Monday, June 21, 2021

Does Psychological Safety Have a Place in Coach Development?


The date was set. The morning arrived. I jumped in the car with an assortment of nerves, anxiety and excitement. I was making my way to commence my level 3 coaching qualification. I’d been coaching for almost 10 years prior but such experience did nothing to quell my nerves. Reflecting on my internal dialogue over the course of this 90 minute commute, a vast and never ending swarm of questions emerged in my mind. “Am I ready for this?” “Am I competent enough to pass the assessment?” “Will I know any of the other coaches?” but most of all “Why am I so nervous when this should be fun and hopefully a brilliant learning experience?”

The first person I saw upon arrival was the all-time record goal scorer for his country and someone I’d watched score goals for fun on television many times. The fact such a well-known professional was on the course compounded my feelings, although I thought it best to take the opportunity to have a chat. I shared my vulnerabilities about starting the course. I was slightly taken aback when he told me he was feeling the exact same way. Despite an excellent career at the highest level, he also was experiencing apprehension by stepping into a formal coach development setting. To hear an elite performer say something so humble proved refreshing.

As the week progressed, my initial fears alleviated. I was welcomed by amiable and caring coach developers, I was surrounded by a fantastic group of coaches experiencing the same journey and engaging in a challenging but enjoyable programme of learning. I felt connected to the experience, connected to the staff and connected to my peers. I didn’t have the language for it then, but I was experiencing an environment characterised by psychological safety.

Kahn (1990) notes that an environment where an individual perceives they can express themselves without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career is characterised by psychological safety. So how important is psychological safety in a coach development settings? At present any content we have on this is generally anecdotal, much like the anecdote shared in the first few paragraphs. However existing literature does indicate psychological safety can be transformative when it comes to learning across various contexts.

Before we investigate that, let’s delve deeper into the concept of psychological safety: what it is and what it isn’t. One of the leading academics on the construct of psychological safety is Dr. Amy Edmondson from Harvard University. Dr. Edmondson notes that psychological safety encompasses the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. Based on this description you can potentially identify how a safe coach development climate may offer benefits to the learners. I like to consider it as an environment where you can be your true self with the permission to grow and learn in a way which is authentic to you and your needs.

As we develop an understanding of what PS is, it’s important to remember what it is not. I’ve had friends describe psychological safety as something ‘pink and fluffy’. Edmondson (2004) notes that psychological safety does not simply imply a cosy environment in which people are necessarily close friends, nor does it suggest an absence of pressure or problems. In a brilliant blog piece Duana Blomstrom captures this fantastically well. She notes that PS is not an excuse for complacency and laziness. It’s not the absence of performance goals or measuring success. It’s not a license to forgo all morality filters and its certainly not guaranteed employment no matter our actions and behaviour. A psychologically safe world is not one where we can do and say whatever we want because we feel safe. Boundaries still exist. Blomstrom notes it’s about reconceptualising how we view mistakes, it’s fine to not know everything, it’s good to open up and be vulnerable, it’s right to have a passionate common purpose.

So where does PS fit in a learning environment? Well Edmondson (2004) highlights that PS is likely to affect behaviours related to learning and improvement. She identifies 5 key areas which contribute to this positive learning environment:

Help seeking

Each member of a team can look to other members to provide information or perspective to help them solve a challenging problem.


Feedback seeking


Despite carrying interpersonal risk, feedback-seeking is often essential to successful task completion, growth and improvement.


Speaking up about errors and concerns

Psychological safety is proposed to allow team members to speak up about concerns and problems directly, by alleviating concerns about repercussions.

Innovative Behaviour and Innovation

The freedom to offer new ideas and experiment with different behaviours is encouraged without fear of looking stupid or being embarrassed.


Boundary spanning


Boundary-spanning behaviour describes external communication with other groups, such as needed to coordinate objectives, schedules or resources. Boundary spanning can also involve interpersonal risk.

