Coaching Skills: The Importance of Observational Analysis

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Coach or trainer with a clipboard and whistle


Athletes rely on coaches to help them improve their skills, become stronger, and play better. They depend on coaches to observe them during practice and games to provide valuable feedback. Coaches, in order to build and lead successful teams, must be diligent in the observation and analysis of their athletes.

Athletes can improve through repetitive practice, but it is through the coach’s observational analysis that they can enhance their skills, teamwork, and game awareness. Observational analysis is the coach’s active examination of an athlete’s performance to determine their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a critical skill that can be applied in drills such as repeatedly watching a basketball player’s free throw, a swimmer’s flip-turn, or a baseball player’s swing to identify performance outliers. Additionally, coaches can utilize observational analysis during game time to reveal issues such as miscommunication or poor teamwork.

By using observational analysis, a coach can learn the strengths and weaknesses of individual players as well as the entire team. It can give coaches the knowledge necessary to improve athletic techniques and adjust game-time strategy to benefit the team.

Applying Observational Analysis

Observational analysis requires advanced perception, scrutiny, critical thinking, and memory. Coaches are not only the moral support and strategist for the teams; they are also the analyst. They must watch their athletes closely to assess and improve their performance. This type of focused observation can be mentally demanding, but it is necessary for building a successful team.

During practice, coaches may slow down drills and complex techniques to better observe the performance of their athletes. Coaches look at motion, focus, minute details, and other variables that may need to be improved. Another observational technique involves watching a team practice at full speed, so the performance of the unit as a whole can be analyzed. The more coaches observe, the more they can analyze the strengths and challenges that need to be addressed.

Quality and Feedback are Key

Quality observational analysis is important, because athletes rely on the feedback of coaches to guide their improvement. If the coach misses something or wrongly corrects a technique, it can hinder the athlete’s overall performance. In order to build the trust and confidence of the team, a coach must provide insightful, valuable, and helpful observational analysis.

Once a coach has made an analysis, the next step is to communicate with the athlete in a way that motivates and inspires. Instead of only being critical, a coach can address both strengths and challenges with an athlete. Pointing out a positive strength helps an athlete feel proud, and can be used as a learning example for others. Communicating weaknesses and areas that need improvement can be addressed most effectively through encouraging feedback. Coaches can find greater team success—and build greater loyalty— by giving each athlete personal and detailed input.

The Pros of Observational Analysis

First and foremost, observational analysis helps athletes improve. It’s a universal technique that can be applied to any sport and with any individual. The technique demands acute senses, but in return it helps quickly establish positive patterns and outcomes.

Although there are new technologies that have enhanced it, observational analysis doesn’t require any special tools or equipment to practice. Coaches simply need to be present, aware, have a strong memory, and apply effective communication skills. Coaches can make a huge impact in the lives and performance of their athletes simply by being diligent, honest, knowledgeable, observant, and caring.

The Cons of Observational Analysis

Unfortunately, there are some challenges associated with observational analysis. If sound analysis and feedback can improve an athlete’s performance, then poor analysis and feedback may hinder it. Coaches who can’t accurately perceive an athlete’s struggles can’t offer the best input to fix it. Coaches who observe something that needs to be corrected but can’t recall or communicate that situation, are not helping those in their charge.

Observation and analysis take time and patience. Even in the best of circumstances, a coach still might not see everything. Some techniques or actions may involve unobservable factors, or a poor performance during practice may be a one-time occurrence instead of a systemic breakdown. Coaches need to know when their athletes are having a continuing issue, and when they are having an off day.

Observational Analysis and Technology

Fortunately, technology has helped ease some of the challenges that come with observational analysis. Thanks to high-tech equipment, observation is no longer limited to eyesight and memory. Small video cameras, wearable sensors, and enhanced immediate replay technology have greatly improved a coach’s ability to scrutinize athletic technique and performance.

For example, video recording and high-resolution screens can show an athlete’s movement down to the millisecond or pixel if necessary. These new technologies have helped minimize coaching errors and increase coaching insight.

Observational Analysis and Success

One of the prime goals every coach wants for their team is success. However, it’s important to note that success is not measured only in wins and trophies. It is also measured by the positive progress of each athlete individually, and by the growth of the team as a whole.

Observational analysis is a valuable tool for coaches. It can be utilized in many ways to the benefit of their team, and to boost the growth of individual athletes. It may not be an easy skill to learn, but with practice and experience, anyone can become adept at observational analysis.

Learn More

Our Master of Coaching Education online program helps coaches build their abilities by teaching advanced technical proficiency, tactical knowledge, and leadership skills. Our graduates are equipped with the technical and leadership skills important to maximize team performance and ensure a lasting coaching career.

Recommended Readings

10 Ways Coaches Can Promote Sportsmanship
10 Stress Management Techniques for Sport Coaches
Virtual Training for Football is Becoming a Reality


ODonoghue, P. (2010). Research methods for sports performance analysis. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.