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
@SportNINet #SportNILearning www.sportni.net/learning
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.