An Ethnographic Study of a Football Coaching Discourse Community


Sean Branick, in this piece is discussing a group of people that he believes to be a discourse community. He says that football coaches fit the definition given by Swales of a discourse community. He approaches the topic very systematically by going step by step. He first discusses some characteristics of effective coaches before discussing how they fit into Swales’ definition of a discourse community.

Every coach focuses on setting goals within his job. He cites a sports psychologist named Anthony Grant that says coaches have five main parts to their goal-focused careers. The coach must set good goals meaning they have to be clear, aligned with his beliefs and realistic. He must be able to develop a relationship with the players and have them trust you. He has to help the athlete come out with solutions to meet his own goals, He needs managing process, which is developing action steps, and he must achieve an outcome

He then goes on to name five effective characteristics of a coach: A coach must also be a teacher to his players and he must be organized in order to know how to deal with certain situations in the game. He must be competitive so that he can instill that same quality within his players. He must be able to learn about his players and new coaching techniques and he must also be a role model and mentor to the players

Branick then discusses some other qualities of a coach. Each effective coach must use his imagination to play out games to see weaknesses and strengths. He must be confident and picture himself as confident and have confidence in his teaching abilities. The coach must act confident so that the athletes feel confident. Coaching, according to Branick also involves a lot of literacy because they must know how to read and teach plays, read their players and read the game so that they can make the best plays. Even though this does not seem like actual ‘literacy’ as most people might define it, Branick thinks of this as a kind of literacy because it has to do with ‘reading’ aspects of the game.

Branick then talks about what his methods were of getting his information. He interviewed a few people and after analyzing the results, decided to present them as characteristics of Swales’ discourse community.

Branick first discusses the goals of a coach. Some examples of these goals are winning, getting the most out of their players physically and mentally and seeing their players develop as people. Teams might even keep track of these goals as a team and see how they progress.

The lexis of the community is very clear to Branick, in that each coach can say words like “follow” or “green gold” and only the players and other coaches will understand. There are terms for many different things and not only does it save time in describing certain actions, it also helps coaches say things without the other team know what they are talking about.

There a few genres that Branick discusses that effectively show it to be a discourse community. He names three: the playbook, the scouting report and the play-calling sheet. These three genres help the coaches communicate between the players and other coaches in order that they play effectively.
Branick mentions two different types of literacies in football coaching. He calls the first interpersonal literacy, which he describes as being able to read the players to know how to motivate them and to know when they are ready to play. These skills are very hard and require balance, patience and perseverance. The second literacy he calls Situational Literacy, which is the ability to read the pre-game and read the situation for in the game calls. This comes into actions during times like half-time adjustments or watching tapes to learn the opposing coaches strategies. Branick concludes by saying that this is just a small amount of the amount of skill and effort that goes into coaching and it can be looked at in a lot more depth. Branick wanted to spark an interest in connecting literacy and sports and wanted people to empathize with the amount of effort it takes for a football coach.

Significant Quotations

“It is a profession very visible to the public yet it has many behind-the-scenes factors that may be often overlooked that directly relate to success. Among these are the idea of goal-focused coaching, coaching with confidence, and the characteristics of effective coaches.” (page 2)

“Seminars have been held on the newest strategies. Books have been written on the characteristics of good coaches. Studies have been done on confidence in coaching, the method of setting goals, and the role of the coach in coach-athlete relationships; however scholars have yet to study a coach’s ability to read his players and the game as a form of literacy” (page 5)

“‘Literacy extends beyond individuals experience of reading and writing to include the various modes of communication and situations of any socially meaningful group’” (page 5)

“I analyzed the data collected by applying John Swales’ six characteristics of a discourse community. The characteristics I focused on are the set of common goals, the genres, and the specific lexis used.” (page 6)

“There are many terms that are involved in football coaching communities that may not make sense to most people but, among a team, makes perfect sense and help the community better do its work and achieve its goals” (page 8)

“That’s a key element in becoming a coach. Can they motivate? Can they identify what makes this guy go? Can you hit that button and how fast can you hit that button? The sooner you find that motivational tool the better off you’re going to be. You can tell immediately if it works or not” (page 11)

“I hope this helps spark interest in the connection between literacy and sports. This connection will now help people have a better sense of empathy with what the coaches are thinking when they make a specific call on the field or partake in an action off the field, and hopefully I have brought people closer to being able to answer the common question asked as any sporting event: What was that coach thinking?!” (page 15)


I genuinely enjoyed reading this piece, as I could easily relate to the paper since the author of the essay is also a first year college student. The language, examples and organization of his piece were relevant and relatable to the same work we are doing in our writing class, which was refreshing. This theme and topic of the discourse community of football coaches seems to fit his ethnography perfectly. I began reading the paper a little weary of how this particular discourse could contribute to anything, as it is definitely not come to mind right away. Immediately from his introduction, you get the sense that Branick is passionate and strong in his analysis of football coaches and that it is a topic that can personally relate to him.

One of the strongest parts of his paper is his use of primary, secondary and tertiary headings. This was very helpful in reading his paper because it allowed the reader to follow his thoughts, as in this type of writing, can sometimes be difficult. These headings are particularly helpful when discussing the research he did with the football coaches, and the methods and results he attained. Page’s number 6 and 7, was when I felt most convinced with his ideas, especially when he goes on to relate three of Swale’s points with his discourse community of football coaches. These examples he gives fit the points better then what I would have previously thought. It also gave me a new perspective on the “definitions” of Swale’s points, as I didn’t think of them the way he did in my own analysis of discourse community.

A place in the text that brought confusion was the top of page 14, prior to giving his conclusion. The note box on the side of the text states, “Note that Branick makes an overall claim here. He is not simply summarizing but, rather, he has worked up to a large claim and knows that the reader has enough information to understand that claim.” I agree with the second part of this note, but am confused with the concept of his greater claim. When I read that part I recognize his claim as “sum up” of the textual, situational and interpersonal literacies although the note clearly states this is not the case.

This paper personally helped me have a greater understanding of the concept of discourse community because his examples where almost tailored to our class. It was relatable and fun to read. I definitely think his piece compliments Swales’s piece in a unique way.

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