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The appliance of ‘science’ or the expression of an ‘art’: Coaching texts in the ‘Long Victorian’ period

Day, David (2019) The appliance of ‘science’ or the expression of an ‘art’: Coaching texts in the ‘Long Victorian’ period. In: Cluster for Research into Coaching (CRiC) 2019 International Coaching Conference, 04 September 2019 - 05 September 2019, University of Worcester.

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Abstract

Modern sports forms emerged in Britain during the ‘long-Victorian’ period, the years from the 1789 French revolution to the outbreak of World War One in 1914, when the number of instructional manuals expanded as coaches increasingly recorded their advice in print. While the majority of early texts dealt with pugilism, by the first decade of the twentieth century the demand was such that publishers were producing series, such as Spalding’s Athletic Library and the All-England Series, to service an increasing number of participants looking for advice on activities ranging from tennis and swimming to dancing, athletics, sailing and rowing. This paper considers several texts to explore the preoccupations of their authors and I am going to highlight four themes. Firstly, most instructional manuals recognised that a coach or trainer/mentor was an invaluable aid to performance. Secondly, professional coaches argued that coaching expertise was dependant on experience and, thirdly, the coaching process was rarely touched on, and then only by amateur authors. Lastly, these texts remind us that sports coaching cannot be considered independently from its context. When amateurism became the dominant creed for late nineteenth-century middle-class athletes this was reflected in the content of instructional texts with each writer presenting his work according to his own personal sporting philosophy. Historian E.H. Carr noted that publications will always reflect the predilections of authors and that a reader’s first concern should be with identifying the author and the 'bees in the bonnet'. He advised consumers of texts to ‘always listen out for the buzzing’, an important consideration when deconstructing instructional manuals, especially those written by amateurs.

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