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Coaching Culture…….What Do We Value In Sport?

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I’ve spent quite a lot time over the past couple of weeks discussing the topic of women in sport and the challenges of sports coaching as a career choice for women.  A lot of questions are in the air at the moment; why don’t we have more female coaches, particularly at elite level? What can be done to change this? How are we going to present the ‘case for change’ so that NGBs are compelled to do something about the gender imbalances in the coaching workforce?

I think we need to come at these questions from a slightly different angle, we need to ask ourselves what values we are promoting in sport and in coaching, what sort of people, male or female, do our coach education systems and methodology attract and validate?

Advances in the field of Neuroscience exploring what makes us perform at our best and what makes us most productive have seen the business world making major changes to traditional models of management and leadership; moving away from didactic styles to a more empathetic and cooperative approach. Sports coaching has a lot to learn from this model, we need more listeners and questioners, and less shouters and tellers!

Andy Murray made a compelling case for skills traditionally undervalued in sport when describing his choice of coach Amelie Mauresmo. Paul Hayward quoted Murray’s thoughts in an article for The Telegraph ‘“The reason why I started working with her was that when I sat down and spoke with her, I found her very calming,” [………] “She listened to everything I said. It wasn’t like I started talking and then she immediately just started talking over me. Everything she said about my game from what she had watched, I agreed with.”’

You don’t have to be a woman to possess the skills Andy is talking about finding so helpful in a coach, but equally unless we create a coach education structure across all sports that recognises and values these qualities we risk never attracting more women into the profession.  

If sport and coaching are to avoid getting left behind as guardians of outdated modes of instruction and leadership we need to make some changes! We need to develop coach education and assessment that trains and tests the ‘all round’ qualities needed for excellent coaching, the interpersonal and mentoring skills as well as the planning and technical side. If NGBs commit to this then we will see a more diverse coaching workforce, filled with not only a better gender balance but a better mix of personalities and skillsets too!

What do you think about our sports coach education systems in the UK?

What skills do you value in the coaches you work with?

How well do you feel your coach education qualifications prepared you for your coaching career?

Got any thoughts or comments? Please share!

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Comments (7)

   
andrewb62
What do you think about our sports coach education systems in the UK?

I think they (the coach education systems of which I have any experience of) reflect the (hierarchical) nature of sport quite closely - from level 1 to 4, competing to be recognised as a "better" coach by getting to the next level.

In my own main sport (cricket), progression through the levels (and the ability to attract a higher hourly rate) means working with "performance" athletes, and leaving the community/grassroots/participation arena.
19/11/15
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andrewb62
What skills do you value in the coaches you work with?

Being open to new ideas and to trying them out, but not slavishly chasing the "next new thing", committed to ongoing improvement (of athletes and self).

More qualities than specific coaching skills...but then, coaching (IMO) is more about how the coach and athlete interact than anything that the coach can actually do...
19/11/15
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Coach_Browning
What skills do you value in the coaches you work with?

Again, as I do in most posts (sorry!), I think I need to split out the professional from the amateur coaches here. I think that while there are some underlying skill sets / qualities that we look for, there are different things that I look for.

We are not paid. It is not our main job. Usually it comes third after work and family (although the lines are often blurred!) or fourth if you also count your own social life. You do it in the evenings and on weekends. Therefore the main skills/qualities I look for are:

1) Dedication / Commitment - Lumped these together as they cross over. But the coach has to be committed to what they are doing. The sheer demand upon time and its conflict with everything else means that they have to really be dedicated to doing it. What we can't have is someone who drops in and out of the coaching set up...which leads to:

2) Honesty - We all have other commitments that take up our time. Be honest with them. What can you do in a coaching regard? And then stick to it wherever possible. Even if it is only a little amount that you can spare. Be honest, set the expectation correctly and be true to it.

3) A desire to make people better - Again, this should be an underlying trait for any coach, but I think that it is particularly relevant in the amateur ranks. We, as amateur coaches, are doing this because we love the sport and want to give something - not for personal glory. I look for colleagues who genuinely want to make players better and push them to be the best that they can rather than use them as fuel for their own egos.

