Decision-making in rugby and implications for coach education: the elicited case of naturalistic, differentiated and disruptive decision-making

Cunningham, Darren, Grecic, David orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1487-8327 and Richards, Pamela orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4242-981X (2023) Decision-making in rugby and implications for coach education: the elicited case of naturalistic, differentiated and disruptive decision-making. Journal of Qualitative Research in Sports Studies, 17 (1). pp. 127-152. ISSN 1754-2375

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Decision-making in team sports has attracted significant interest over recent decades by those in pursuit of excellence. None more so than by the three authors who have worked, researched, and supported coach and athlete development in this area cumulatively for over 60 years. This paper therefore presents an amalgamation of learning in the form of a retrospective narrative discussion around the key tenants of Decision Making (DM) with the sport of rugby union being utilised as the exemplar. Specifically, here the first author is asked to reflect upon his life in sport as a rugby player, coach and coach education tutor against various DM frameworks and debates which have shaped his own development. The second and third authors act as critical friends and provide additional research context within each section’s discussion. Interestingly a landscape is presented where Decision Making emphasis has generally been placed upon the offensive phase of the game which has in-turn driven coaching pedagogy and attention of those engaged in these sports. The authors therefore propose that this focus is too limiting, and that coach education provision needs to explore decision-making in more depth to differentiate the types of decisions being made and the DM processes that underpin them. They describe the merit of Naturalistic Decision Making and the use of Shared Mental Models as valuable lenses by which to view DM in team sports and on which to base future coach learning.
Finally, the authors introduce an additional element to the team DM arena, that of Disruptive Decision Making and offer rugby exemplars of how NDM and SMMs can provide the foundations upon which coaches should base their practice. The authors make a call to action for coaching to address a wider taxonomy of decision-making within team sports’ training and match contexts. Recommendations are then provided for how coach education might better develop the DM practices of both coaches and their athletes.

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