If performance studies is to explore sports from the perspective of athletes, coaches form a potential pool of allies as they are engaged in their own ‘para-ethnographic’ studies of athletes’ performance. This paper examines developmental coaching, that is, the teaching of skills, as a form of applied phenomenology, drawing on examples from the author’s fieldwork on capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian dance and martial art. In particular, the paper explores an instructor’s intervention when the author was trying to learn to plantar bananeira (‘to plant a banana tree’), the capoeira version of a handstand. The intervention had several stages, all revealing an acute perception of how the learning experience was structured: the coach pantomimed incorrect practice to increase the author’s self awareness, diagnosed what part of the skill I might be able to learn next, and created a tailored exercise to shift the author’s perceptions.
Studying this sort of coach-athlete interaction helps us to better understand performance traditions, but it also poses a series of challenges in terms of shifting our scale, recognising that we will not produce certain forms of theoretical narrative, and taking phenomenological analysis seriously.