Coach developers may wish to consider if and when these behaviours emerge during their interactions with coaches. For example if we consider feedback as a key component of any learning environment we may wish to consider if PS can contribute to creating an effective climate to provide such feedback. Johnson et al. (2020) investigated what psychological safety looks like in the context of workplace feedback and how educators can work with learners to foster it? The authors analysed 36 videos of routine formal feedback episodes involving diverse health professionals. A psychologically safe learning environment was inferred when learners progressively disclosed information and engaged in productive learning behaviours during the conversation. Four themes emerged in the results of the study: (a) setting the scene for dialogue and candour; (b) educator as ally; (c) a continuing improvement orientation, and (d) encouraging interactive dialogue. The educator’s approaches seemed to foster a psychologically safe environment by conveying a focus on learning, and demonstrating respect and support to learners.

To bring psychological safety back to the world of coach development I decided to ask some experienced, well revered coach developers their thoughts. I became curious if some of the coach developers that I respected and admired saw PS as an important feature for their environments and interaction with coaches?

Firstly I asked long-time friend and colleague Kurt Lindley. Kurt has worked with hundreds of coaches from dozens of sports in his 15 year career in coach development, he now successfully facilitates learning programmes though his company BeMore Learning & Development. I’ve always found his learning sessions fun, innovative and challenging. Where does psychological safety fit for him? He shared his thoughts, “Without this safety I cannot be myself and being myself (a good version) is far better and more important than being the person the environment expects. I appreciate some may have tension with this and feel the need to conform to the norms of an environment but the more you distance yourself from who you really are the wider the gap becomes between trust/confidence in yourself and self-inflicted doubt and insecurity…. This leads to anxiety, fragility, worry, indecision.

With the presence of psychological safety we are able to trust in the people and the environment, put ideas forward, pose questions, challenge standard approaches and grow. How is it created, there is no one formula (although some may have you believe so). It starts with hello and builds with how you notice and attend to the micro and macro behaviours/actions during the life of the relationship. When things are true and congruent it works, when things are false and incongruent it falls down and miss/distrust creeps in.”

Kurt clearly felt that in order to get the best out of anyone, or yourself, safety and trust need to be present. Kurt’s answer inspired me to expand my question to other colleagues. Tandy Haughey has been a coach developer for almost 20 years. She is a fantastic academic but also works at the coalface of sport, supporting the development of coaches. Tandy spoke with candour in relation to her thoughts on PS: “When asked to write a short piece for this blog I needed to do that good old google search to truly identify what do we really mean by ‘psychological safety?’   What did I find!  ‘Ability to take moderate risk in speaking your mind ….. show and employ one’s self without fear !’  When interpreting this the key message for me was how can I adapt strategies when delivering any learning that anyone involved have a truly open space to discuss and give their thoughts and opinions without being judged?  This at times has been difficult as you have to judge the room whether that be virtual (which has been the norm for the last year and a bit) or in that live setting.  How can we truly create that social learning space that all feel valued, supported and confident?” 

Tandy continued, “If we consider our performers when we coach how do we create that motivational climate? give the performer autonomy for their learning? the opportunity to speak and be listened to? ….. Creativity is at the heart of everything – the ability to adapt to understand people even those who can be at times difficult and want to challenge!!!  But WHY?  They want to learn, they want to know and understand!!!  Your way may not be their way but how can that common ground be established.  RESPECT, TRUST, OPENNESS and WHOLEHEARTEDLY wanting to reflect on what you have done within that learning opportunity.  Have I truly created a place for all to learn and feel comfortable? How did I structure those questions?  How did I use terminology?  All too often using the jargon that means something to me but not to those that are engaged in the session …. I am there to facilitate learning …. Acknowledgement that I CARE and want them to feel:

P = part of the session

S = safe in what they are doing or saying

Y = YOU being themselves throughout

C = connected to me and to others within the learning session

H = happy in their surrounding

O = open to speak their mind

L = learning from everyone in the workshop/coaching course

O = opportunity to give their perspective

G = gel as one community of practice

I = included in everything that is happening in the learning session

C = contributing and feeling valued for that contribution

A = aligned in the social learning space that has been created

L = lifelong that they will continue on that journey to want to know more”

