How Physical Educators Can Improve PLCs by Using Sport Coaching Concepts

To confront the challenges associated with contemporary education, a growing number of K-12 schools are adopting a Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) framework where educators work collaboratively and interdependently with an intense focus on student learning.

As PLCs become increasingly commonplace in schools, physical educators may be uniquely positioned and trained to guide these teacher teams to success by using sport coaching concepts.

Thinking Like a Sport Coach

I remember my early years as a middle school physical educator. Teaching seven classes per day with an average class enrollment of 45-50 students was both exciting and exhausting.

Fortunately, I learned to rely on my team of two male and two female physical education colleagues. Our respect and friendship grew each year as we examined innovative teaching practices, drew from one another’s strengths, and aimed to do what was best for our students, always reflecting on the results.

Each member of our team had extensive sport coaching experience. We discovered that if we used our collective efforts and experience to focus on student learning as if we were preparing for a sport competition, we all benefited … and so did our students.

Bringing Sport Coaching Concepts to the PLC Process

As an essential part of the school community, physical educators can benefit by becoming fluent in the PLC language and committed to actively engage in PLC processes. Doing so can elevate professional practice and increase student learning.

Professional Learning Communities often involve the following elements:

  • Intense focus on student learning
  • Working together toward a collective purpose
  • Measuring effectiveness by results
  • Collective shared mission, vision, and goals
  • Interdependent work in collaborative teams
  • Ongoing collective inquiry
  • Action-orientation
  • Systematic and intentional improvement
Puzzle pieces

Many physical educators have had sport coaching experience in some way, shape or form, so it is beneficial to see how the work of PLCs often resembles sport coaching:

Intense focus on learning.

  • Evidence of learning is anchored in data. Coaches conduct ongoing evaluation of data collected on the most critical knowledge and essential skills (e.g., assist to turnover ratio, shooting percentage, a hitter’s batting average vs. left-hand pitchers, etc.). With tangible evidence of performance, the coaching staff designs interventions (e.g., redesigning offensive sets, late-game situations, footwork drills, etc.) based off performance results.
  • In physical education, students might be required to demonstrate competency in performing the critical elements of a defensive slide in a lead-up game based upon performance criteria detailed on a three-point rubric. Those who have not demonstrated learning will do so in a modified activity or individually until they are reasonably successful at performing the skills in a small-sided game. Students who have reached competency may be introduced to more complex defensive skills.
Two students playing basketball

Working together toward a collective purpose.

  • While coaches work toward the same purpose, it can be beneficial to have coaches with particular expertise and perspectives in position play (e.g., post players, lineman, pitchers). Given the nuances of position play in sports, athletes on the same team may work collectively toward a common goal but engage in different practice drills, off-season workout regimens and dietary practices. The particular specialties of the staff function as position teams-within-a-team.
  • A school PLC functions best with diversity of thought and expertise. The effectiveness of subject- or grade-specific collaborative teaming is enhanced with a variety of perspectives. Physical educators can offer services to the school that other faculty members are not trained to do. Not only do they interact with all students in in a unique, dynamic setting, they may also be particularly expert on behavior management and motivational techniques.

Effectiveness is defined by results rather than intensions.

  • A coaching staff focuses on processes because the end goal of winning is most easily accomplished if smaller, measurable goals are met first. For example, a basketball coach may conclude that when the team scores at least 50 points, they win 85% of the time.
  • Physical educators who work in a PLC likewise understand that the process of engaging children in healthy and active lifestyles is comprised of consistently accomplishing smaller, bite-sized products. In terms of physical activity for example, children can be more active today than they were yesterday. In principle, this concept may be applied to motor skill acquisition, fitness, or targeted behavior in the affective domain.
Baseball coach talking to elementary students

Steps to Success for Your School’s PLC

  1. Simplify. Begin with the end in mind. Collectively identify the most essential learning outcomes based upon your context by answering the question, “What is most important for all of our students to know?” You may have to create a “stop doing” list to go with a “to do” list.
  2. Prioritize. Determine common assessments by answering the question, “How will we know when our students have learned?” Prioritize the most important assessments based upon how they align with the most important learning outcomes. Be sure the assessments can be commonly administered to all students.
  3. Analyze and Adjust. Collectively analyze student assessment data. Begin small and work through the process of identifying, assessing, and then making decisions based off the common data. Learn over time what types of instructional activities are most likely to produce student learning at high levels. Try creating one common assessment for the next semester.

To learn more about applying sport coaching concepts to improve teacher teams, read “A Team within a Team: Relating Coaching Concepts to Professional Learning Communities in Schools,” which was published in the February issue of JOPERD.

Additional Resources

Zack Beddoes

Zack Beddoes is an assistant professor in the department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin La-Crosse where he also serves as the PETE graduate director. His research interests include continuing professional development, teacher socialization, and school-wide health and physical activity. He can be reached at