Coaching in the UK

Coaches graduate from Aspire programme

Wed, 28 Jun 2017

Aspire IV Coaches

All smiles: The Aspire IV graduates at their celebration day. Photograph: ©UK Coaching


A celebration event for graduates of the ‘Aspire IV Talent Coach Development Programme’ took place at the Village Hotel in Nottingham, 26 June.

The event was a chance for coaches on the programme to share their ‘Aspire Learning Journey’ with fellow coaches and guests from UK Sport and the four Home Country Sports Councils, along with their programme mentors. This entailed each coach giving a presentation; highlighting what they’d learnt about themselves, talent development and how their coaching approach had evolved.   

Aspire – currently in its fourth and final cycle – was established four years ago to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours of identified coaches working in the domain of talent/performance sport, and who have the potential to progress to world class level.

Following an interview process, 22 coaches were invited onto the programme and spent over 20-months developing their coaching expertise through a series of workshops and with support from a mentor. The latter ensured each coach received bespoke follow up on key principles from the workshops and opportunities to challenge and reflect on the technical/tactical, psycho-behavioural, physical and social aspects of their coaching practice.

“Excellent cohort of coaches.”

Jane O’Donoghue, a national tennis coach at the Lawn Tennis Association, has been a coach for 10 years. She was told about the programme by her manager and was intrigued by its unusual application process,

“It was the interview process which made me think ‘I want to get on this programme’, because usually you apply for a course and either you’re accepted or you’re not; this felt different – quite inspiring really.

“It’s been excellent, Chris Chapman [Development Lead Officer at UK Coaching] has done a great job; first of all delivering his sessions; providing excellent guest speakers; and also assembling an excellent cohort of coaches. I think that’s what’s been so special about it – talented, humble, knowledgeable individuals all coming together to share their experiences.

Jane’s mentor was Brian Saunders – a UK Sport endorsed mentor; and coach educator and mentor for the Rugby Football Union. As a former teacher, Brian jumped at the chance to be involved with Aspire to develop himself and others; seeing mentoring as a way to empower coaches in high-pressured environments.

“Any system in life which is mutually beneficial works, and having left teaching I wanted to continue to develop myself.

“The people with the high profile are the athletes; [but the] people who work tirelessly behind the scenes are the coaches; in all sorts of environments, under all sorts of pressures – quite rightly to get the best they can out of the athletes – but who looks after the coaches. I don’t think it was unique but it was certainly brave of UK Coaching to come up with a way of supporting the coaches – as too many of our coaches pack-up and too many of our coaches crack-up.

“It was refreshing to say we value what the coaches have got, we value their experience; how can we support them when times get hard. Now it’s not a case of propping that person up, it’s: ‘How we can develop them more? So that they can develop their athletes more’.”

Transition from athlete to coach

Former World Champion and Paralympian, Nathan Stephens knows the world of high performance sport and coaching only too well. Having recently retired from athletics he was just transitioning from athlete to athletics coach, when he joined Aspire in 2015.

“I went straight from competing at the 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships in Swansea to [UK Sport’s] ‘Athlete to Coach’ programme and as soon as I finished that I got approached by Welsh Athletics to apply for the Aspire programme – at the time I knew I needed to do it but mentally I wasn’t in a strong enough place to continue coaching in athletics.

“I think the first couple of sessions I actually broke down when they were asking some of the questions about ‘why do you coach?’ and ‘what are you’re here for?’.

“I didn’t know how to transition from an athlete to a coach because I was still very much in the same environment, coaching the same people I trained with for years. Aspire made me realise I could provide a service to new athletes coming through and give them the experiences that I had growing up and pass on my knowledge.

“I loved being a part of it, it’s been such a fantastic 18 months and I’ve taken so much from it, it’s going to be sad not to spend my two days up here doing the workshops and networking with everybody.”

Chris Chapman, Development Lead Officer for Talent and Performance at UK Coaching, said:

“It is a privilege and honour to work with such hardworking and curious coaches.  We asked them to ‘be in the room’, share and be prepared to be vulnerable at times and they engaged completely in this.  

“Cross sport learning has been very beneficial for the coaches: They’ve challenged and supported one another to be the best they can be. And set-up additional events, webinars and interactions outside of the programme. This really is the long term benefit of empowering coaches, they create a support network for life.”

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