From writing this blog I’ve developed a deeper curiosity to investigate the impact psychological safety can have on coach development settings. It’s important for me to say that I don’t believe PS is a silver bullet which will magically cultivate fantastic and meaningful coach development experiences. Coach development with an abundance of PS but a dearth of purposeful content or interactive discussion doesn’t cut it. I have a strong sense however that the construct has a place in coach development. Especially if we want to see the best versions of both the coach and the coach developer. Perhaps it could become a conscious feature when we structure our future learning design. This concept may resonate with some, with others it may not. What I’d like to leave you with is a nudge to have some healthy debate over if and where PS fits in the world of coach development. Let’s together, gather more insight on its value, context and potential application.     

By Michael Cooke, Club & Coaching Consultant, Sport Northern Ireland

@Coaching__MC  @SportNINet #SportNILearning



Edmondson, A. C. (2004). Psychological Safety, Trust, and Learning in Organizations: A Group-Level Lens. In R. M. Kramer & K. S. Cook (Eds.), The Russell Sage Foundation series on trust. Trust and distrust in organizations: Dilemmas and approaches (p. 239–272). Russell Sage Foundation

Johnson, C. E., Keating, J. L., & Molloy, E. K. (2020). Psychological safety in feedback: What does it look like and how can educators work with learners to foster it?. Medical education, 54 (6), 559-570.

Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of management journal, 33(4), 692-724.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Coaching Teenagers: Learning Along the Way


In 2010 when I finished International sailing and an Olympic Campaign in the Laser Radial dinghy, I felt like a young coach at 27 years old. I had started coaching at youth performance level with the Laser Leinster squad and the NI Junior Topper squad, moving on to the NI Youth Laser squad. I wanted to coach as I knew that after all my years sailing, with different coaches, training partners and my experience racing internationally, that I could help young sailors to get to that level and beyond. I had my own weaknesses as a sailor and mistakes that I made along the way. Surely, I can help shortcut their learning (thought every coach ever)?

Laser Radial Youth Europeans, Tallinn Estonia 2016.

I coached these squads with a few of my peers. I was fascinated by the different styles of coaching, seeing where other coaches strengths lay and how to deal with a large group of young teens. In sailing there is so much technical and tactical knowledge that you are constantly learning throughout your life in the sport. While bringing these groups through the essentials at their stage of the sport I was also borrowing ideas from others and trying to improve my knowledge and learn the art of coaching along the way.

The coaching team I was part of had a lot of fun in these groups, we were motivated and excited to be getting on the water in our coaching roles. While we were trying to get the sailors to go faster, learn harder and reach higher goals but there were other factors that I hadn’t much experience dealing with.

Parents. I hadn’t considered that they needed to know so much about what was going on and would take such an interest in what and how their child could improve.

Sailor abilities. The sailors in the squads are at different stages of development, knowledge and learning plus strength and size have a big impact in how fast each boat can go.

Sailor maturity. Not everyone is here for the same reason. I wanted the sailors to win races. Not all of sailors believe they can, some gave 100% and others were there to test your patience!

Teenagers. As I said before. I felt young, however I was not a teen, I am not Gen Z and I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to gel with every group and for them to gel with each other.

When I thought it was going well, I was maybe only seeing it from my own perspective or of a vocal few and not from the individuals throughout the group. I wasn’t aware of how each sailor truly felt at the end of the day, if they weren’t comfortable in talking to me about it, I could only gauge from what I was hearing and seeing. Some people may get lost in the group and although they appear to be engaging you never really know how they feel or what they have taken from each session.

Some of the issues I observed when coaching these groups of teens:

  • Behavioural issues - distraction during sessions, being late.
  • Low motivation - body language in briefings, slow to start the session, keen to finish the session.
  • Poor engagement - not contributing to group learning or sharing own experience, not practicing skills between squad sessions.
  • Underprepared - Equipment missing or needing repair. Poor nutritional choices- garage lunches/no water bottle.

