Like a lot of coaches, volunteers and instructors, during the last 10 weeks I’ve spent many hours online accessing the plethora of learning and development opportunities that have been made available. Some of it has been excellently delivered and has challenged my practice as a coach, whilst others have only acted as a simple refresher. And between you and I, it feels like I’ve become an armchair coach.
It reminds me of films I watch where there’s so much going on and I struggle to take it all in, so I end up asking my better half ‘what is happening now?’. I kind of feel like that with my learning, I need more time to make sense of it. However, in doing so I know now that learning is not why I coach, but is an important by-product to me for why I coach. So, why do I coach?
The sport I coach is futsal and I’m lucky enough to work in a talent pathway with the best players in the country, as well as with a local club in Bedford helping those newer to the game – yet I’ve not seen any of them in more than two months. Coaching continues somewhat digitally, but we all know it’s not the same. Perhaps nothing will be again - crikey, that’s a scary thought.
For one, the way we deliver sessions as coaches might be constrained for many months to come and that’ll certainly test our ability to provide positive environments. However, what aspects will remain and do they resonate with why I coach?
The planning and preparation time? The time spent communicating with players and parents? Making sure the players have a fun time? All important, and aspects of coaching I enjoy. But it still feels like there’s something else I’m yearning for. I ask again, why do I coach?
Currently, each weekday morning at 8.45am, for 35 minutes, I’ve entertained my two children, Arthur and Sadie, with daddy’s homemade PE. I say daddy’s, but the truth is that the activities are pretty much governed by them. I do coach though, so I guess it’s in my nature to each night, taking the most honest feedback from Arthur, prepare another session for the next day to ensure they’re remaining as active as possible in these strange times.
Some days it goes well, and other days can be more challenging, but certainly each one is good fun and the fact they want to do it every day is a positive sign. I love seeing that enjoyment on their faces and that’s very important to me in coaching, but I also see that smile from other things they do, playing with friends and family, riding their bikes or even from playing a board game. So, why do I coach?
Then it hit me. We‘d finished home schooling for the day and I sat outside in the sunshine about to finish the book I’m reading – ‘The Greatest’ by Matthew Syed. Arthur and Sadie started playing in the garden and I noticed Arthur assuming the role as a coach asking Sadie to undertake various movements. Then, what happened next spelt out to me exactly why I coach. Arthur supported Sadie to learn a new skill.
She’s only two and the skill she learnt was hopping on one leg. In that 60 seconds Arthur explained the activity very clearly, differentiated it so she could work towards an achievable goal, supported the learning by holding her hand to begin with and even used demonstration and positive praise to motivate her to achieve. By George, she got it! In 10 weeks of daddy’s home school PE, this was by far the best bit of coaching that had taken place. That minute was full of surprise, a glorious feeling that filled everyone’s faces.
That was it – being surprised! I realised why I coach. I coach to be surprised, to create environments where young people do the most amazing things.
I was surprised that Arthur so brilliantly took on the role of coach, showing great empathy to support his younger sister to learn. He was surprised that his sister actually responded so well to him and what he was doing. A huge smile appeared across his face as he stepped away and she continued to hop. And of course, Sadie surprised herself by being able to hop on one leg for a distance of about six metres. She had a huge smile across her face. You could see her computing what she’d just done, and she was rightly very proud of herself.
All three of us had been surprised! It was a beautiful moment, a moment that made me reminisce about my 16 years of coaching and all the players and participants who’ve surprised me in all sorts of amazing ways – finding happiness, learning a new skill, achieving something quite personal. Those are the moments I long for again, for young people filled with happiness, passion and a desire to do things differently to achieve something for a split second they were not sure was possible.
Surprise. That’s why I coach!
It’s important we remember, especially during what would’ve been Coaching Week, that the sport and physical activity workforce are people, and that these amazing people do so much for participants up and down the country. We need to thank them and, more importantly in these crucial times, ensure they’re reminded why they do what they do. As without them, there would be no sport, nor indeed opportunities for surprise.