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05 Apr 2018 3,725
Rapport Building and Communicating Developing Mindsets Organising and Planning

Who are the Participation Coaches?

This blog identifies who ‘participation coaches’ are and highlights their important role in encouraging more people into sport

After a recent question posed in a meeting... “When you say participation coach – who do you mean?”, I got thinking about how to explain the answer.

We all use jargon or language shorthand. We use it at work and at home, as well as with friends having a beer. It makes explaining what we mean easier. If the definition isn’t clear, we can get confused and disengage. Sometimes we forget that not everyone knows what we mean. So in an effort to be clear, here is my answer in plain English.

An easy start to answering this question is to explain who I don’t mean. I don’t mean a children’s coach or a talent or performance coach.

Who I do mean is a much broader answer. I mean the community coaches who coach young people and adults for recreational purposes. They are coaching in our communities. 

They are the coaches who are tasked with getting more people participating in sport!

I also mean the coaches who coach for health or social interventions programmes. They coach for sporting outcomes, but also for wider community outcomes.

They coach in recreational settings, in local outdoor parks, in community centres and village halls. Some coach in sports clubs, some coach in leisure centres and some coach in schools.

The most obvious participation coaches are those who work with specific national governing body programmes. Many work for local authorities or the school sport network. Increasingly some participation coaches are self-employed.

Some wear many hats and are also sports development officers, social workers and teachers. A rare few participation coaches work for the NHS or the Police. A good number are volunteers, with the lucky few being paid professionals.

How does participation coaching differ?

Participation coaches offer a more relaxed session. It’s not solely focussed on practices, drills and skills.

There might be some competition, but it’s not the ultimate goal of the session for all participants. Having competition available in the session is one of the options; not always the main objective.

The coaching style is more informal and based on the participant needs and wants.

Saying that, some coaches coach in recreational sports clubs where players want regular competition. These coaches will meet the needs of the participants by including activities that develop player skill, whilst also keeping a social element as a high priority.

The many labels for ‘participation coaches’

I can think of many coaches I work with who are participation coaches. They don’t use the word participation. They just use the word coach. Others use labels like ‘activator’, ‘leader’ or ‘instructor’. These people still coach.

Sometimes changing the name breaks down perceived barriers to new participants.  I believe these people to be coaches. They have similar skills, they have expert knowledge in helping participants improve, and they want participants to continue to be active in sport or physical activity.

We all know coaches who fit these descriptions. I call them participation coaches. They just call themselves ‘Coach’.

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Related Resources

  • Behaviour Change: Understanding Motivations

  • Coaching the Person in Front of You

  • Girls' Participation in Sport: When Does the Drop-off Begin?


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