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How to Build a RAINBOW

Nigel Hetherington, Freelance Sports Education Trainer

Twitter: @Nigel_BH

As coaches can we be forgiven for having egos and taking the credit for the great performances of our teams and players?  Or, should coaches be altruistic at all times and not seek any egocentric success? 

Coaching can be a thankless task, particularly for volunteers, yet even the professional may receive little recognition.  Ultimately, if you are the coach to the runner-up, does anyone remember you?  Are you not a failure?  And, what about all those participants who never made the final, those who were long forgotten by the time the big day arrived - what about their coaches – are they lesser coaches?

The realty is that in any competitive sport there are winners and losers – a professional football team coach in Scotland was recently fired for his team winning only three of their last 13 matches.  On a pro rata basis 40% of the managers of current Barclays Premier League clubs in England would be fired right now for the same level of ‘failure’ (ironically, at the time of publication, two have met this fate in the last two weeks!).  The fact is, not all teams can win most matches and not all participants can win most competitions.  Ok, accepting that the do-or-die situation at the top-flight of professional sport may be a necessary evil, does that mean it should be the same for all coaches?  Should all coaches be judged on ‘results’ output?  What else could be termed ‘success’?

As anyone who has ever tried knows, if you move toward the base of a rainbow to locate the pot of gold, the rainbow confounds you by moving with you – you never quite reach the base!  So, the solution is blindingly obvious - build your own rainbow so you know exactly where the base is!

So, how do we build a rainbow?

 If you research folklore around rainbows and the fabled pot of gold at the end, and the Iroquois’belief that a rainbow was a bridge to a ‘land in the sky’ left many seeing rainbows as a route to a better life.

Let’s put this into a context:  Many of you are familiar with the classical 7C’s model1 for developing personal qualities – e.g. resilience is often quoted.  In the context of multi-skills development the 7C’s model can be adapted to meet positive youth development needs in a coached sports environment.  The C’s below appear to cover the spectrum of different needs for the construction of our rainbow.

Note 1:‘The C system’ for coaching

The 'C system' for coaching in its many guises stems from the original work of Prof. Richard Lerner and his colleagues at Tufts University in the USA in Positive Youth Development. In coaching, a number of authors have used Lerner's ideas in a sporting context. For instance Jean Cote and Wade Gilbert (2009) and David Haskins, Sergio Lara-Bercial and Sue Jolly for sportscoach UK (2010 and 2011).

The C’s for sports coaching that make up our rainbow are competence, confidence, connection, creativity, character and caring:

 I will start with connection and I want you to pause right now and ask yourself: Why am I starting here?

What does the word ‘connection’ suggest to you in your coaching?  My guess is, most of us rarely ask ourselves this question?  And yet, through all our experience, in all our life, connection is where it all starts and is the single common thread running through everything we do and everyone we interact with – do you disagree?

But, what does connection look like?  What do we mean by connection?  Let me share some examples from coaches I have observed working with young participants in a multi-skills sport environment:

Pamela ran a coaching session with young children shortly after the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. As she grouped the children around her she simply asked some questions and took some related actions, as follows:

“Did any of you see the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow?”

“Yes” they shrieked.

“And, can you tell me any countries that were competing?”


“Very good, they’re so fast the Jamaicans aren’t they!”

“Any other countries”


“Yes, of course. And what animals comes from Australia?”


“Excellent, and how does a kangaroo move?”

“Jumping, like this…”

“Nice jumping, can we all be kangaroos….”

“Now, can we name another country?”

Further replies and related movements flooded in including:

“Kenya - Maasai dancing”

“Scotland - Highland dancing”

And so Pamela set to work having huge fun with the kids doing the things they were familiar with or had seen recently. Constructing simple activities around the movements, involving everyone. She built a rapport with the kids, learning their names, praising their suggestions and efforts, working on their wavelengths – brilliant, absolutely brilliant connection.

For the technically minded amongst you it may help to look at this from another angle (that these participants really didn’t need to be thinking about):

  • Kangaroo jump:        Horizontal two-footed jump, management of base of support and forward centre of mass, controlled landing
  • Maasai dance:           Vertical jump, narrow base of support, no counter-balance, stiff-legged to maximise plyometric action and potential energy return
  • Highland dance:        Jump coordination – single-leg landings, counter-balance

Another example achieving the same outcome with younger kids was where their coach asked them to name different types of beans and the movement and sound to describe them - jumping, runner, baked, French, broad, Mexican jumping and so on…  Very quickly all the kids were engaged, copying each other and sharing their own ideas.  The connection between coach and participants and between the kids was tangible as the session developed – elegance, pure elegance.

We ran a course recently to undergraduate coaches and the single biggest post-course reflection was that they would all seek to develop their connections; in recognition of the immense benefits to running effective sessions and achieving great outcomes for all – blinding flashes of multi-coloured light!

As a coach, imagine what might be possible, when you create connections through engaging participants on this level?  How might confidence or creativity be affected and is this a root source of caring?

Connection: the white light from which the remaining C’s are derived in order to build a rainbow.

In sport, if we continue to pursue competition outcome results as the main measure of success then very soon no one will want to be a coach – surely, we should stop chasing rainbows and start building them instead – you have the tools!

Like any worthy construction it takes time and patience though…


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