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Coaches' naturalistic decision-making: injury prevention in youth elite soccer players.

Somers, Samantha


Samantha Somers


Neil Buchanan


The purpose of this study is to uncover and understand the naturalistic decision-making process in youth academy soccer coaches, when making decisions for mitigating injury in youth soccer players. Data were collected on seven youth academy soccer coaches over two six-week data collection cycles. Coaches monitored and recorded individual injury risk incidents that occurred during each training and competition session, and reported these to the researcher. Following each cycle, Critical Decision Audit semi-structured interviews were conducted with each coach to discuss in greater detail the incidences they each experienced, aiming to uncover and interpret the naturalistic decision-making process of each coach when facing high-pressured decision requirements. Three general dimensions were produced, which captured the factors influencing decision-making: 'Problem Framing Via Past Experience', 'Smart Procedures' and 'Adapting Environment for Injury Prevention'. Coaches were able to scan and extract cues of injury risk from their immediate environment, through the knowledge and expertise derived from their past experiences. Future considerations of the athletes' development and well-being were an important influencing factor. Once an incident was detected, smart procedures were employed by the coaches to successfully problem-frame the incident. A central finding suggests critical incidents often occur over extended timescales and are not exclusively defined through one discrete timeframe. Finally, in response to specific indicators of injury, coaches actively adapted the immediate environment of players at risk via a number of deliberate actions by consulting medical and sport science support staff, parents and other coaching colleagues. Understanding coach naturalistic decision-making as a key resource for youth player injury management presents youth academy development systems with a qualitative resource that is both immediate and complementary to more established sport science methods of injury management. The current research makes initial strides toward greater insight into naturalistic decision mechanisms undertaken by coaches on how decisions emerge and manifest within the specific context of an elite youth football academy in Scotland. Applied implications are presented as guidelines for coach talent identification and development, which detail specific means for the integration of coach naturalistic decision-making as a valid and credible method for injury management in youth academies.


SOMERS, S. 2020. Coaches' naturalistic decision-making: injury prevention in youth elite soccer players. Robert Gordon University [online], MRes thesis. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 22, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 22, 2020
Keywords Decision making; Young athletes; Youth sports; Soccer; Football; Coaching; Injury prevention; Sports injury prevention; Injury management
Public URL
Award Date Feb 29, 2020


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