Coach Education-Is it fit for purpose?

I hardly ever realized how hard is to find a really good coach? I probably would never think about it until I had opened my own coaching business. Before I go any further, I was less interesting as to what level qualification coaches have. Primary focus was, how well applicants understand kids they are going to working with? What level of knowledge they do have around child and young people development? Finally, can they communicate, engage, manage group of kids at appropriate level? These were the common things that virtually none of the candidates had. The question is -should we blame them or perhaps we need look closely how do we educate coaches these days? I am not so sure it is entirely their fault and here is why?
1. Classroom is for school teachers, coaches must learn on the grass!
Let me start with the question if I may: How many goals are scored in classroom? Why then time and time again we continue to making coach education classroom based? Let’s imagine here a coach who is at level one course. Big chunk of course time he/she will spent in classroom watching endless power -point presentations. Moreover, these presentations do not reflect at all the environment these people working on daily basis, most of whom are volunteers, parents working with children 5-11 years old. Differentiation for the range of capabilities within a group, communication, session planning reflecting children needs were common things amongst over 100 coaches I worked with in last year. This is less about the football and more about young players and how they learn?

2. More avenues for learning will be a great bonus!

Most coaches these days can proudly say: “I am licensed to coach”! On the other hand, we can also admit and say most these licensed coaches know little about child development, child psychology and how they learn? No wonder then, when it comes to training you will witness mannequins with 6 years old, cues to just shoot on goal like in the shopping mall, kids running without the ball, asking kids to pass the ball when they barely can control it, practice set-pieces etc… I appreciate that these examples may be extreme, nonetheless they are still occurring every week across the football grounds. So, I will ask again: Shall we blame coaches for that? Learning basics of football game on coaching course is important. On the other hand, there is a great danger that football knowledge only won’t be enough to plan and delivery child related training session.

3. Make sure the box is tick, don’t forget your checklist and competency framework is our pigeonhole!
Experience Tutors usually remind us importance of not to pigeonhole young players and rightly so! Why then coach education is mostly contradicted to that? Football course is usually about ticking boxes, making endless, complicated checklist and yes competency framework which locked coaches into pigeonhole without give them the key to open it! Human being most important characteristic are decisions making, freedom and creativity. Since these are restricted, people (coaches) are forced to follow competency framework in which their own independent thinking not really exist and has to follow the course established views, ideas. The danger here is, if coach can’t think freely and challenged established trends, he also will struggle to do so with group of kids he/she coaching? The other worry is, the way coaches being thought, most of them will teach the kids same way, which is ticking box and pigeonhole them. Is fair to say that all competency framework is more important that how young players learn and how they develop. Question will need to asked is: Is this Coach education framework really create better coaches?

4. We need simple, practical side of coaching that reflect how children and young players learn!
Recent philosophy called ‘player cantered approach’ is popular amongst tutors and coaches and rightly so. Problem is, most coach education courses focus on how we coach rather than how players learn? Again, is the subjective view that force coaching workforce to think and act in certain way. This follow up with examples of training practices in which most coaches blindly copy without any critical thinking. These practices focus on the ‘what’? rather ‘how’? and ‘why’? The consequences can be devastating, in particular for foundation phase children. Why? Because most of these coaches will be back to their environment and using the practices they’ve learn on the course. The worry thing is, they are going to use them with 6’s, 9’s, or 11’s years old without asking the fundamental question: Is this practice really help the children to learn? Does it meet children needs? Well, coaches can’t really answer these questions as they lack of knowledge of child development which coaching course does not reflect nor educate enough. So, you may ask what is the solution then? Well, we need to be brave enough to introduce child development model to any coaching course as priority. Then we need to link and relate practical examples with child development model that suits cognitive and emotional characteristic of children. Then and only then we will develop coaches that have better understanding of children needs and how they learn. We will see less practices that never reflect children learning capabilities. Adding to that then basic football knowledge can be a powerful mixed to have coach education that truly reflects young players learning process.

5. Coaching is about people not x’s and o’s!

May I start with the quote here: ‘coaching is unlocking person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them’-Timothy Gallwey
I appreciate that football coaching course should be about the game and I am not arguing against that. What I am saying is, educate future coaching workforce around that is simply not enough anymore these days. Present and future will be highly related to people, relationships, emotional connection, learning brain. Can you unlock anybody potential if you don’t know how she/he learns? What makes them tick? No young player will able to maximize their own performance if coach’s knowledge is limited to football only. Make no mistake, on higher end of the coaching course ladder there is more focus on psychological and social development. My point is this should be introduced and well balanced and the bottom end too. In the end if grassroots coaching workforce is better equipped with people/children knowledge then everyone will be benefited from it and most importantly players. What is missing then? An opportunity to learn these things on coaching courses.

6. Coach educator is retired from coaching long time ago?

Imagine a math’s teacher that retired from teaching 10 years ago or so. Would he/she be able to get a teaching post in any schools? Probably that would be difficult as most things change such as methodology, children, strategies etc… So why then in football we still have a lot of tutors that stopped coaching ages ago? How is that fair to any coach that comes to learning environment and how is that influence their learning process? Obviously, yes- you still can say that they keep up with current learning trends, reading books etc…. This is all okay, however it won’t give you practical insight about current generation, how they behave, learn, act on training sessions. Without this practical current coaching experience, educating new coaches is based on assumptions rather than practical knowledge. Moreover, majority coaches working with children, but majority coach educators rarely did or done very little long time ago, so question remain: How they can help these coaches became better?
Coach education purpose is to identify and fill knowledge gaps. From my coaching and educating experiences coaches have huge gaps around children and young people development. Sooner we address that then better coaching workforce we develop. Logical consequences of that will be more effective coaching which naturally lead to better people and players.
I will conclude with this quote: ‘Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them’-John Whitmore