technical ability in the snatch. The tool is merely an example and not held to be gospel truth. It needs a group of senior coaches to work collaboratively together to improve.

The tool provides a method for observing and recording the athletes performance in 5 key elements of the snatch:

  1. Explosive leg drive at the finish of the pull.
  2. Stability in the receiving position.
  3. Keeping the back angle constant in the first pull.
  4. Keeping the shoulders over the bar though the middle stage of the pull.
  5. The trajectory (or bar path) in the pull.

In each key area, there are a number of criteria provided to assess performance. Each criteria may be assessed as (i) Excellent (ii) Proficient or (iii) Needs attention. When this process is completed, the coach is in a more authoritative position to development a coaching intervention strategy, if one is needed.

Click on the link below to download the 2 page document:

A similar tool for the Jerk exists. Please contact this website and provide details of who you are.