Edition number 27; dateline 1 June 2010

Finding the best route to high-quality coaching

These days wherever you go in sport the cry is always for more coaches. Most meetings I go to that discuss the strategic development of sport ultimately come down to “we need more coaches” and colleagues say, “It is the people that count not the buildings”. Performance sport says, “We need more coaches”, development clubs say, “We need more coaches”, programmes introducing the nation’s young people to sport and physical activity say, “We need more coaches.” These demands quite often mean that the first targets attacked by those who attack targets are those that relate to numbers, the numbers of Level 1 and 2 coaches if I am being precise. Undoubtedly people setting these targets have identified the need (see, I know all the buzz phrases) but were they to dig a little deeper would they find that it is not always more coaches per se that are needed, or actually wanted; what is actually needed are more quality coaches. Of course, the next issue on the agenda once the word ‘quality’ is introduced to the discussion is paying for it.

At this point the astute reader will be asking, “What is a quality coach?” Well, I have decided to pass on that particular hot potato this month as quality in terms of coaching can mean different things to different people and can open another can of worms. Perhaps it can be a ‘Tub’ subject for the future? What I do know, however, is that to become a quality coach in your chosen specialism –  beginners, performance squads, adults, juniors, masters – takes many years. I do not want to marginalise our young coaches at this point as many are very good but I am still learning nearly 30 years into this coaching lark and I’m just a beginner when compared to many of you. Experience counts for a lot in the development of a quality coach as long as it sits alongside ongoing learning on behalf of said coach.

So if I’m not going to tackle the definition of a quality coach what I am going to reflect on? Well, first, how we create quality coaches. I work with, assess and observe a lot of coaches and with all this experience my advice is, if you want a quality coach first find one who is excited about learning – their own learning, their participants’ learning, other coaches’ learning, even their club chair’s learning. Second, in order to create coaches who are excited about learning we need senior coaches in our clubs and agencies who encourage good practice and are actively involved in their national governing bodies’ (NGB) coach education programmes. These senior coaches need to have some mentoring and management skills, and need to encourage and support new coaches into the system. In addition to these senior coaches, we also need quality coach educators, people to assess new coaches taking qualifications and our NGBs need to be continually developing the best support and education systems while ensuring ongoing quality.

Although it appears that there are more opportunities for paid coaches now than 20 years ago, most coaches coming into the system are still volunteers who want to and will remain volunteers. However, unlike many other flavours of volunteer outside the sports sector, our coaches are generally still willing to undergo very intense training programmes, often costing them money personally (something highly unusual in the wider voluntary sector) and certainly requiring much of their voluntary time before they even go near face-to-face delivery. So we have to perform a balancing act of seeking to fill this need for quality coaches, with all that entails, while not putting our voluntary coaches under too much pressure. Before I go on, for those of you who are thinking to yourselves that we can use the paid coaches for the quality stuff, I would like to share with you the responses I receive when I ask volunteers and paid staff from voluntary sector organisations why the organisation they are involved uses volunteers. The answers are nearly always the same: volunteers bring something different from the paid staff; they bring a different level of commitment because they don’t have to be there; they bring an enthusiasm and excitement into the organisation which the paid staff often struggle to generate in their busy days; and the participants receiving services from the volunteers feel they are more approachable and feel really grateful for people who are giving their own time. I could go on about this subject (and often do) but this is just a quick reminder that we need quality voluntary and paid coaches but voluntary coaches are not just a cheap version of the paid ones.

Now back to this issue of developing quality coaches. I mentioned that targets very often start with “increasing numbers”. Even if we just wanted to increase the number of coaches, never mind the quality, we need far more people working in coach education and on the assessment of coaches. When you add the requirement for ‘quality’ the task becomes even harder. Why? Because people who become coach educators and assessors need to have lots of experience, they need to have spent many years learning their trade, they need to have invested a lot of their leisure time and their own money achieving the relevant qualifications, and many are still volunteers. This means that they are relatively rare creatures before we even mention the word ‘quality’. However, as luck would have it, by the time most have come through the current systems, quality is less of an issue as they are those key people who are excited by learning. Perhaps I am being a bit disingenuous and so a little unfair to the national governing bodies and to Sportscoach UK by saying it is by luck we have quality coach educators and assessors. It is the NGBs and SCUK who have designed and resourced excellent programmes, which means that luck is not actually the reason these folk are good quality. But the one thing no one has is the money to support a much larger programme.

