The Power of Coaching
I have been prompted to write this blog by my colleagues after sharing an email I received that brightened my Monday morning and reminded me why we volunteer and why we coach.
‘X and I were discussing yesterday what an important role Club Hockey- and more specifically YOU- have played in her life and how you have helped to shape her into the driven, ambitious young woman she is. Thank you for supporting and believing in her, you really have been so influential in her 'growth' as not only a keen team player, but as a strong independent person-not so easy for girls these days! I hope you realise how much we, as parents, appreciate all the time and energy you put in -I can assure you it is invaluable to us! Thank you, thank you, thank you :)’
I am not writing an academically research blog but one from experience and a 'gut reaction' developed from years of teaching and coaching women. As a former PE teacher I have been fortunate to receive some lovely comments from parents and students. This email, however, stunned me as I rarely get such lovely compliments that remind me so vividly of the role of sport in developing confidence and life skills in young women. My PE department handbook philosophy stated over 25 years ago that:
‘….students can learn to compete with others and improve their own standards in a controlled situation on the ‘playing field’ with a set of rules and boundaries. Learn to co-operate with others and learn to win gracefully and lose with dignity. Leadership potential is realised within a team situation and general social development is promoted….’
This sounds very competitive and old fashioned but the fact is life is competitive, we compete for school places, University places and jobs and we need to prepare students, particularly young women to cope with life in the workplace. Sport has the power to enable you to channel your energies in a manner that creates good valuable citizens through developing social skills, teaching co-operation, teamwork and the ability to abide by rules and boundaries.
I have always believed that there is a sport for everyone and while a keen team player myself I took a very antiquated curriculum and so set about offering a varied programme that provided everyone with something that might appeal, from aerobics (as it was then called), to self-defence.
A former pupil once said:
‘Miss Baker you probably don’t remember me I wasn’t very sporty and you said if you could get me to run for a bus you would be happy’. I said ‘Yes of course I remember you and you look very fit and well.’
She was about 30 at the time and replied:
‘You taught me to use the gym and gave me confidence to join a gym. I love it and go regularly.’ A key aspect of my time at this school was to change the PE uniform from the horrendous green knickers and aertex shirts to cycling shorts, sweat shirts, jogging bottoms, beanie hats, gloves and water proof tops for outside. Everyone should be comfortable in whatever activity they participated in. This was in 1987, so although I am not a fashionable person, I am horrified to hear stories of students, especially girls, still being made to wear old fashioned PE kit in 2015.I found that more young women were prepared to be active once comfortable in what they were wearing.’
A more recent reunion found me with some members of my first hockey squad that won the National schools championship. Now strong powerful women in their early 40s all with children of their own, holding down high powered jobs as doctors, lawyers, barristers, business women and one teacher. Interestingly they were all involved in their children’s sport and indeed had continued to play at University and beyond. One running a pony club, one a netball club, a tennis coach and one Barrister who was a very high level gymnast and ran a gymnastics club whilst also giving kettlebell lessons to mums in the same deprived city area. Another member, not at the reunion, has even changed from being a successful corporate lawyer to work in sport and championing women in sport. I have always found that those who enjoy sport often have a good work/life balance with the ability to achieve both academically and socially.
I believe in offering opportunities to young people in a firm, fair and consistent manner. The value of time keeping, loyalty, commitment and developing a passion for the sport become a by-product. A coach needs to set a strong example of commitment, nurture young players, offer constructive advice and praise where praise is due. Qualitative feedback is crucial in their development as players and as young people in life. It can build confidence, independence, and leadership, provide an outlet for frustration and also build lasting friendships.
A coach needs to give 100% and sometimes that is tough. However, players know if you are passionate about what you do and a loyal bond develops. No-one wants to let anyone down when in a team and it is a value that continues into the workplace and across a variety of life situations.
I have been involved in the last 17 years with students from the University of Exeter. Many people asked why I bothered when they were only in the area for 3 years. How vindicating it was for me to walk through the Olympic park in 2012, several years later and meet many of them. I believed that giving them a club experience whilst at University would help to keep them in the sport. So many of them now are playing hockey at various levels, with many holding leadership roles and running junior sections in clubs. A number who stayed in the Devon area are officers and committee members at my club.
There is so much more variety of sport and physical activity on offer now and we need to encourage everyone to take part whatever their ability. Within sports I believe that you should set tasks that are achievable. I believe in setting goals that can be easily achieved therefore building confidence. You should then, set some goals that can be achieved with practice and some long term goals that may be aspirational. Ensure success can be achieved and build confidence, then challenge them to achieve more if appropriate.
I believe in welcoming people, obviously knowing names and if possible something about them. You should ask them if there is something key in their lives, a birthday, a holiday, moving house, starting schools with children, or even an exam. Understanding motivations for taking part are also crucial to developing players, what are their ambitions and desires? Talk to individuals, keep them active, intensity high and demand high standards for the able players with a high level of activity for those taking part for fitness so as to stretch them to achieve. Know who wants pushing harder to achieve more, and be sensitive to those who want a little bit of exercise. Have a joke and above all have FUN!
I have many flaws, bluntness at times and I make no apology for demanding commitment, high standards, respect and not settling for less than anyone’s best. It is knowing what that ’best’ might be and it is different for everyone. If we believe in players and young women, they are capable of achieving more in sport and in life. Education and sport often let young people down by accepting mediocrity. Coaches need to stimulate and lead by example to develop independent, competent and ambitious young women. Everything is possible with the right guidance and sport has a great role to play in life.
Anne Baker, sportscoachUK Coach Education Advisor