4) Ability to adapt - Plans can change quickly. A field gets called off due to weather...certain players don't turn up...you get stuck in traffic and are late to the venue...and so on. Coaches need to be able to adapt. To have an understanding of what they need to achieve and to be able to be flexible in how that is achieved. They can't be too rigid and set in ways.
19/11/15
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JonWoodward74
Coach Education qualifications are only one part of the journey. The development of a culture where coaches are encouraged and inspired to develop themselves as life long learners is one that is slowly being embraced, but it also means the 'old' culture has to gradually die off. For any system or culture to fully embed (or to disappear) takes a generation (notionally 25 years).

All the points made in the comments are hugely relevant, and we are at the forefront of changing perceptions, but we need to be the leaders and the role models.

We need to start a movement towards this culture (and we are by being here!). The more people we can influence the better and more developmental it will be

This is a great video on how to start a movement - you need to be a lone nut and a follower!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V74AxCqOTvg
25/11/15
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CatherineBaker
Fascinating reading all these comments, and Jon - great choice of video - we use this one quite a lot in our leadership sessions and it always makes people think, as well as amusing them.

The distinction between 'career' coaches and 'volunteer' coaches is I think an important one to make - after all we know that full time coaches account for 10% of all coaches but are responsible for 45% of all hours coached in a week. I see this from a personal perspective - I used to be a tennis coach (albeit part-time as a way to fund myself through uni and law school), and my husband now coaches one of our son's rugby teams on a volunteer basis. Our three boys, playing many different sports, are coached by a variety of 'career' and 'volunteer' coaches.

Starting with Hollie's post, she raises a great point about Amelie Mauresmo's ability to listen, and make Andy feel calm. From my work at the behavioural profiling end of the spectrum, I can tell you that that is not necessarily a female trait, but one linked to a certain behavioural trait (High 'S' in our world). Each person brings with them certain innate ways of operating in the workplace - be it a drive to get things done, a drive to get things right, a focus on working with and through people, and so on.

I believe that what is key, whether you are a coach, or a leader within a business, is to understand your own personal style, what your working strengths are, what areas you might need a bit of support in, and build from there. At Sport and Beyond we use the saying Understand | Focus | Excel. Understand yourself, focus your energies accordingly, and so excel.

The next step on from this, which can move you from good to great as a coach, whether Level 1 or Level 5, is your ability to modify and adapt your behaviour depending on who you are working with.

Key as well is an understanding of your motivations for coaching. Why are you doing it? What are your aims and aspirations? For example, my husband's motivation to coach rugby was to enhance the experience that our son has, but also to help develop the players around him. Not for the team to win every match, but to develop the players. Another of the coaches in the age group has the sole aim of trying to get the team to win more. For others it might be 'to pay the bills' or 'do something I love' or 'to coach the next GB winning Davis Cup team.'

To pick up on the specific questions raised by Hollie (and Hollie, I know you have been doing some fab stuff with Vicky Huyton at the FCN),
- from what I understand the coaching system is trying to 'get better', focusing more on the behavioural and emotional intelligence side. We and others are banging the drum on this, and will keep doing so. This 'behavioural' training needs to be embedded alongside the skills-based training, from the word go.
- What skills do I value? If I think about the experience that my children have, I take knowledge and technical skills as a given, but really value an ability to get those across in a way which engages and inspires my child.

As a final point, Simon picks up on 'a desire to make people better.' We sometimes run talks on 'lessons from sport across into business' and this is one of the key lessons I pick up on - the fact that for a (career) coach, each and every day, their job, and their focus, is to get their athletes better at what they do. Now think about for how many businesses/leaders, that is the case? It certainly always goes down as a powerful lesson.
01/12/15
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MGazza
Couldn't agree more ....
I believe that the qualifications are largely irrelevant : it's a useful badge without necessarily indicating the value that a particular coach can deliver.
In my own sport (archery) coach development is a joke and would get laughed out of a corporate world.
The only measure of coaches seems to be to ask "what level are they" and development is taking the next level of coaching course. Duh!!
My own experience of coaches has unfortunately led me to believe that there is a major flaw in allowing people to "self select" for coaching qualifications. At the very least there needs to be a basic selection that weeds out all those people who are very good at :
1. Enough about you, now let me show you how clever I am
2. My job is to tell you what to do - your job is to do it.

It's a big ask to change and improve from what is very poor position - but hey, if it was perfect we wouldn't be here!
01/12/15
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Hollie
Really enjoying reading all the comments - thanks everyone! Great to hear people's thoughts and experiences!
02/12/15
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