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Have you got a thirst for learning?

By Rachel Hooper: Coach Education Advisor at sports coach UK

I recently read a tweet from a university fresher that read: ‘Mature Students. Why do you ask so many questions? #geeks’.

Having been a mature student myself, I knew exactly what the tweet was referring to. I was the one at the front wanting to ask more questions and getting frustrated when others were talking at the back. I was interested in the subject and I wanted to learn more about it. 

People enter into adult education for a variety of reasons. Some have to get a qualification as part of their job, others just like collecting certificates while my favourite group (I know I’m not supposed to have favourites) are the ones who want to be there to improve themselves. They want to learn a new skill and continue on the journey of personal development to in turn, be able to support their athletes better. 

It’s no different for sports coaches. On the first day of every course they will usually be asked by the tutor why they are there and invariably they always fit into three distinct categories. If you’ve attended a coach education course you’ll probably recognise them.

The Grump
‘I’ve been told I have to be here’. Sometimes they're there to help their club achieve clubmark status or because they need a qualification to stay licensed as a coach. They’ll sit as far away from the tutor as possible and often believe they won’t learn anything new. This learner can bring down the energy levels in the room with one or two sweeping generalisations about how straight forward coaching is - and comments such as there’s no need for them to be there because his/her athletes have been unbeaten all season don’t you know?

These learners often pose the greatest challenge for the tutor but more often than not have a ‘light bulb moment’ when they realise that maybe they don’t know EVERYTHING – at which point they begin to show a desire to learn.

There are always those stubborn few who refuse to believe they’ve learned anything new and return to their club and continue with the same coaching behaviours, albeit with a coaching qualification to their name.

The Certificate Chaser
‘I want to get another qualification’. Mostly found on level one and sometimes level two courses, these are the learners who want something else to put on their CV. They will usually show an enthusiasm about being there and also show some well developed generic coaching skills as a result of attending so many courses. The main challenge is looking beyond the end of the coaching course.

I recently asked someone what they wanted to do with the skills they had learned on their course. ‘Nothing’ they said, ‘I want to go and do another level one in a different sport’.  After a long discussion they agreed to get in touch with their local club to do some coaching over the next six months before embarking on their next qualification. My hope is that they will find coaching itself is as much of a learning experience as attending a course.

The Developing Coach
‘I want to improve my coaching’. Bingo! That’s what’s we’re looking for! These are the people who have that thirst for learning. Most coach education courses involve an amount of independent study beyond face-to-face delivery. It’s the responsibility of the learner to go away and develop their skills using resources such as mentors, online information and sport specific reading. And equally, it’s the responsibility of the tutor to nurture that thirst for learning and be more than someone who just delivers a PowerPoint presentation.

The bottom line though is that as coaches we should know that coach education goes way beyond coaching qualifications. I’m always looking for new opportunities to develop but don’t always see them. A few weeks ago a club coach asked if he could come and see what I was doing with my athletes. It was great experience to have someone else with me, having discussions about how to communicate about certain techniques and picking up on areas for improvement I hadn’t previously noticed. We learned from each other and even something as simple as a chat with another coach can give you so many ideas on how to improve yourself and maybe just try something different.

There are thousands of coaches out there who want to learn beyond their formal coaching qualification. Even something as simple as Twitter where coaches often pose scenarios they are facing with their athletes to find solutions. Finding that network of learning, whatever form it takes means you’re open to new ideas and can continue to improve.

If you’d like to share how you prefer to learn as a coach, why not post a comment and get a discussion going?