By Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport
Coaches are an integral part of sport at every level. Without good coaches to inspire, support, nurture and encourage players and athletes to the next level, the quality of any active experience would quickly diminish. In Jersey we are hugely supported by the volunteer coaching community, whose commitment and efforts ensure that Jersey delivers strong opportunities for engaging in sport. However, we can still do more. Coaching is in its very essence a vocation where you never stop learning or developing, and we should be more to look at coaching from a wider perspective, taking into account our island’s massive sporting potential and future growth.
Sport England has defined coaching as: “Improving a person’s experience of sport and physical activity by providing specialised support and guidance aligned to their individual needs and aspirations.”
Sport is hugely important to Jersey’s economy and its social and community fabric and improving the quality and reach of sports coaching is just one part of a multi-faceted approach to an island-wide strategy to improve health and activity levels and inclusivity. I want to see local clubs investing in their coaches; to support volunteers with training, enhancing their skills and being offered pathways for progression, including it becoming a professional career.
There’s perhaps a common misconception (particularly amongst non-sports players), that coaching is simply a group of dads running around on the sidelines of a muddy field at the weekend shouting words of tactical motivation at a group of young footballers. The idea of getting cold and wet and giving up part of your weekend for free seems highly unappealing, but when viewed from this perspective it’s missing the vital point. In investing your time, energy and skills in a group of sports players, you’re offering more than just technical instruction. Coaching is much more than that. Coaching requires the skills and knowledge to motivate and nurture real, individual people so that they may go on to benefit from sport at whatever their chosen level is -elite or beginner.
Coaching is about teaching dedication, hard work, growing self-esteem, and learning to accept defeat. It teaches skills transferable into so many areas of life, demonstrated so many times by sports personalities throughout the media, but which happens under our noses in every community.
Coaching isn’t always an easy path to take however. There still remains, very similar to participation figures, a huge lack of diversity – worldwide as well as in Jersey – with women, minority groups and those from low socio-economic backgrounds mostly missing from the conversation. In a society that is working towards breaking down barriers and becoming fairer and more inclusive, it’s important that we consider the lack of diversity in all aspects of future planning for sports, clubs and coaching. If you are from a minority group and interested in trying out a new sport, it’s highly likely that you won’t choose clubs or sports where you feel underrepresented. Encouraging more diversity amongst coaches and within teams and clubs, is a powerful first step in tackling inequalities that exist in this sector.
Another common misconception in sport coaching is that the higher the level of qualification you have, the better the coach you are! Not true. National insight and evidence points to something quite the opposite at times. To be a good coach, yes you have to have technical understanding of a sport, but what shines through even more importantly is the ability to adapt your delivery to your audience. Coaching a group of young people not engaged with sport and using it as a tool to reduce negative behaviours and empower individuals with the right attitude to make better life choices, looks like a very different session to a group of netballers returning to the sport for the first time in 10 years. Coaching is a position of significant responsibility and one that can create huge impact when it’s people-focused.
At Jersey Sport, we talk to students on a regular basis that who would love a career in sports coaching. Just as sports players need funding and support to travel off-island to competitions and events to continue improving their sporting skills, so do coaches require ongoing training and mentoring opportunities to be able to make sport inviting and relevant to the widest possible audience.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us fantastic new opportunities in the form of blended learning: the chance to take courses and certifications in sports coaching from the comfort of your own sofa, reducing the need for expensive off-island travel, time off work and away from family. With many people now working more flexible hours and based partly from home, this opens up even more possibilities for those interested in sports coaching to be able to put into action something they’d only dreamed about before.
At the core of my work as CEO of Jersey Sport is a desire to see more people get involved in sports and coaching at all levels, and for everyone to feel supported and encouraged to fulfil their potential. I am passionate about developing coaches, building the coaching workforce and getting more people involved in sports. While taking on a coaching role is a big commitment, I’d love to see people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures getting involved, including those who have recently moved to the island. Sport and coaching are a great way to meet new people, follow your sporting passion and get involved in giving back to the community.
If you’re interested in playing a hugely valuable role as a coach in Jersey, please contact our Sports Partnership Officer, Libby Barnett at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published in the Bailiwick Express on 21 October 2021.