How do coaches learn to be better coaches?

When I first I qualified as a coach, back in 2009, I was told “get your coaching badge, then go and do some coaching.”

It felt odd, having just completed a “taught” course, but it seemed almost a recognition of the failure of coach education to actually teach the new coach what they should do.

It’s as if the coaching qualification was just a license to practice, rather than a preparation for (coaching) life.

But what is wrong with coach education? How do coaches learn?

This post was inspired by a twitter thread bemoaning the failure of English coaches to get top jobs in world cricket.

At home, national teams have Antipodean coaches (and inspirational coaches they seem to be). “Franchises” in TheHundred turn to coaches with franchise experience— almost all from overseas.

It’s not just in cricket — how many English football coaches are working abroad, at club or international level?

And the horror stories emerging from some “Olympic” sports suggest that coaching has a lot to learn.

It does make you wonder what “coach development” is achieving in England.

Pertinent, then, to see that Rob Gray is launching a “Year of the Coach” on his podcast!

Looking forward to hear more from Rob!

What’s wrong with coach education?

At a guess, I’d go with a combination of

  • the legacy of amateur disdain for the professional coach — “give the job to the old pro”,
  • and “great man”/guru syndrome — “you’ve either got it or you’ve not” — and, in consequence of that, lip service to coach development.

See, for example, comments from ex-pros (ex-internationals) with no coaching qualifications, and no intention of getting one — “I know the game inside out, so why do I need a “badge” to coach?”

Ironic, considering how, until very recently, the only way to be sure of getting on to one of the higher coaching awards was to have played First Class cricket — a closed shop that many did not care to qualify for…

Coach education is very much one-way — the trainee listens to a presentation by the Developer (or watches online videos), then delivers activities and is assessed as “competent” or “not yet competent”. The trainee will be told what areas need work, maybe even given some hints on how to “be more competent”, but there is no opportunity to learn how to work with players and colleagues, no opportunity to learn how to learn, no opportunity for “co-creation” or collaboration. †

And I do not believe this represents a valid learning experience for coaches, any more than a simple demonstration and instruction with a bit of feedback would constitute “coaching” for a cricketer, at any level.

In cricket in England, there is currently no formal CPD requirement. In fact, no post-level 2 training below the (expensive) Performance Coach award (notionally equivalent to the old UKCC-accredited level 3).

There is no common forum to discuss coaching, seemingly no desire to have that conversation.

The current iteration of the ECB Coach Development programmes appears to be “politically” motivated — reducing the (genuine) barriers to entry so that the coaching cohort is less “male, pale and stale”.

But at Foundation and Core levels, this has meant removing almost all technical content (so you can be deemed “competent” whilst knowing next to nothing about cricket or coaching), dropping the UKCC accreditation because it imposed regulatory rigour and standards, dropping the First Aid requirement (to save 3 hours or £30?), allowing Foundation coaches to work unsupervised.

There is nothing about how to coach, how people learn and are motivated. No mention of an overarching “philosophy” of coaching, something the ECB’s National Programmes do very much better.

Simply by giving more people a coaching badge it won’t make them any better coaches unless the education and development is better!

† I completed the ECB “Coach Developer” training back in 2019 — got the t-shirt (literally) — but none of the local Counties wanted to use a developer who wasn’t already on their books, and I never got to put the learning into practice before lockdown. But as a trainee “Developer”, I practiced how to instruct and how to assess…I “passed” the training, but left feeling a long way from the CIMSPA definition of a Coach Developer as an “…expert support practitioners who plan for, implement, and sustain strategies and interventions in support of skilled performance in sport coaching.”

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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