edition number 18; dateline 29 May 09

Coaching kudos or coaching for fun?

I heard something wonderful the other day at a football club (this is unusual as I often see good things at football clubs but don’t always hear good things, but that is another story). One of the club’s directors was talking about the search for a new manager. “We want someone who is qualified as a coach,” he said. “Not to do so would be going back to the dark ages.”

This makes a refreshing change and has to be a positive sign for the future but despite this glimmer of hope, we are still struggling with this concept of accreditation of coaches. Professional high-performance coaches often fight it – “Why do we need a piece of paper? We have already proved ourselves” – and so do volunteers – “I do this as a volunteer so why should I put myself through getting a qualification? It’s like being at work!” or “Why should I have to pay to volunteer?” Despite this resistance from within the ranks of coaches, there is still a relentless drive to increase the number of coaches who are both qualified and within additional accreditation. Why, when we are being constantly encouraged to be guided by the end user, are we insisting that they do something that many don’t agree with? Before you start telling me that many coaches are committed to being qualified (I am sure you are right),  I suspect the coaches we (those of us working within the sports industry) talk to represent ‘the converted’. One statistic I saw quoted in a workshop recently suggests that only 38% of all coaches are qualified, which makes you realise that there may be more ‘agin than within’ the qualification system.

So why we are all driving the qualification and accreditation of coaches as a key target? The first thing to consider when it comes to the accreditation of coaches is who the end-user might be. I think in this case we have three: the participants, the coaches and the ‘buyer’ (parents, local authorities, schools, participants, etc).

Participants are people on the receiving end of the coaches. They may also be a buyer but in many cases, particularly in the case of young people and elite athletes, they may have a coach thrust upon them. Whatever their situation, participants are becoming much more discerning and demanding, requiring their coaches to be knowledgeable, professional in conduct, able to help them to get better, able to make sessions fun, etc. However, they do not necessarily need them to be qualified.

With regard to the coaches, we have already established that many are unqualified. While we might conclude that they don’t want to be qualified or that their qualifications are out of date and they don’t want to update them, there are some coaches who still have a great desire for knowledge. They believe in reaching an approved standard and/or they have to be qualified in order to continue in their current coaching role or to get a new one. There are, therefore, at least some from the ranks of the coaches who seek the recognition and learning from an accreditation programme.

Finally, the buyers. This group really wants qualifications and sometimes they aren’t that interested in the knowledge; they primarily want to meet the insurance companies’ requirements, the promises made when asking for grant aid, or the requirements of local councils and the Children’s Act. Of course, that may be a cynical assumption. Many want their coaches to be at the leading edge of technology and development. They want to be employing someone with the new qualifications that go someway to demonstrating that their coach is striving for the best alongside them. The additional accreditation programmes, such as Coach Mark, take this to the next level, in that it shows employers and grant-givers that a coach is very serious about their professionalism (even if they are volunteers). This has become much more important as the five-hour offer and Sport Unlimited starts to take hold and create additional demand for high-quality, reliable coaches.

My views are not the result of academic research but come from my personal experience of coaching, from my observations and conversations I have with people around the country. Although my conclusions cannot be scientifically tested, I am one of the coaches who does believe in an accreditation system. I am sure we still have a way to go in terms of the UK Coaching Certificate but it is a positive way forward. It encourages all of us to review our coaching practice and our all-round professionalism, to look at how we work with a variety of different groups, including participants with a disability and children and young people, particularly as these areas of work become more embedded more deeply in the learning programmes and assessments. From a personal perspective, I want to achieve new coaching qualifications because it gives me the opportunity to learn and grow as a coach. It also allows me to prove to the world that I have worked hard at my ‘trade’.

Of course, there has to be a ‘but’. While I am happy to put myself on the line, this new accreditation stuff is a bit expensive to the volunteer. However, don’t make it cheaper; just provide more support to the volunteer coaches. In addition, I am not sure we have enough up-to-date coach assessors; without good and consistent assessors, the whole system will lose credibility. I am also concerned that we are still fighting about whether we have accreditation or excellent learning programmes. We can and do have both. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have recognition for the achievements of your learning, just as there is nothing wrong with learning for learning sake. Like it or not, there is an important market (the buyers) which demands qualifications and accreditations that meet certain criteria. However, these are usually the same criteria that dedicated learners want to learn about andI am sure our talented coach educators are more than up to the job of delivering both ,especially if we all continue to guide them.

Accreditation is here to stay and our personal choice is whether to go down that road or not. I do get a little sad that some learning programmes have been lost because they are not part of the formal qualification structures but I hold the faith that these areas will return once we have become more used to the relatively new UKCC. In the mean time I will throw myself into both accreditation and learning new things just for the fun of it. Join me!


Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.



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“The first thing to consider when it comes to the accreditation of coaches is who the end-user might be. I think in this case we have three: the participants, the coaches and the ‘buyer’ (parents, local authorities, schools, participants, etc).”

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