Does Coach Education Actually Improve the Standard of Coaching?

Ok, you have an interest in coaching but you're busy, so give me 4 minutes of your day (yes I've timed it) and read the following…

Let's start with a simple formula: Better Coaches = Better Players

That's our starting point. If you believe this to be true (that the more we can help coaches to improve, the better chance we have to do likewise for the players under their care), then this article is for you.

So here's the big question: Why is it often the case that a profession built around the very idea of effective teaching and learning, regularly under-delivers when it comes to educating its own members? Coaches who care deeply about helping their individual players and teams to grow, improve and reach their potential, are themselves often poorly prepared, ill-informed and far from ready to guide players confidently. In countries/regions/clubs where the standard of player performance is below par, would it be fair to say that behind this is almost always a significant room for improvement in the standard of coaching?

Now before I mention the issue of coaching courses and ongoing professional development, a word is needed about personal responsibility. It should of course go without saying that the digital age brings incredible opportunities for self-education and ongoing individual learning. It is for this reason that we do see coaching outliers – Coaches who display excellent levels of aptitude and ability, despite coming from structures and systems that would appear to be far from efficient. But just because it might be possible to develop as a coach independently and without an appropriate support system of initial training and ongoing education, this certainly doesn't mean that a solo strategy is to be universally promoted. The very foundation of innovation and growth in any sport is the sharing of ideas, comparison of results across different approaches and the driving of higher standards through collaboration. If we really want better coaches, we can't just hope for the few individual outliers to deliver results.

So what then is the roll of initial coach education and ongoing professional development? In theory, both options should provide opportunities for coaches to build their bank of knowledge and to expand their professional skill-sets. Unfortunately, there are significant limitations to the standard 'everyone sit down and listen to the expert' approach, evident at most coach education events. Primarily, when we organise a coaches' training or workshop session using this model, almost nobody in the audience is getting what's best for them. Instead, the event is inevitably targeted at some notion of the 'average', with coaches in the audience receiving a generic message, targeted by the presenter in terms of what might be useful for 'most people'. Imagine we took the same approach when coaching our players or teams – Would this be acceptable?

The huge irony in coach development is that almost everybody involved in any form of education (teachers, coaches, corporate learning professionals) have known for years that there are a range of core principles underpinning effective instruction: Building group programmes around individual goals, using flipped learning to maximise contact hours, learning and training in a way that mirrors the performance environment, etc. And yet how often do we see initial coach education or professional development events attempting to promote these strategies, instead of using the same instructional methods that would have been employed fifty years ago? Not very often.

Aside from an occasional flourish into the world of effective education, where are the opportunities for coaches to learn by research and reporting? Where is the active learning model (as opposed to the passive audience member model)? Why are coaches still observing someone else talking (instead of observing the actual sport or coaching in action)? And how can coaches learn to develop the most important skill required in any teacher/student interaction (the skill of building effective relationships) by reading a coaching manual?

It's time to change how we train and support our coaches. It's not reasonable to expect high standards of them, while those who hope to raise the standards of coaching employ strategies that often fall far below this bar. It's about completely revisiting the idea of what it means to train and to help a coach develop. It's about getting a blank piece of paper and starting afresh with the question “How can we help our coaches be the best coaches in the world”? It's about setting the same standards for our coaches as we would for our players, about benchmarking performance, evaluating progress and facilitating those who want to be the absolute best. It's about remembering where we started: Better Coaches = Better Players, and about accepting that if we actually believe this statement, we can't for a minute expect to have the best players until we start displaying the drive, passion and commitment required to build an innovative, informed and individualised system of education for our coaches.