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Matt Blandford
Self-care and development

What Coaching Pathway are you on?

Highlighting the three main trajectories to becoming an elite coach. Does one fit your journey?

Elite coaching pathways are far more than the series of coaching badges and opportunities you see on a PowerPoint at the start of coach education courses. Elite level coaches often describe how specific developmental experiences or milestone events shaped the way they coach and helped them to realise their coaching style within the elite environment. Literature has tried to track and retrospectively identify and define these experiences, and has developed three elite coach trajectories that show the journey of an elite coach.

Elite-athlete coach

Arguably the most prominent type of coach in the elite sport world.

Typically coaches on this trajectory have had a successful elite playing career for 5-10 years and then transition into coaching once retired.

It is this transition which is vital; often most of their coaching experience is from how they were coached themselves and from their own experiences. Many have been coached and experienced working with a number of coaches.  

Coaches in this trajectory state they prefer informal learning situations from their extensive high performance sport network.

Academic coach

This trajectory is largely for the ‘ordinary’ athlete, someone who has played sport to a good standard but never made it professionally.

To make up for the lack of elite playing experience, coaches often try to engage in as much formal education as possible e.g. coach education, university degree. This type of knowledge forms the basis of their coaching principles and is key to getting elite coaching jobs.

Progression to elite coaching typically takes longer than an elite-athlete coach but academic coaches are just as good if not better coaches. Making the initial breakthrough and having sponsor support can be crucial.

Early-starter coach

The name gives it away but coaches on this trajectory start coaching really early, often during a competitive teenage athletic career.

Learning for these coaches stems from learning from the coaches that coached them when they were teenagers, with coach education courses being completed after they'd started coaching.

Normally an athletic career ended early on and their attention shifted to coaching, using their experiences to coach.

Understanding your coaching persona

The personas above may be exactly you, like looking into a mirror, or you may be a mix of a couple.

The important thing to remember is there are many ways into elite coaching and people from all sporting backgrounds can make it.

Each persona has a strength, which they aim to use in their coaching. What is your strength and are you using it effectively in your coaching to enhance your coaching practice, athletes and potentially your career?

Related Learning

  • What is Talent?

  • A Head for Talent

  • Talent Across the Ages


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Matt Blandford