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The Future of Coaching

By Mike Dale, Managing Editor (Magazines)

Society is changing. We’re living longer, busier and more demanding lives, but we’re also tech-savvy, health- and image-conscious. The challenge for coaching is how to adapt to these trends.

This subject made for a fascinating debate on the first morning of the 10th UK Coaching Summit, co-hosted by sports coach UK and Sport Wales at the Vale Resort in Cardiff.

High-performance coach and mentor Andy McCann neatly summed up the mindset coaching must adopt: ‘Any organisations who don’t look at future trends – demographic, societal, cultural, geographical and technological - are at risk of going under.’

  • What might the UK coaching system look like in 2026?
  • What trends and societal changes will influence coaching?
  • What direction does coaching need to take to keep up with those trends?

These were the questions posed by a Future Foundation report commissioned last year by the UK Coaching Committee. The findings, revealed at the debate, were split into seven trends relevant to coaching:

- A shifting economic and political landscape

There’s cautious optimism about economic recovery, yet an increasing polarisation between haves and have nots. Great care must be directed towards more vulnerable sections of society so they won’t be marginalised from sport and participation. Coaching must offer value for money and be accessible across socio-economic groups.

- A changing society

The population’s average age is ever-rising. Coaching must get rid of old assumptions about age and participation. We can’t assume people will play sports at particular stages of life. We must offer age-neutrality and broaden our coaching offer for an ageless society.

- Changing identities

Sport must fit in with consumers’ need to share their lives through social media and create their own ‘life story’. Coaching must seek to become part of people’s ‘public identity’. ‘”It’s cool to coach” could be an emphasis,’ suggested Kevin Bowring, sports coach UK board member and RFU Head of Professional Coach Development.

- Switched-on society

Sport is fighting for its place on modern consumers’ daily ‘to-do lists’. A possible solution to this was summarised by Sport England’s Stephanie Maurel as E.A.S.T. (i.e. making sport Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely (so it fits around hectic lifestyles).

- Digital revolution

Sharing run times on social media used to be called ‘showing off’. Now it’s normal. Wearable tech is no longer a novelty. Coaches must tap into this and use technology to connect coach with consumer.

- Healthier lives

Consumers are more knowledgeable and demanding about their own health. Coaches must tailor their offering, perhaps joining forces with occupational therapists and other health professionals to offer bespoke health management.

- Engaging consumers in the 21st century

As a population we’re now more demanding, empowered and selfish. Loyalty has gone. Each consumer is looking for the best offer for them. Coaching hasn’t adapted to this yet, but must look to offer bespoke services for the individual.

The report finished not with conclusions, but aspirations for the coaching community over the next decade; namely that:

  • Coaching is recognised for the benefits it brings to society
  • Coaching is delivered across a range of settings, to a range of people
  • There’s a flexible and agile coaching work force reflecting society
  • Coaching embraces technology

A diagram summarising what coaching might look like in 2025, created as a result of the studies by the Coaching Committee, was shared under the title of The Coaching Universe. This confirms the need for change. As Chair of Sport Wales Professor Laura McAllister stated earlier in the day: ‘By simply doing more of the same, coaching and participation will fall behind in the modern age.’