I attended annual coach development courses run by the Royal Yachting Association and spoke regularly with the RYA NI Performance Manager who helped me through these challenges. Over the years I developed my style of coaching and engagement and was continually tweaking my approach and trying to adapt to the sailors needs within the group.

Bringing a group of sailors together to engage as a team when they are a group of individual competitors and working out how to get the best from each of them was the biggest challenge. Each year the group was different, engaged differently, had different skill sets and motivations. The squad foundations needed to be in place early each year otherwise you spent more time chasing your tail. I had limited time with each squad, only 6 squad weekends over the winter/ spring period into competition season. I did the ‘Squad Charters’, ‘Goal Setting’, ‘Sailor Qualities’, ‘Buddy systems’, ‘teamwork activities’ trying to lay the foundations and set the tone for what was to come. I had to carve out the time to implement these ‘non-coaching’ activities and the emphasis could be different each year depending on the needs of the group. They are all great tools to use and each have a place building the coaching environment that you want to create.

I was fortunate to have some really great groups of sailors coming through during my time with the squads. Teens are smart. They are driven, thoughtful and opinionated. I loved watching them interact together, the comradery they showed and lifelong friendships and competitors being developed. At times as a coach, I had to step back, these teens could teach each other, they had thoughts and opinions on tactical situations and their experiences that sharing between peers was so much more valuable and memorable than what I could project. They had ambitions outside of sailing, plans for university, career goals and the sailing goals they had set for their youth sailing career and beyond.

London 2012 Olympic Sailing venue with the RYA NI Youth Squad: Weymouth, UK Laser Qualifier 2016.

If I was to summarise some lessons from my time coaching I would say, get to know your sailors. What are their needs, what makes them tick? Address the group environment and set expectations of the sailors and the coach early on, this will set the tone for future sessions and get the best for everyone. Most of all, have fun. If you are going to have a lifelong involvement in a sport then you have to love what you do. The Olympics isn’t everyone’s end goal, some great performances and character building can be achieved along the way. I hope that the sailors I have coached over that 10-year period will have developed both on and off the water and have good memories of their time training and competing during their youth careers.


By Debbie Hanna, Performance Planner, Sport Northern Ireland

@SportNINet #SportNILearning

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Coherence in Club Coaching

When we talk about coaching, we often only think about activities that happen on the court, the pitch or on the track. We assume that coaching is only what happens when participants are actually taking part. Yet, if we are going to encourage long term engagement in sport, we need to broaden our thinking and our coaching!

Only very few young people in any sport will progress to the elite level, for you as a coach and as a club, it is clearly important to help them develop the skills (physical and mental) to pursue a lifetime of physical recreation.

To do this, it is recognised that there are a number of characteristics of highly effective coaching environments. We know that they will tend to:

1)      Hold long term aims and methods

2)      Offer coherent support

3)      Emphasise development over early success

4)      Individualise as much as possible

We also know that young people engage in sport for different reasons. Take for example the idea of Personally Referenced Excellence (PRE) and Elite Referenced Excellence (ERE). The latter is when participants consider success to be high level sporting achievement and ultimately, winning at an elite level.  PRE on the other hand, is excellence in the form of participation and improving one’s best.

It is common to see coaches and clubs implicitly focus on high achievement or winning. This might become a problem if we think of the types of outcomes that you might be looking to promote in club sport, for the majority of participants they likely have other reasons for involvement.

Critically, if you are going to consistently promote the types of outcomes that we often just assume that come from youth sport engagement, the experiences of your participants need to be coherent.

In essence, this means that their sporting experiences give them variety but not confusion. It also means that their previous sporting experience at a level builds from previous experience, preparing them for the next. To do this, their experiences need to be relevant to the sport and needs of the participant. It is also useful to make deliberate decisions about how focused or balanced the experience is. Focused experiences encourage development in key areas, balance on the other hand creates range and diversity.

The experience of participants should also be future focused. It will recognise where they are, building from previous experience - not from where the coaches wish they were! These experiences should also be rigorous enough to prepare them for the future challenges and lifelong participation.

