Any regular reader of Dair Magazine will know that we take pride in challenging the status quo and trying to cut through bureaucracy and mis-understanding to tell it how it is. When it comes to the sporting landscape, it’s not unusual to hear our contributors express their frustrations with the organisations that effectively run sport in the UK and beyond. So, imagine my surprise when a PR company contacted me to ask if we would write a piece on ‘Coaching Week’: an initiative created by Coaching UK (previously National Coaching Foundation/Sports Coach UK) and supported by UK Sport to ‘celebrate great coaching’. What to do? After some soul searching I resolved that, at the very least, I should hear them out. After all, progress can only be made through constructive dialogue. Right?
UK Coaching are the lead agency for coaching in the UK; with a mission to put coaching at the heart of physical activity and sport (their words, not mine). Mark Gannon is their Chief Executive. He is a man on a mission and it’s no small undertaking: from raising the profile of coaching to providing direct support to coaches, it’s a significant remit.
Mark’s passion for coaching is evident and, at times during our conversation, barely contained. It’s refreshing to hear someone in his position talk like this,
“A good coach can change a game; a great coach can change your life. I believe that personally. I think great coaching can have an impact on your life and change it for the better however big or small that it”.
Dame Katherine Grainger, chair of UK Sport and a strong advocate of coaching week personally passionate about the need for Coaching Week, “The very nature of coaches, even top level coaches, is that they tend to stay in the background. Because they’re happy not to take the spotlight, coaching is often misunderstood or just not known”.
“The very nature of coaches, even top level coaches, is that they tend to stay in the background. Because they’re happy not to take the spotlight, coaching is often misunderstood or just not known”.
Unfortunately coaching mainly comes to the fore in the media when the stories are negative. It’s a constant frustration for many of the coaches I work with. Mark is quick to point out that coaching week is only a part of the puzzle,
“Coaching week is not so much about the media, more about educating the public. If you take your child to a sport I want you to be able to recognise what good coaching is so that your expectation is right”.
Katherine Grainger has first hand experience of the transformational effect of coaching. Her own remarkable achievements as an Olympian were, in many ways, only made possible by the coach she had as a young athlete, Hamish Burrell, who she keeps in contact with to this day. He was a volunteer who coached her throughout her early days and first suggested she went to British Trials. As she says, without his support she may never have even considered attempting to perform at such a level.
“When I get asked to describe what great coaching is, it’s almost an endless list of so many different things to so many people; inspirer, motivator, mentor, counsellor, psychologist”, she pauses, “Sometimes all on the same day! It’s a shame it’s not talked about more”.
Coaching Week provides the catalyst and opportunity for other people to reflect and recognise the positive impact that coaches have had on their lives. It’s sorely needed.
As one of our most vocal critics of the UKs’ approach to coaching, I felt it only right to ask Toni Minichiello his thoughts. His response is measured,
“I believe getting the public to think about coaching in a different way is a great idea. Most of us can think back to someone who has helped us along the way and that person, in one form or another, was a coach. I just don’t know how much it will help what, for me, is the real issue: creating a coaching pathway that accommodates the means for people to excel and be recognised as volunteers whilst providing a far more sophisticated, tailored means of advancing people to become elite coaches capable of enabling athletes to fulfil world class potential. It’s those coaches that fuel the finances and provide the inspiration that keep our sports alive”.
Toni has a point. It’s a fantastic thing to celebrate coaches in the volunteer sector. More than that, it’s the right thing. However, until the public, media and politicians understand the breadth, depth and importance of coaching I’m not sure we’ll ever truly progress. To produce world class performers we need world class coaches. Using the phrase ‘coach’ to apply to an Alex Ferguson as well someone who works with kids at 5 a side football twice a week causes confusion at all levels. You love your mum’s cooking but you wouldn’t put her in the same bracket as a Michelin Chef. That said, we’ve got to start somewhere and Coaching Week, as well as celebrating coaching, is a great platform to turn up the volume on the conversation.
Using the phrase ‘coach’ to apply to an Alex Ferguson as well someone who works with kids at 5 a side football twice a week causes confusion at all levels.
Celebrating and elevating the status of those individuals that give of their time, often for little or no financial reward, for the benefit of the millions under their guidance is laudable. And I, for one, hope it continues. However, the coaching pathway remains a confused jumble. How we define and differentiate between genuine performance coaches and teachers or volunteers whilst providing appropriate progression and recognition for each is yet to be effectively addressed.
Taking all of the above into consideration Coaching Week, in my mind, remains a positive step forward. Therefore, in the spirit of Coaching Week I’d like to thank Dai Games (yes, it’s a real name) who taught me how to catch, pass and tackle with an unwavering positivity in the face of my uselessness: after which he’d give a couple of us a lift home without ever asking for petrol money. I never said thank you before, so thank you and yes, Mr. Games, you were right: “If I had a brain I’d be dangerous”.
To find out more about the work of UK Coaching and Coaching Week visit: ukcoaching.org
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This article is from the Performance Life channel.