Diagnose common sports-specific patterns of technical and tactical movement 

WHY: Coaches must regularly diagnose and assess athlete and team performance relative to performance-oriented goals in order to facilitate growth.

On an individual athlete level, there are common patterns of sports-specific movements (i.e. - throwing a ball, holding an oar, setting a screen), and common ways athletes develop skills and understanding about these techniques and tactics in each sport. Coaches familiar with these common patterns of development are fluent in anticipating and identifying and can effectively and efficiently implement instruction and feedback that will lead to athlete growth.

Similarly, there are common patterns of tactical team-based actions (correct movement by all players in a zone defense, the run of the rowing shell, doubles court coverage). The coach must be able to recognize both successful execution and holistic deficiencies in order to provide effective praise and/or implement adjustments.

HOW: Diagnosis and analysis occur anytime a coach observes their players - in structured drills, competition, or free form play. Being able to observe across a range of settings and situations can round out a coach’s understanding of what they are seeing about how to properly diagnose issues. For example, what appears unproblematic in a structured drill may look different once options or speed are added for an athlete. Further, while coaches may be constantly observing, ideally, they are observing multiple repetitions before offering a diagnosis in order to identify trends instead of offering up a new concern after every repetition. Coaches also might not offer direct feedback any time they diagnose an issue but might use the information for future planning or goal setting.

Tools for diagnosing fundamental technical and tactical issues range from the naked eye to sophisticated video platforms and data analytics. Regardless of the mechanism being able to effectively analyze the “data” means being able to identify the component parts of specific skills - technical and conceptual. Coaches must be able to have a target behavior for athletes and be able to identify the elements in coordination, timing, perception, and conceptual understanding that might be preventing execution. The best investment in developing this diagnostic capacity is time and practice. 

Video Examples

It’s often difficult to “see” a coach’s diagnostic process. Most of that observation and analysis happens internally and we are only privy to the feedback the coach offers to others based on that diagnosis. Sometimes, a coach opens up their analytic thought process to others, which is what we see in these clips.

In this clip, a basketball coach offers up her diagnosis of tactical and play-calling issues from a game the previous day. She talks about the process of reflection that led her to that diagnosis and takes responsibility for some in-game choices that she would make differently next time.

This diving coach is a top-notch diagnostician; a primary part of his role is to tell the athletes what he observes and help them connect that with what they felt. Jointly they can use this intrinsic and extrinsic data to construct a diagnosis of “what happened.” In this video, he provides short snippets of his diagnostic observations to a series of divers. 


Sport Skill Instruction for Coaches

Diagnosis is part of the suite of core practices oriented towards pedagogy: instruction, diagnosis, feedback, and adapting instruction are the strategies coaches use, as teachers of their sport, to develop athletes’ skills. This book, although somewhat academically oriented, is a great deep dive into the components of teaching that are essential to be a great coach. This includes sections specific to Analyzing Technical Skill and Identifying Target Behaviors. 

The Coaching Process in Football – A Qualitative Perspective

This article is a summary of qualitative research project about the key elements of coaching soccer. Two of the elements - observation and evaluation - fit squarely into the diagnosis bucket. The coaches in the research shared that the main driver of their analysis was learning and experience over time. A main takeaway is that this set of coaches had “a logic in their priorities, a model of the game itself, and interventions designed from careful preparation, detailed observation, thorough evaluation, and diagnosis.” That is they knew what they wanted to see, knew what they were looking at, and understood how to diagnose the gap between the two.