A Study Journey: A Useful Example of Action Research

Article excerpt


This article portrays the methodological journey that I took in my Masters study, `Cinderella Gymnasts Become Queens: Exploring Positive Gymnastics Coaching' (Ruchti, 2001). It includes my experiences in using action research processes, and describes the various data collection methods and data analysis procedures I applied in this study. The data collection methods include a diary, individual and group interviews, questionnaires and an observer. The article emphasises the importance of, and benefits that can be gained from, action research, and describes its steps of implementation, reflection, change and subsequent improvement. In addition, the article illustrates the considerations necessary for the study of children. I conclude with methodological and practical suggestions that may be useful in the study of coaching and teaching situations, as well as for practitioners in these fields.

Introduction and background of the study

My Masters study was a continuation of my Honours project (Ruchti, 1999). In the Honours study, I interviewed former competitive gymnasts and discussed their experiences within the sport. The data that I gathered and various literature illustrate that many young athletes have negative experiences in sport. In particular, athletes often face difficulties in the relationships with their coaches. Such problems may range from injury mistreatment, dietary instructions or verbal abuse to more serious offences such as sexual exploitation. I concluded the Honours study with a coaching policy that aimed at developing independent, selfresponsible and intrinsically motivated athletes. This, in turn, may prevent coach abuse and improve psychological development and athletic performance. In my Masters study, I implemented these policy guidelines during four months at a gymnastics club. By working closely with twelve gymnasts ranging from eight to fifteen-years-old, I developed guidelines according to what the participants perceived was important for a positive sporting experience.


The nature of my Masters study and my personal involvement in the project necessitated a research approach that was expressive rather than representational. As I was investigating opinions and thoughts, orthodox and quantitative ways of conducting research could not have achieved an appropriate illustration of the topic. Polkinghorne (1988) advocates that approaches sensitive to the unique characteristics of human existence are more beneficial. Action research fitted these criteria, defined by Kemmis and McTaggart (1988) as:

. . .collective, self-reflective inquiry undertaken by participants in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own social or educational practices, as well as their understanding of these practices and the situations in which these practices are carried out.

Kemmis and McTaggart, 1988; p.5

Action research covers both theory and practice (Zuber-Skeritt, 1992) and is based on a spiralling, never-ending process of reflection, change and improvement (Figure 1). In trying to understand the phenomenon of the coach-athlete relationship and its positive possibilities and potential negative consequences, I was the researchers in using and putting to trial the coaching methods I believed enhanced independence, self-responsibility and intrinsic motivation, I was the research tool. In order to improve the sporting experiences of gymnasts, I was working to adapt my coaching approaches to suit what they believed a coach should be. Hence, I was also a participant in the study, and as Zuber-Skerritt (1992) points out, action research is an examination into practice, by and for practitioners.

Data gathering methods

I chose a variety of research methods for the study (Figure 2). Different perspectives of the issues at hand created new insights and enhanced my understanding of the coach/athlete relationship and which coaching techniques I needed to improve or change. …