Aligning your Coaching Decisions to your Goals – The Coaches Decision Making Process!

Its that time of the month again where I have a spare couple of hours from my busy schedule to share a couple of thoughts from my recent readings and university work. This month, I share some of my recent research and understandings of ‘The Coaches Decision Making Process’, that I recently explored in the ‘Understanding Expertise’ module on the Masters Course.

So Coaching, what is it?

What is often associated as ‘The Coaching Process’ (a presentation by Holmshaw & Sykes, 2019 as apart of the BSc Sports Coaching course at Leeds Beckett University )

When we think about what ‘the coaching process’ entails, we often associate this with the ‘plan, do, review process’ (Muir et al, 2015) which I would assume everyone reading this blog actively performs to some extent within their practice. We might call this the ‘macro’ process of coaching, as the plan, do, review process summarises the coaching process in it simplest form.

Intrinsically linked within this whole process is ‘the coaches-decision making’ process. The process of judgment and decision making is one in which has been widely explored within academia (Mellers, Schwartz & Cooke, 1998). Several researchers (Lipshitz et al, 2001; Vickers et al, 2004; Kahneman & Klein, 2009) have suggested that judgment and decision making are ‘crucial for effective performance‘ in various occupations (Abraham et al, 2013, P176).

Of course, this judgement and decision making process is prevalent within coaching! Abraham et al (n.d, P1) defines the coaching process as “a set of tasks completed by a coach through this judgement and decision-making process that reactively responds to the demands of coaching”.

The specific term used in coaching literature is ‘Perceptual Judgement Decision Making’ (PJDM for short, Abraham & Collins, 2011). PJDM can be described as “the process through a blend of components to provide a bespoke solution to the specific challenges of the coaching context, derived through a nested decision-making processes’ (Collins & Collins, 2016, P1231)”.

But what does this mean? what is the nested element?

Well the ‘nested element’, or often termed ‘nested thinking’ was first proposed by Abraham & Collins (2011). They suggest that the PDJM process within coaching is based upon this nested element. The nested element is made up of Macro, Meso and Micro goals that each coach has within their coaching role within their unique context (see diagram). Macro goals concern the political and strategic goals that a coach has within their role, for example “managing upwards on performance expectations” (Political example; Abraham & Collins, 2011, P380) or ‘must gain 4 junior medals at the county tournament’ (strategic example; P380). Meso goals concern the Tactical & Motivational Goals the coach has, for example “Consistent placing at the semi-final level in the annual cup competition (Tactical) or “End of Season individual player goals are met” (Motivational; P381). Finally, Micro goals concern how the coach will implement these Meso goals from a pedagogical viewpoint, an example might be consider how practice design and coaching behaviours implemented into sessions might change through more knowledge of the needs & wants of the group.

The Nested Element (Abraham & Collins, 2011, P381)

The whole ideaology within this nested element, as with micro, meso and macro seasonal planning, is that the macro level goals, influence the meso level goals, which influence the micro level goals.

Now bear with me because I’ll come back to this later in this blog post.

So where does the decision making element come in?

Tasks that afford the coach lots of time, such as planning a session would use classical decision making

Well, there are two types of decision making associated with this concept, the first, classical decision making, and the second naturalistic decision making (Klein et al, 1993). Classical decision making within coaching is a thoughtful and considered process, where coaches have time to make a decision (Abraham & Collins, 2011), this usually involves long term planning or reflection on sessions (Abraham et al, n.d, P1). In contrast, naturalistic decision making within coaching is a quick judgment that occurs when there is little time available to make a decision, such as an in-game coaching behavior or half time team talk for example (Abraham et al, n.d, P1).

Tasks that afford the coach less time, such as a half-time team talk would use naturalistic decision making
Declarative & Procedural Knowledge

Yet, as evident within the name, these decisions need to be formed from some sort of judgement, in which itself within coaching, occurs from knowledge. Within this concept, knowledge is drawn from either declarative or procedural sources. In coaching, declarative knowledge is known as the ‘why’ knowledge and procedural knowledge is known as the ‘what and how’ knowledge (Abraham, 2015).

So as evident in the name, in the PJDM process, a classical or naturalistic decision is made from either declarative or procedural knowledge sources.

So where does this nested element come in?

Well, as stated earlier, a nested plan invovles macro, meso and micro goals, and these macro and meso goals filter down to the micro goals. In the context of coaching, the political and strategic macro goals, and the tactical and motivational meso goals, ultimately affect the micro goals, which in this case is each session that the coach delivers.

Abraham et al (2010) identify 6 knowledge sources for expert coaching. These are:

  • Understanding the athlete
  • Understanding the sport
  • Understanding the pedagogy
  • Understanding the context
  • Understanding the process and practice
  • Understanding Self

From my current understanding, predominantly the nested plan is based around the knowledge of the context (i.e politcal and strategic goals relveant to the comitte, pedagogical goals relevant to player expectations). However, the other knowledge domains are also relevant within the nested element. Aswell as knowledge of the context, I would suggest that the political and strategic macro goals may concern knowledge of the sport. The tactical and motivational meso goals concern the knowledge of the athlete and the micro goals concern knowledge of the pedagogy, process of practice and self. However, others may argue the 6 knowledge domains filter through each section, so again I should state this is from my understanding!