Importantly, if you are going to achieve this, you need a group of people who work together to offer a coherent experience to young people – this is called integration.

Integration is the idea that people (including the participant!) and club systems (policies, fixture lists etc.) will mesh together in a way that promotes coherence. Ultimately, this means systematically communicating, listening and understanding. It also means that your club’s systems and structures are shaped in a way that promotes the outcomes you want for your participants.

A simple example of this is that in many team sports, players often graduate from a form of the game with reduced numbers and small pitches, to more numbers and bigger pitches.

·         Does this transition happen overnight, or are players gradually introduced to the change?

·         If a coach feels that it isn’t appropriate for their players, can they continue to play a smaller sided version of the game?

·         Do you communicate with other clubs to shape the fixture list on this basis?

·         How do you communicate with parents and players, so they understand why you are doing what you are doing?

Easier said than done – some ideas!

Of course, this is all much easier said than done! It requires a constant attention to considering participant/coach/volunteer experience. Some simple ideas and questions to get you going:

·        Do you engage in club wide discussions that consider your approach to participant experience over the long term?

·        How often do the coaches in your club meet formally or informally to discuss their coaching and how they are supporting young people’s development?

·        Do you have a clear idea what you are coaching beyond sporting skills? Do you deliberately develop the movement and mental skills that support long term participation?

·        How often does the club communicate with participants and parents?

·        Do you have a coordinated approach to welcoming new participants to the club?


By Dr Jamie Taylor, Senior Coach Developer, Grey Matters Performance Ltd

@JTGreyMattersUK @GreyMattersUK

@SportNINet #SportNILearning


Some references and further resources

Martindale, R. J., Collins, D., & Daubney, J. (2005). Talent Development: A Guide for Practice and Research Within Sport.

Taylor, J., & Collins, D. (2020). The Highs and the Lows – Exploring the Nature of Optimally Impactful Development Experiences on the Talent Pathway.

Webb, V., Collins, D., & Cruickshank, A. (2016). Aligning The Talent Pathway: Exploring The Role And Mechanisms Of Coherence In Development.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Considering How We Look at Sports Club Experiences


The ‘negative impact upon children and young people’ has been noted by sports clubs among the top five challenges resulting from Covid-19 and the associated restrictions, with ‘how to engage and re-engage children and young people’ seventh on the list of knowledge and skill support required in the sports club environment (Sport NI Covid-19 Survey).  I have no doubt that creating the best possible experiences of club sport for young people, and for all members, is an enduring intention for all of us who are involved in coaching or volunteering within sports clubs.  But perhaps the current media prominence of the issue of young people’s experiences, alongside survey findings such as those referred to above, offers us a prompt for reflection on how we can turn ‘okay’ experiences into good experiences, good to great, and great to even greater!

Smith and Smoll (2007) suggest that the actions of a coach have an impact on how people, particularly children and young people, perceive and react to their sport experiences.  But that as coaches, we aren’t always as aware as we might be of our actions, how they are perceived by the participant, and the impact they have.  I don’t think it’s a huge leap to consider that this may well be the case for the wider club environment/experience.  So how do we find out more about these perceptions and experiences?  Well… in a club of 200 members, you may well have 200 different individual perceptions of experience.  Or when coaching a group of 20 young people – again each individual may well perceive their experience in a slightly different way, based on various factors. 

To change anything for the better, often we first need to shine a light on our own thinking and disrupt our perspectives, biases and assumptions – the ‘unfreeze’ stage of change (Lewin, 1947).  In the context of coaching and sports club experiences we might consider the immediate participant experience and the wider eco-system that surrounds the club and its people.

A useful tool to consider the factors that influence immediate participant experience is The Personal Assets Framework for Sport (Côté, Turnnidge & Evans, 2014; Vierimaa, Turnnidge, Burner & Côté, 2017).  This framework highlights three dynamic elements of Personal Engagement in Activities, Quality Social Dynamics, and Appropriate Settings.  Personal Engagement refers to the activities, games and practices that we as coaches create and lead to engage participants.  Quality Social Dynamics addresses the crucial aspect of coach-participant relationships and interactions between peers within the session, while Appropriate Settings refers to the suitability of the physical environment. 

