Is coaching defined by system-designers or by coaches?

With the development of coaching and coaches the subject of so much attention, Steve Kemp wonders whether reflecting on your own personal journey as a coach might help make sense of the coaching structures.

In the driving seat: at which point do you start your coaching journey?

A definition of a coach in sport “is a person who trains or directs athletes or athletic teams for a sporting event”. In 2000 sports coaches and sports coaching was recognised by the Labour government for its impact on areas such as education, social inclusion, and health and wellbeing. Also highlighted was the positive impact and feelgood factor on a national scale where teams and players are competing on the world stage. If we then reflect on national teams’ success in the rugby World Cup, winning the Ashes and winning medals at the 2012 Olympics, coaches and coaching have been seen to play a major role in these achievements.

The report by the Coaching Task Force in 2002 led to a large government investment in coaching via the recruitment, deployment and management of community sports coaches and 45 coach development officers. This aligned with the development of sports coaches by organisations such as the national governing bodies of sport (NGB) and Sportscoach UK, and with the introduction of a UK coaching certificate (UKCC) across 31 NGB. In 2008 the UK Coaching Framework was launched, a blueprint to create by 2016 a world-leading coaching system to support the development of coaches and coaching. Despite the large investment in sport coaches, coach development and the support systems, and an increasing body of research, the literature indicates that there is still no accord in the coaching process.

The broader context of the nature of coaching is complex. It is affected by external constructs, ideological, institutional, and cultural and national constructs, as well as internal constructs within the coach, athlete or team. If there is no accord in the coaching process, it follows that the model for coach development would have a limited alignment and therefore no consistent understanding of how a coach develops to an agreed point in their coaching activity; it would be serendipitous, a case of happy coincidence or chance.

How did you get started in coaching? Was it planned? Do you know where you want to be in five years and how to get there? What is your experience of being involved in coaching and coach development? Would it concur with that assumption of serendipity and that the  progression as a coach is based on random opportunity rather than defined goals, possibly as a result of a lack of concern or understanding about your development pathway or lack of a system as identified by the Coaching Task Force 2002?

The concept of coaching existed before it was applied to sport. In general terms, the coaching process involved the older or more skilled teaching younger people the skills and processes required to achieve success and or improve performance. This was (and is) often referred to as an apprenticeship but it was specific in several ways: the known starting position of the younger person in terms of skills, knowledge and their environment or context; the finish point when the person became expert to that environment or context; and the skills and processes required in that environment or context.

In the context of the development of sports coaches, a competency framework in the UK Coaching Certificate has been established highlighting the skills and processes required. This has been aligned to a coaching framework with four coaching domains (children’s, participation, performance development and high performance). Based on the level of competency of the coach and the coaching domain, a reference point for a coach or coach developer can be identified.

Within this framework sits the coach and the human interaction they bring to the coaching process. These constructs and the interactions are complex, interpersonal and varied depending on the coaches’ intrinsic values, and their interpretations of meanings and practices. This complexity makes it difficult to understand where the coach is positioned at the start of their coach development. What is an expert coach? Where is the expert coach placed?

Where would you sit in this framework?

If we use the analogy of a journey and the coach as the driver, the competency framework provides various signposts, which point to various destinations, while the framework shows the possible destinations. The challenges are: the place at which the driver is beginning their journey (their competency level); what their destination is and whether they can get there; and whether this the most suitable best place to go (their ability, ambition and their measure of success). In such a situation it would be no surprise if the driver got lost and it is therefore no surprise that coaches struggle to understand where they are and where they are going and which is the most appropriate route.

One suggestion is that you use your personal satnav to help identify your destination. This could also be described as your coaching philosophy. Philosophy is defined as the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge; the principle underlying any sphere of knowledge. A coach philosophy is deemed to be the trainer’s principles, with and through which they apply their coaching knowledge and beliefs. This could indicate to a coach where they are on the coach pathway and where their philosophy could take them. However, a coach philosophy could not be an indicator of an expert coach on its own.

Reflecting on the various experiences you have had, the things you have seen and the relationships between them may help identify trends that shape your coaching philosophy. If you have a philosophy, can it be described? Put it into words. If you now have an articulated philosophy, what values underpin it?

This process should help influence a coach’s decision when considering the pathway for their development as a coach. It should result in less reliance on serendipity and increase the chance of a coach developing to meet their potential and providing great experiences for their participants.


Steve Kemp is sports development manager with the Oxfordshire Sports Partnership. He is a Level 3 rugby coach and coach educator, and holds a masters degree in coaching.


Definitions in this article are taken from The Chambers Dictionary, Harrap 2006



The Leisure Review, April 2014

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“One suggestion is that you use your personal satnav to help identify your destination. This could also be described as your coaching philosophy.”
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Steve Kemp: frameworks, definitions and starting points

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