Peer-to-peer mentoring: the future of coach development?

“we need to develop world class coaches for beginners”

Frank Dick

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the challenge of developing coaches to work with beginners — children, or adults, new to a sport or to sports in general.

When I wrote that post, I asked what was being done to deliver on the ambition espoused by Frank Dick, and supported by many others.

I received some feedback that recognised the issue, but no suggestions of what could be done about it.

Since then, I have completed a quietly inspirational online course, Coaching Others to Coach.

And I might have seen the future of coach development in England.

Just maybe, it looks a bit like you, or me.

Many coaches working at the entry level will be volunteers, often relatively inexperienced, and perhaps with little prospect of developing skills within their existing coaching environment.

The perception is that “better” coaches work with “better” athletes, therefore to become “better” a coach is obliged to aspire to move “up” the coaching ladder, from a participation role towards Development or Performance environments.

But if you want to be a great coach for beginners? You are pretty much by yourself.

Hence the call from Frank Dick et al. — we need to develop world class beginners’ coaches.

But is it happening?

In my last post, I rather dismissed the crucial role of mentors in the new coach development pathway as “…a remedial exercise to supplement the training offered in streamlined level 1 & 2 courses.”

But I might have missed the point on mentoring.

The Coaching Others to Coach course, supported by Sport England and hosted on the Open Learn platform, includes excellent sections on active listening skills, asking good questions, and how to provide effective feedback — specifically in the role of coach developer, but equally relevant to the coaching function, as well.*

There are also several interesting (and challenging) thoughts on mentoring.

And this might be an area with scope for supporting the beginners’ coach.

Learning at this level is perhaps more about getting better at what you do, rather than looking to pick up more technical knowledge. Sharing experience with coaches in similar roles, rather than looking at the “Performance” coaches and trying to copy what they do.

No point aping Trevor Bayliss when you are coaching the u9s softball squad!

With the greatest respect to the coach developers I have met, it might be that they are not the best candidates as mentors for coaches in participation roles.

There is a lot to be said in favour of peer-to-peer mentoring and the development of “critical friendships”. Learning from and with fellow coaches; sharing best practice.

Perhaps rather grandly described as “communities of practice”…why shouldn’t a “self help” group develop around a coach ed cohort, or a group of local grassroots clubs?

OK — another element for my coach ed minimum set — peer-to-peer mentoring.


* The sections on listening, questions & feedback are so good, in fact, that some of them might qualify for the coach ed minimum set!

As coaches we are told that questioning is a key skill. How often do we really get beyond CfU?

That we should Observe, then provide Feedback. But are we ever taught how to really observe or listen? Or the most effective way of providing feedback?

3 thoughts on “Peer-to-peer mentoring: the future of coach development?

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the feedback on my work, it’s really useful and I’m glad you’re enjoying the series.

    Coaching kids is something I’ve been pondering for a while now. I never learnt how to play cricket myself and I see it as a great way to learn more about the game and to give back to my small town local community. As a teacher, most of my thought process around coaching comes from within that framework, so it’s interesting to read your thoughts on this here.

    “Communities of practice” is definitely a thing! All good teachers do it, not just to share workloads, but to learn from each other. Student behaviour is a great example – sharing strategies on how to deal with difficult students is essential not only to improving practice, but in keeping yourself sane 😉

    One of the elements of my own practice that I think might be valid for coaching kids is to not be results orientated. This is obviously the exact opposite of what most high performance coaches would do. And this is not a call for a ‘participation prize’ culture, but recognising that kids develop differently at different stages and play sport for different reasons. I think a lot of junior coaches aren’t fully aware of what their responsibilities are to young people – it goes beyond teaching them to play cricket. A coach or teacher may be the only positive and stable adult in a young person’s life, and the impact one can have on them goes way beyond the boundary. Through not being focussed on outcomes, but instead being focussed on each child reaching their potential, it’s easy to have different mindsets for different kids. If you’ve got a team member who has an unstable or unhappy home, who isn’t particularly talented, and is playing cricket mainly for the opportunity to be with their friends, then missing an occasional practice is not something you should punish them for (but it is a warning sign that there may be some pastoral care needed). Likewise, if you’ve got a 12 year who looks like they might grow into something special, then missing a practice to hang out with some mates at the shops is them not working to their full potential.

    I think junior coaches could learn a lot from keeping an eye on developments in pedagogy. Education is a surprisingly rapidly developing field as it has become more evidence based and moved from a trade to a profession. If you’re over 40, there’s a really good chance the way you were taught as a kid is considered to be pretty out of date by now.

    1. Hi Anth

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I do agree re leaning more about the game through coaching it — I had played for more than 30 years before I got my first coaching badge; 10 years later, I am still learning more about the game, every time I coach.

      Interesting re communities of practice in schools — I know it happens, but the concept was presented to me as something radical only 3 or 4 years ago, when I served a term as a governor at a UK secondary school.

      The “new” coaching qualifications in the UK are being promoted as a major update, but I think perhaps they are really only catching up with teacher training. I don’t know how they compare to the Cricket Australia model — we do seem to be trailing behind in a number of areas (All Stars Cricket follows the old MILO in2cricket, junior formats are belatedly being changed to mirror what CA introduced 2 or 3 years ago), and coach development might also be playing catch-up.

      Certainly, one element appears to be a recognition of the important role of coaches working with beginners — yes, to set potential “high performers” on their way, but also to provide an environment that encourages positive engagement with sport for all.

      New coaches will be empowered to get out and coach, but are expected to develop further through self-paced learning (especially via online resources), mentoring and CoPs.

      Quite a challenge (a) to move on from the traditional “tutor knows best” coach ed model and (b) to develop new coaches who are able to to thrive in a less structured development environment.

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