(Adapted from Côté, 2014; Vierimaa et al, 2017)

When these ‘golden cogs’ work in harmony, the immediate participant experience can play a significant role, through the development of personal assets (confidence, competence, connection and character), in the realisation of the longer-term outcomes of sustained participation, personal development and performance.  As coaches, we might navigate consideration of our own influence on the experiences of participants through reflection on:

·         Our intentions or objectives
·         How we structure the activities we use
·         The coaching behaviours we adopt during the session
·         How we engage with the participants, how the participants engage with each other,         and how they engage with the activity

(Muir, 2018)

(Adapted from Muir, 2018)

Are there differences between our intentions and both our experiences and those of our participants? Have we become aware of perspectives that we weren’t previously? And what might we do now in how we design and deliver future sessions?

As well as immediate in-session experiences, there are a range of wider influences on participant experiences, as well as the experiences of club coaches, parents and volunteers – whose experiences are also important to consider, not least because they are significant enables and influencers of participant experience.  Some of these considerations and influences are summarised in the image below.

At the risk of winning today’s ‘stating the obvious’ competition, a straight forward way of gaining an insight into the experiences of participants and key influencers/enablers is to simply ask!  Four useful questions for this might be:

  • What could we, as a club, start doing to make experiences better?
  • What could we, as a club, stop doing to make experiences better?
  • What do we, as a club, do well already and should continue?
  • What do we do a little bit, that we could do more to make experiences better?

This could be done through a club online survey, or even better though individual or group conversations where you can follow-up to find out even more.  Remember the club experiences of coaches, volunteers and parents are important too!

Great experiences are more likely in a positive club environment.  So what does a good children’s sports environment look like?  Well… every context is slightly different and every individual is slightly different, but a good starting point would be to consider how your club’s practice compares to the iCoachKids pledge:

  4. Make it FUN and SAFE
  5. Prioritise the LOVE for sport above LEARNING sport
  6. Focus on FOUNDATIONAL skills
  7. Engage PARENTS positively
  8. Plan PROGRESSIVE programmes
  9. Use different methods to ENHANCE LEARNING
  10. Use COMPETITION in a developmental way

Why not set aside a little time in the coming weeks to find out some more about the various perspectives and experiences, in-session and/or more broadly, of those involved in your club?

In response to need identified within its Covid-19 survey to support clubs, coaches and volunteers to consider ‘how to engage and re-engage children and young people’,  as part of its ‘Supporting Sport to Build Back Better’ programme, Sport NI is rolling-out a people development project entitled ‘The Club Experience’.  This will include support to explore sports club experiences and a new suite of learning modules for clubs, coaches and volunteers.  Watch out for further information on Sport NI social media channels. 

By Simon Toole, Coaching Consultant, Sport Northern Ireland

@CoachingTooleS @SportNINet #SportNILearning

Further information on some of the content and concepts shared above can be found through the following resources:


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Volunteers at the End of the Tunnel: Retaining Club Covid-19 Volunteers Beyond Covid-19


I don’t need to rehearse what a devastating, uncertain and challenging time that pretty much every aspect of life as we knew it has had since March of this year.  From a sport perspective this has generally impacted negatively upon opportunities to participate, face to face coach and volunteer development provision, club membership and operations, and the ability to generate revenue.  While not making up for these challenges in any way, this time has also seen some positives in relation to the advancements in technology usage and digital learning within the sector. 

One of the most heart-warming positives that I’ve seen first-hand, and heard about second-hand from governing bodies of sport that I work with, has been an apparent spike in sports club volunteers.  Yes, as unlikely as it may seem, in some clubs and some sports there seems to have been an increase in the number of people who are prepared to raise their hand and say ‘yes, I’ll help out with that’.  I fully accept that this spike may not have been at all universal – but, where it has occurred, I am now left with the questions…why has it happened? and… Is there any way we can encourage the new volunteers to stay involved at the end of the tunnel that we are currently in?