The 6 knowledge domains (adapted from Abraham et al, 2010;2011)

Ultimately, these macro, meso and micro-goals within the nested plan form the basis of PJDM. When making a classical decision in planning Long and medium-term goals for the team, declarative and procedural knowledge will be drawn from these contextual macro and meso goals, along with the other knowledge domains. Likewise, when planning a session, knowledge will be drawn from these contextual micro goals.

However, in my opinion this is likely what the majority of coaches usually perform anyway, you may just not be conscious to this. However, to me the real importance of PJDM is in naturalistic decision making. By learning how to use PJDM, coaches begin to make naturalistic decisions based from declarative and procedural knowledge of the nested element along with the other knowledge domains.

But why is this important? why do we need to have a ‘nested plan’ within our coaching?

On the understanding expertise module on the masters course, we as students were asked to reflect on our past coaching, and during lockdown inparticular I gave a lot of thought to this!

What I realised is for years I was planning sessions through classical decision making with these knowledge domains, and with a nested element in my head. However, in practice I wasnt making naturalistic decisions with this nested element in mind!

Stages of Coaching (Schemp et al, 2006)

Why is this a problem, well ultimately, I wasn’t making decisions relevant to the goals that I wanted to achieve with the team, Instead, I was simply using solutions in sessions that I had used successfully before in previous sessions in my practice, a trait of a competent coach according to Schempp et al, 2006. In short, I was making naturalistic decisions based on my experience, what I had done in the past, and what had worked in the past (for example, providing explicit feedback in skill acquistion), rather than decisions that were in line with the goals for the side (for example, allowing players to learn skills implicitly, so limit explict feedback).

It should be mentioned that this is actually quite a difficult process, naturalistic decisions are named so, because they are naturalistic, and can be unconsciously made. However, the ideology behind PJDM is about becoming conscious to this, and begging to practice making naturalistic decisions based on the nested element.

So how do we start making naturalistic decisions from the nested element?

Well! not something that I can provide a definitive answer, but since I have discovered this ideology, and created my own nested plan in my new role with Centralians AFC Women, On reflection of my recent coaching, I have started making these ‘naturalistic decisions’ from this nested element, and based on my vision (playing philosophy), understanding of the players and the type of pedagogy that I have decided to implement with my players.

From my recent expereince, my advice for any coaches reading this paper would be to create your own ‘nested plan’ within your coaching role, to begin to use PJDM within your coaching. For any seeking guidelines to create a nested plan, I direct you to Abraham & Collins paper (2011) which can be seen in this reference list.

Concluding thoughts

Decision Making in Coaching is arguably the most important process in practice. Coaches decisions have a massive impact on everything within the coaching environment. In my opinion, PJDM is an important concept within sports coaching that we as coaches need to be aware of! Coaches need to develop making both naturalistic and classical decisions based on both declarative and procedural knowledge of the 6 knowledge domains (Abraham et al, 2010) and the nested element. Ultimately, if we as coaches begin to put this knowledge into practice, and make naturalistic decisions aligned to this, then ultimately this will benefit the players/athletes we coach, helping them achieve the contextual goals within that environment.


Abraham, A; Lyle, J; North, J; Lara-Bercial, S; Norris, L; Ashford, M; Till, K (n.d) Expert, Effective and Ethical Coaching [Online] Available from <> [Acessed 4th August 2020]

Abraham, A. and Collins, D., 2011. Taking the next step: Ways forward for coaching science. Quest63(4), pp.366-384.

Abraham, A., 2015. Understanding Coaching As A Judgement and Decision Making Process: Implications For Coach Development Practice (Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Lancashire).

Collins, L. and Collins, D., 2016. Professional judgement and decision-making in the planning process of high-level adventure sports coaching practice. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning16(3), pp.256-268.

Lipshitz, R., Klein, G., Orasanu, J. and Salas, E., 2001. Taking stock of naturalistic decision making. Journal of behavioral decision making14(5), pp.331-352.

Mellers, B.A., Schwartz, A. and Cooke, A.D., 1998. Judgment and decision making. Annual review of psychology49(1), pp.447-477.

Muir, B., Till, K., Abraham, A. and Morgan, G., 2015. A framework for planning your practice: A coach’s perspective. The science of sport rugby, pp.161-175.

Kahneman, D. and Klein, G., 2009. Conditions for intuitive expertise: a failure to disagree. American psychologist64(6), p.515.

Vickers, J.N., Reeves, M.A., Chambers, K.L. and Martell, S.T., 2004. Decision training: Bridging cognition and motor learning into the profession of coaching. Skill acquisition in sport: Research, theory and practice, pp.103-120.

1 Comments on “Aligning your Coaching Decisions to your Goals – The Coaches Decision Making Process!”

  1. Pingback: Contextualising your practice – meeting the needs & expectations of the stakeholders in your context – Sam Holmshaw – Football Coach

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