An incredible journey by coach

There are people in the know who think that Coaching North West is going to revolutionise the coaching landscape in the UK. Mick Owen went to meet Rob Burchell to find out why

Rob Burchell
Rob Burchell, managing operations

When I made contact with Coaching North West’s operations manager Rob Burchell to arrange an interview he suggested we meet in the Bury headquarters of the community interest company that hosts the project because “our offices in Manchester and Liverpool are so busy I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to find a quiet corner”. Such is the success of the project – a pilot jointly funded by Sport England North West, Sportscoach UK, the DCMS and supported in kind by both the GreaterSport and Merseyside sports partnerships – that both the original staffing budget and accommodation have proved inadequate by a factor of four; which is no real surprise given that the eighteen-month target for the number of coaches recruited was two hundred and the database currently lists in excess of eight hundred. The impact of the team’s work has meant that the original pilot phase has been extended until March 2009 to allow a full evaluation because what happens next could fundamentally change the way coaches are employed and managed in the UK in the future.

Coaching North West was originally intended only to investigate whether an independent recruitment agency using an online system could recruit and place coaches into jobs. The project was to be led by Dave Robinson – a sports development guru if ever there was one – through his community interest company, Crossrocks. Dave recruited Rob Burchell, a recent Loughborough sports science graduate with a rugby coaching background, and the pair of them set off on what Rob describes as “an incredible journey”. It is clear that he is proud of his team’s achievements and with some justification.

“We have done a brand new piece of work that if picked up by the right body could change the profession,” he said. “Yes, we’ve had issues to tackle but we’ve done that well and now everyone is very positive: coaches, employers and partners.”

And almost the first of the innovative things they did was drop the concept of a recruitment agency and develop the concept of an “incubator” in which embryonic coaches could be nurtured into fully fledged, employable, quality-assured, finished coaching professionals through a process of registration via the website; an hour-long induction that verifies the individual’s skills, experience and qualifications, and assesses their training needs; a period of support while the coach is supported to achieve the requirements for CNW’s minimum standards; and then, and only then, deployment into paid roles where their performance is carefully monitored and evaluated. It is the insistence on every session being monitored in terms of number, age, gender and the sport delivered that adds value for employers and what Rob calls ‘affiliates’. By becoming an affiliate, organisations such as Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan Universities, Trafford, Tameside and Wirral MBCs and potentially even commercial companies can use a bespoke version of the CNW on-line system to manage their own coaches and collect real-time data that is specific to their organisational needs. In fact Bucks and Milton Keynes CSP have recently developed the Bucks Sport coaching agency and are using the CNW software to manage and deploy a pool of permanently employed coaches, which they then deploy around their patch; while the back end of the two systems is identical, the parts where users interface with the system have been completely “Bucksified” according to Rob.

But what of the ‘issues’ that have been thrown up by the pilot? Rob identifies two of them among others: “There are coaches now on the system who in the past have had to get themselves up to nine different CRB checks in order to work for a variety of employers. We have managed to achieve an element of ‘CRB portability’ where the checks we carry out are recognised by employers throughout the region. The second issue is one of expectations. In the past coaches did not expect to be treated as professionals. They had low expectations of employers and vice versa. Our work has raised the expectations of both parties and now we see brilliant coaches and brilliant employers.” There is a pause and a wry smile: “Mind you, there is a spectrum.”

Burchell went on to explain why he feels the evolved system deserved to be disseminated more widely in the future: “Of the coaches we have deployed in over 200 different placements delivering more than 11,000 hours of coaching, between 80 and 90% of them did not meet our minimum standard when they signed up. We don’t have the capacity to work with coaches who have not already obtained a Level 1 qualification. This means that all of the people we’ve recruited were already functioning as coaches but were still missing one or more of the basic requirements to coach for Coaching North West.” The ‘minimum standards’ are a CRB check, appropriate insurance, an NGB qualification at the right level (Level 1 to assist, Level 2 to coach unsupervised), a first aid qualification, satisfactory references and attendance at an induction event.

“Once in the field,” Rob continued, “Sportscoach UK provide support in that they, or someone trained by them using the IAPS qualification, will perform an observation on 25% of all the contracts we enter into. And the employers evaluate the coaches at the end of every session and the coach evaluates the employer. All of which means we are getting closer to delivering quality-assured coaching.”

The concept of quality assurance is key to CNW and Rob returns to it throughout the interview. One result of ensuring quality is that all stakeholders are more than pleased with the process. “Employers are impressed with the fact that they can find quality coaches without initiating their own expensive recruiting processes and our affiliates and partners are impressed with the real-time data we provide them with on their coaching programmes,” Rob insisted. And what about the coaches? “We pride ourselves on being coach-focused. We use our system to develop an online CV for them and a record of how many participants at what age they have coached; we help them identify their training needs and signpost them to courses specifically relevant for them; we allow them to have a voice through coaches’ forums and we record positive examples of the wonderful work our coaches do and disseminate them to other coaches as an incentive.”

There is little doubt that the model developed by CNW is one that can be scaled up. There is little doubt that the delivery system for sport can only be enhanced by assuring that quality coaching is available to potential employers. There is little doubt that the nationwide adoption of the North West model will contribute to the professionalisation of coaching. What is in doubt is what the Sportscoach UK/Sport England ongoing evaluation (which will be completed in the autumn) will recommend, which agency will take the project forward and in what form. The people at Coaching North West believe it should sit within the sports system. Obviously the correct option would be the one that best suited the UK coaching framework but should responsibility be given to the CSP network – a patchwork of 47 organisations whose role is ever-changing in the new Sport England strategy – or to Sportscoach UK itself, which would certainly be logical but may mean the involvement of their commercial colleagues at Coachwise? Or would it make more sense to leave the management of the project with the exceptional team that have brought it this far? The answer is crucial if the potential of the pilot is to be realised and the impact of Coaching North West is to benefit coaching across the whole UK.


Mick Owen is managing editor of The Leisure Review and managing director of TLR Communications Limited. He is a highly experienced coach, tutor and raconteur.


The Leisure Review, August 2008





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“We have done a brand new piece of work that if picked up by the right body could change the profession,” he said. “Yes, we’ve had issues to tackle but we’ve done that well and now everyone is very positive: coaches, employers and partners.”

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