We are just beginning to hear about all the cuts which are coming our way from the government and here I am saying that we need to inject more resources into developing our coaches. Bigger issues than the delivery of sports activities will dictate how much money we have in the sector but with the money we do have, we particularly need to plug the gap between hitting the targets for which money is often pledged – more Level 1s and 2s – and training and supporting the workforce who will make this happen. This is even more vital if our existing coach educators are to produce quality coaches in the sports and activities we need them in rather than being deployed to help churn out large numbers of young people who are put through the mill when doing sports courses at college in order to achieve as large a range of Level 1 certificates as their lecturer can provide. This may help us achieve targets in terms of numbers and it might even help a few leisure providers deliver some sessions but does this actually assist us in providing a quality experience for participants in sport? And for the young people being churned through the mill? Before you all start shouting at once, I do know that those of you working with young people in education want to do the best you can to help these youngsters achieve these awards. I also know that there are some terrific young, committed and dynamic coaches out there who see coaching as part of their future. But how many others don’t go beyond the Level 1 or assistant coach level because of a lack of all-round support for them moving through the system after they have left the supportive environment of the school or college? Again, where are the serious resources to train and develop senior coaches to mentor these young (and some of the less young) coaches? Where are the resources to help senior coaches understand how to delegate and manage other coaches in their care? This is not all about money and I use the term ‘resources’ carefully here as the challenge of the amount of time the voluntary coach, in particular, has also restricts this vital part of coach education and support. This is another challenge to which we still have no response. What I do know is that talking to coaches about how to solve these issues is important as I am sure between all of us we can come up with a variety of solutions.

So where do these reflections get us? Well, if you hold any sway over the development of coaches in any capacity my plea is that you do not just look at creating more coaches but you look at the infrastructure that will support them on their journey. Most of our NGBs are doing an excellent job in this area of work but even the richest and best resourced of these organisations still need help from other partners. To put it into perspective, a few days ago I heard a comment from someone who has a huge experience managing and developing volunteers in the wider voluntary sector who questioned the commitment of an organisation that only provided one full-time volunteer co-ordinator to support “as many as 41 volunteers”.  I just wonder what the ratio is in sport between volunteers and people employed to support them on their journey? Finally, as controversial as this question may be, should we be creating more and more coaches without being able to support them in becoming quality coaches? I do not know the answer to these conundrums and I only have my own perspective but, as I lay back in the bubbles of the tub and reflect, I do know we need to find some solutions together. I also know that as an industry we can come up with a great way forward as we are some of the most resourceful people I know. So get your thinking caps on.


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.

To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.

Tales from a tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry

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other news

Brian Ashton: holding sway in the development of coaching

“If you hold any sway over the development of coaches in any capacity my plea is that you do not just look at creating more coaches but you look at the infrastructure that will support them on their journey. ”

The Leisure Review INSIGHT SESSION

Coaching in and out of context

In partnership with Sport Nottinghamshire and Nottingham Trent University
14 July 2010
Nottingham Trent University
9am to 12.30pm

A seminar for coaches, their managers and mentors who want an insight into how to change context without losing competence or confidence. This session will challenge the thinking of, and offer inspiration to, self-aware coaches operating at UKCC Level 2 and beyond.


Trevor Laurence: managing director of the Experiential Training Company of Auckland, and a former NZ Olympic hockey captain considers how team sport principles translate to the modern boardroom.

Kay Adkins: SCUK national trainer Kay Adkins investigates the changes in emphasis needed when coaching coaches and considers how some sports are mistaking the packaging for the product.

Paul Robinson: senior lecturer at the University of Chichester and a coach and coach. Will explore the science of metacognition, a concept which offers an esoteric approach to the learning and re-learning of skills
David Haskins: visiting fellow at Sheffield Hallam and John Moores Universities, explores the 5C model and questions whether coaching qualifications help or hinder our quest to give children the perfect coaching and developmental experience.

Hamish Telfer: a national coach in four different sports, an academic and one of our foremost thinkers on coaching and coach education

For full details download the programme and booking form

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