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UK Coaching Team
Developing Mindsets

Coaching Industry Can be Major Player in Crusade to Reduce Plastic Pollution

Coaching’s modern remit goes far beyond its traditional definition of helping to ‘unlock a person’s potential to maximise their performance’. UK Coaching’s Blake Richardson argues that, as coaching’s reach continues to expand, it should stretch to influencing political and environmental change

A few years ago, UK Coaching ran a campaign entitled ‘Coaching Can…’, a compact and catchy slogan that begged a question, and duly delivered answers that succeeded in raising awareness of the wide-ranging benefits of coaching.

Tales of how coaching had made a meaningful and measurable impact on people’s lives and on developing and delivering a cohesive community abounded.

Our most recent, and ongoing campaign promoting #GreatCoaching is designed to help people who are being coached, coaches and the wider public understand what great coaching looks and feels like. 

As we continue to strive towards creating a more active nation, it is important that every section of our society understands that coaching can be the nudge people need to help them make the leap from contemplation to action.

But even this is only scratching the surface of coaching’s power and potential to leave lasting legacies.

These legacies stretch beyond the traditional dictionary definition of improving performance and personal satisfaction, and beyond the new broader definition of coaching – with the coaching family having now grown to include coordinators, volunteers, activators, leaders, instructors, teachers, trainers, fitness instructors, and anyone else who inspires others and is making a positive difference.

Extending its reach into new markets has helped to shine an even brighter light on the impact that great coaching is having on shaping people’s physical, psychological, social and emotional wellbeing – particularly around pressing contemporary issues like mental health, obesity, gender inequality, crime and social isolation.

Aim high to achieve great things 

But why stop there? We shouldn’t just be lauding coaching as a tool for achieving social good and personal empowerment and fulfilment, we should be investing more heavily in coaching as a mechanism to bring about political and even environmental change.

It is a big target but, as the saying goes, shoot for the moon. Then, even if you miss, you'll land amongst the stars.

As an industry, it is incumbent on us to show the government just what else we can do. 

UK Coaching passionately believes that we should be positioning coaching as a solution to a number of priority focus areas laid out by the government. 

Because coaching has the power and influence to help Parliament achieve its desired outcomes.


Millions of reasons to be eco-friendly

Taking a key role in the purge on plastics is one salient example of how coaching can make a difference beyond its spectrum of primary functions. 

There are more than three million active coaches in the UK. That enormous and intensely passionate active workforce engages over nine million adults and four million children and young people.

It is prudent then to consider ways the industry can leverage the close relationship its coaches have with these 13 million people (which represents 20% of the population).

Any intervention project – or series of integrated initiatives – involving coaches persuading their participants to bring environmentally friendly, re-usable bottles to training sessions and games could have a hugely positive impact in line with government policy on reducing people’s reliance on plastic.

Single-use plastics, after all, are commonly associated with exercise – with good hydration vital in ensuring the body performs at its optimum level. The upshot of this is that millions of bottles of water and energy drinks are consumed and discarded every week.

Dog walkers will know this better than anyone. Empty plastic water, energy drink and fizzy pop bottles litter outdoor sporting venues and playing fields, with playful canines dispersing them from pitch-side to every conceivable nook and cranny of our open green spaces.

Do the maths

Say one junior football club joins a programme backed or initiated by, for argument’s sake, the Football Association.

This club has age groups from under-fives (consisting of a single dribblers or minis section) through to under-16s and open-age teams (comprising an average of three teams in each age group). That’s an active membership of more than 500.

Now say half of those members (250) bring a non-recyclable bottle to training and match-days each week (500 bottles). Training may go on all-year round, but just counting the eight months of the league season between September and the start of May gives you a simple sum of 500 x 8 = 4,000 plastic bottles, there or thereabouts, each year – not including the drinks they consume outside of club sessions.

Now factor in that there are more than 11 million active footballers in England alone. 

And bear in mind there are more than 7,000 registered sports clubs in the UK (as at September 2019). 

You can clearly see how becoming a plastic-free club would bring about positive environmental change.

Water sad state of affairs!


In May of last year, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee Mary Creagh MP wrote to the Chairs of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Football Leagues to encourage them to harness the power of sport in the fight against single-use plastics

Talking to the UK Parliament website, she said: “There is a huge opportunity for sports organisations to reduce the use of throwaway plastic at matches and encourage fans to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I want the UK’s football leagues to show leadership on this issue.”

We have all read the shocking statistics around avoidable plastic waste and the damage that plastic is doing to our environment.

Urging the country to mobilise the power of sport to eradicate the use of single-use plastic bottles, Creagh referenced the fact that 700,000 plastic bottles are littered in the UK every day

Here are a few more stand-out statistics that emphasise the scale of the problem:

Away from the grim reality of the figures, the words in these articles warn of the contamination risk and danger to human health posed by drinking from plastic bottles – particularly those containing the industrial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which for 60 years has been used in the manufacturing process of certain plastics. The fear is the chemicals and toxins can seep out into the liquid over time.  

Whether you believe the studies linking drinking from plastic bottles to increased risk of developing diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and some cancers, or shrug off the stories as a chemical witch-hunt, alarmist and pseudo-science, you should ask yourself: ‘do I really want to take that risk?’.

What is undeniable is the damage plastic is wreaking on the planet, contaminating the food chain as it breaks down into microplastics that take millennia to biodegrade. How deeply ironic that it takes just a few minutes to drink a bottle of water. 

Muddying the waters

Sharp-minded readers will point out that energy drinks – the favourite thirst-quencher of choice with exercise-goers – do not come in reusable eco-friendly stainless steel bottles. And though there is sometimes a glass bottle equivalent to be found on the shelves, for obvious health and safety reasons this is not an advisable option when taking part in any form of physical activity.

The solution to this conundrum is twofold.

Firstly, energy drinks are only glorified tap water anyway and, unless you are running a marathon or taking part in high intensity exercise for longer than an hour, you do not need to be quaffing bottles of glucose-rich sports drink.

As Head of Performance Nutrition at the English Institute of Sport Michael Naylor, who is also a consultant for the England football and rugby teams, told me: 

It is easy for people to jump on the supplement bandwagon and assume that because they are doing some exercise they need to take a sugary drink with them. Ninety per cent of the time that’s not the case.”

And secondly, if the campaign to reduce plastic pollution snowballs, with even a fraction of the 13 million people who engage in coach-led sport or physical activity each year learning to become more environmentally responsible, then perhaps this will be enough to persuade soft drink manufacturers like Lucozade to change their packaging as they notice a sharp drop-off in plastic bottle sales.

Give plastic bottles the boot

We must show the government that coaching can be an antidote to some of the big issues facing society. 

To make sustained progress and to see exponential growth in the take-up of such initiatives requires a concerted collaborative effort over time from the coaching sector’s key stakeholders. This includes Active Partnerships, governing bodies and their partners and affiliated clubs, charities and Sport England-funded community projects and private enterprises. 

So come on, let’s not bottle it. Let’s apply some fluid thinking so we might lay plastic waste to waste and show the government that coaching can be a mechanism for positive behaviour change in all its shapes and forms.

Related Resources

  • Nutrition and Hydration for Physical Activity

  • Nutrition and Hydration for Physical Activity

  • An Introduction to Behaviour Change


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