Reflection vs representation

“For expertise in the craft of coaching to be realised, individuals need to be open to new ideas, try them, reflect on them by examining the benefits. An expert coach is not all-knowing, but an open and enquiring experiential researcher”


Reflection, which I believe is a mental process involved in the deep consideration of ideas, is a central theme in most stories of developing expertise. Reflection should support coach learning through a variety of organised methods: in planning training sessions (reflection for practice), in reviewing and evaluating training sessions (reflection on practice) and during time outs during practice to consider the best way of approaching an issue (reflection in practice). Reflection can be used to problem-solve (to devise strategies to overcome coaching issues), to reinforce positive behaviours (a strengths based approach), as a form of surveillance to compare personal performance against the perceived ideal. The list is endless, as reflection is a mental process involved in the deep consideration of a subject of enquiry. Thus, reflection is applicable to any situation that requires more than recall of basic information.


Reflection is usually expressed by its representational form (e.g. journal writing, conversation). However, the process of reflection should not be confused as being this representation. More specifically, reflection is not ‘journal writing’, ‘mind-mapping’ or ‘coaching conversations’. Reflection is a process of deeply considering problematised areas of practice or a subject of enquiry. The representational form is an expression of the reflective process, but can facilitate (in the act of expression) the refinement and organisation of our reflection (a form of ‘cognitive housekeeping’ to refine and organise our thoughts with an explicit representation of our internal experience).


Try this simple exercise – try to remember what you did in your last training session. This shouldn’t take too long as it simply involves the recalling of information. This is not reflection as it is not deep enough, but we often consider reflection simply mulling over our day while we’re driving home from work or eating dinner. Lets move on to some more reflective exercises.


Lets add a different frame of reference to your experience in the gym. I’m going to ask you a question that I want you to consider for a few minutes at the very least. Set your timer if you need to or glance at a clock and note the time, as i want you to prolong the time you spend thinking about the question beyond the feeling of uncertainty which is when it’s easy to give a superficial answer. Now, thinking about your last training session I want you to think more deeply about ‘how you performed’ in that training session (what went well and what could be improved?). Stay with this for at least 3 minutes and really consider what can be improved. When you feel like ‘this is enough i’m going to carry on reading or i can’t be bothered with this’…DONT, carry on thinking and pursuing this line of enquiry and as I say to my students ‘stay with the problem’.


When you have finished, I want you to write some words to summarise your reflection and put into words a more considered answer to the question ‘how did you perform in that training session’. This should give you some time to organise your thoughts more explicitly (a form of cognitive housekeeping). Hopefully you can see a clearer difference between ‘reflecting’ and ‘representing your reflection’?