“What are you doing to get better?” is one of my favourite questions to ask coaches. Most often the answer is based around the number of hours they are putting in every week, or the number of different athletes they are working with. Although time on task is important, it can often be a false narrative. Just because you are coaching for many hours per week – or have been coaching every week for many years – does not mean you are putting yourself out of your comfort zone and growing as a coach.
Many sports rely on their formal coach education structure as a filter for coaches – those who are dedicated enough will commit to gaining higher levels of qualification. However, as Doug Lemov points out in Practice Perfect, the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. For me, this means that we need coaches dedicated to improving OUTSIDE of the formal coach education system, which will in turn improve the formal coach education system in a virtuous cycle.
Formal coach education is not top of my list of problems in sport. My problem is with coaches who use their coaching qualification as a badge of honour. The number of Twitter profiles I see that have a list of coaching qualifications in the bio – “UEFA A Licence”, “PRO LICENCE CANDIDATE”, “UKCC Level 4” – is staggering. It’s not that coaches shouldn’t be proud of these achievements, because no doubt it shows that they are at least committed to their craft.
The problem is that it doesn’t actually prove that you are a good coach.
What if you achieved the qualification in 2005? As time progresses and new insights are gained in sport, then information changes; and if information changes, then conclusions should alter. If we are still coaching in 2019 the way we taught to on our formal coach education course in 2005, we are years out of date and doing ourselves – and more importantly, our athletes – a dis-service.
For me, a coaches trajectory is far more important than their level of qualification. Just because a coach is experienced and has “all their badges” does not mean that they are actually any good. It is often the most experienced person who knows which corners to cut. Getting old ideas out of ones head is much harder than having new, innovative ideas.
I believe a licence model is the most effective way to ensure coaches are on an upward trajectory. Some sports use this model, where coaches have to complete X hours of CPD over a 2-3 year period of risk losing their licence and having the qualification expunged. This is a model I would like to see all sports subscribe to. Ideally, this CPD would involve the coach delivering in front of other coaches. Who better to provide the valuable feedback needed to improve than a room / pitch full of peers / experts in your field?
To produce top athletes, we need top coaches. High performers in any field are people that continue to strive, grow and develop, regardless of what level they are at, or how much “success” they have enjoyed. To be consistantly great over an entire career, the comfortable learner must go back to being a restless learner.
Success is a choice. It is the cumulative effect of choosing to do things the right way, not the easy way. Its not getting a certificate, which is just a snapshot in time. Regardless of how good your qualification tells me you are (or aren’t) are, you can always get better.
Great coaches do not become complacent.
(P.S. – one way to get better outside the formal coach education system? Read books, like the ones we discuss in our free, monthly, email Book Club! Click here for more info.)