Where increases have occurred, most of these new volunteers have become involved in assisting sports organisations to deliver upon the Covid-19 protocols that they have put in place over the past six months, as Covid Officers or Marshals, to enable their activities to re-start. At the club where I coach, we’ve been really fortunate to have had 30 new parent volunteers get involved, who have taken on the task of checking-in every young player and coach as they enter the club facility on the Covid-19 registration App that the club uses.  This has made a huge difference in our ability to operate the club’s activities at the current time.  As a result, our Youth Coaches have been able to focus their attentions on creating positive on-pitch experiences that comply with Covid-19 guidance, rather than adding what would otherwise have been another additional task for the coaching team.

Over the past week or so, those who’ve raised their hand to help with ‘Covid Check-In In’ at the club have been good enough to give me a few minutes of their time complete a survey on their volunteering motivations now and considerations in the future.

Almost 60% of these valuable new volunteers hadn’t previously been involved in helping out with club activities – so why now?  Well, in true Family Fortunes style, ‘our survey said’… that the biggest reason for not previously being involved was limited time available/juggling other responsibilities.  Beyond that, responses included ‘not previously been asked’ and ‘didn’t previously feel I was needed’.  These responses aren’t unexpected based on previous, much larger, volunteer surveys.  But what was different this time?  Why did these people decide to answer the call?

From the responses I received, there seems to have been three common factors in this:

  • Desire to help get children back playing as soon as possible after lockdown.
  • To make a contribution to the club or support the volunteer coaches, and generally spread the workload at a time when they could see we really needed extra help, in appreciation of the opportunities that their child has received.
  • The flexibility of the ‘Covid Check-In’ role.

For context, the ‘Covid Check-In’ role at the club requires around 10 slots to be filled in any one week, and with a pool of 30 volunteers for the role - this means that individuals aren’t required every week.  The rota is operated from Google Sheets in a WhatsApp group and as such each volunteer can select slots around their own availability, and in a frequency that suits them.  The nature of this role seems to have addressed all 3 main reasons for not previously volunteering in that these individuals could see a way of helping that fitted around their other responsibilities, they could clearly see we needed help, and they were being asked to help if they could.

While for many of us it may still seem like a long-way off, at some point down the line, our clubs will be able to return to some form of normality.  So – is there any way that we could retain the involvement of these valuable new volunteers when we reach that point?  Much to my delight, 84% of my new volunteering colleagues at our club said yes, with the remainder replying ‘maybe’.  Brilliant news – but what as a club can we do to make that more likely?

The overwhelming majority of comments in response to this (64%) referenced flexibility, time, availability and frequency in relation to what was being asked of these volunteers.  Communication and organisation were also identified as important – ‘let me know what is needed, when, and give me good notice’, as was finding a role that would make a useful and practical difference. 

This additional support and spreading of the volunteering load is vital to help reduce the number of ‘off-field’ tasks for our coaches, managing what is being asked of them, reducing coach burnout, and as such increasing our chances of coaches at the club continuing to coach into the future.  In a sports club, as in most organisations, many hands really do make light work!

To finish, I humbly offer you my 5 top tips from the experiences of the past few months, and more importantly - the insight shared with me by the parent volunteers over the past week:

  1. Share what you need help with & paint a picture of what difference it will make.
  2. Ask people if they would be willing or able to volunteer some time (I know it’s obvious – but “not being asked” is so often a reason for not volunteering).
  3. Create volunteer roles that can be flexible around other time commitments.
  4. Factor in choice about how & when people can volunteer.
  5. Be planned and organised to allow for maximum notice & role clarity.

By Simon Toole, Coaching Consultant, Sport Northern Ireland

@CoachingTooleS @SportNINet #SportNILearning

Does Psychological Safety Have a Place in Coach Development?

  The date was set. The morning arrived. I jumped in the car with an assortment of nerves, anxiety and excitement. I was making my way to co...