This has been something I’ve attempted to write again and again, only to be deleted and re-thought and deleted again. Is it even really my place to write something like this, what counts experience or knowledge or a little bit of both? I’ve had many discussions with like-minded and not so like-minded coaches within and outside of cycling and endurance sports on topics like this one, the answer? It’s not a simple one.
I’m going to add this in here before we go any further – I’m biased in that I’ve gone down the road of third level education and formal NGB courses along with legitimately setting up my business in terms of insurance, safeguarding, data protection etc. Therefore, I’ll have certain opinions which may not align to others, but this is a piece to cause debate and hopefully address the issue eventually.
Why have we gotten to this point?
Saturation in the market. Anyone can be a coach now, it appears to be aligning itself with the influx of Instagram personal trainers into the world of “gym culture”. So, why are there so many cycling coaches popping up? In my opinion it is because there’s money to be made in it with apparent ease (it seems) from the outset. If we ask ourselves why we coach, and money is topping that list then a revaluation needs to take place. Of course, we need to make a living but if you wouldn’t role up your sleeves and volunteer at a local kid’s league then should you really be coaching the broader cycling community?
Are other sports regulated?
The world of triathlon seems to be like cycling in that anyone off the street can coach it, well the running and cycling anyway. Swimming tends to possess a greater degree of regulation in that you operate in a specific environment and therefore qualifications are needed from lifeguard courses to swim Ireland accreditation in certain circumstances.
To work in a gym you need to do a gym instructor course, although a basic course, it is still needed for gym workers.
On the GAA scene there has been moves to adhere to formal coaching pathways i.e. NGB certification, but it is not compulsory. For up and coming coaches/ new coaches there is a big push for this pathway to be followed.
When we look at rugby many club coaches have coaching certification from their NGB to coach the relevant age groups, when you progress along in the system there is more and more of a push towards third level education.
Quite obviously there are hundreds of other sports we could discuss here but the overarching theme really is that its a lot more common for coaches coaching in a closed environment (field, facility) to follow a coaching pathway than it is for coaches operating in an open environment. In summary, it’s easier to regulate.
Why don’t people avail of Coaching Courses?
In my opinion the primary reason is that they are not valued. There is often a case of what can this person teach me that I don’t already know along with a belief that the athlete doesn’t care either which way if they’re performing. A lot of times individuals going into coaching are ex or current athletes and they feel they’ve been there and done it all already. Of course, we have other contributing factors such as cost and time commitments, but both can usually be overcome with some planning.
There are arguments to be made both ways on this as yes, I’ve been on my fair share of courses where I haven’t gained much from them in terms of professional development but there is always something to be learned. Some courses are excellent, they open your eyes to a realm of possibilities and give valuable networking opportunities with other like-minded people.
Therefore, even if they weren’t a prerequisite, I would highly recommend doing them!
Do good athletes make good coaches?
I’m not going to get into a philosophical debate here because you’ll have die hards on either side. What I will do is outline some ideas from my experience and education in the field of Sports Coaching.
The positives include recognition and respect from athletes almost immediately, practical experience and ability to , contacts within the domain among others.
The negatives include an “if it worked for me then…” attitude. While there are other negatives this one creates problems in terms of athlete development, inability to change coaching styles for an individual among numerous other such issues.
Like everything we’re dealing with individuals here and of course there’s cross over in behaviours and attitudes. In my opinion, practical experience in your chosen sport coupled with formal coaching education may be the “gold standard” for creating good coaches. An argument could be made that as the technicality and tactical nature of the sport goes up experience of competing in the area becomes more and more crucial. Of course, one without the other can and does work but in an ideal world we’d have both.
What do qualifications add to your coaching?
From a basic viewpoint (foundational) they offer you accreditation to an NGB and the perks that go with that, an ability to learn and practice new ideas and an ability to network with other coaches and take experience from other sports or disciplines.
When we branch into level one and upward into level three or world organisation qualifications, we see a more theoretical approach, more mentorship (learning from expert coaches) and knowledge in leadership skills along with physiology and many more avenues.
From here we can discuss third level opportunities such as coaching performance degrees (BSc / MSc / PhD) along with physiology, strength and conditioning and sport psychology. This gives you more of an opportunity to become grounded in the theory along with exposure to practical applications (if you choose your degree wisely!).
The higher level of athlete we begin to work with the more you progress up the ladder in theory, but wouldn’t it be great if we had qualified coaches working through every age group and really building a sustainable model for sports performance from the bottom to the top.
What about the athletes?
For the athlete (or the athlete’s parents) there are some questions you need to ask of your coach. Are they insured, have they completed code of ethics/ safeguarding in sport and have they been Garda Vetted? For working with youths in particular these aspects are essential and not an optional extra.
From my observations there is also a massive outcome orientated coaching style for youths from a lot of coaches. Race results/ wins are all that matters when in fact we need a broader viewpoint to facilitate long term development, unfortunately to make money results become the most important thing to these coaches. Knowledge on the training process, their own response, skills and enjoyment are all such crucial aspects that are often neglected.
What’s the answer?
I’m of the belief that you wouldn’t go to someone who’s Googled how to pull out a tooth to get your tooth pulled out, you’d go to a dentist. So, yes, I’m for regulation to a minimum standard – where that standard is, I’m not too sure. Also, how you implement that standard in a sport like cycling where some athletes have never even seen their coach poses its own challenges.
I think athletes should demand a minimum form of education from their coaches, they should also be aware of any insurance, safeguarding and Garda vetting concerns.
Like I mentioned at the start this is an opinion piece, which we rarely do here on our blog. I’d be interested to hear any feedback from you the reader on experiences or opinions in relation to this.