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UK Coaching Team
Safety and Welfare Self-care and development

The Five Pillars of Duty to Care

Blake Richardson explores the five areas that together form UK Coaching’s Duty to Care ethos. The article underlines the need for coaches to increase their depth of knowledge around this pressing topic and to build an armour of resilience to help them look after themselves, as well as their participants

The most important element in sport is the people involved, whether they are taking part, volunteering, coaching or paid employees… sport relies on putting people – their safety, well-being and welfare – at the centre of what sport does.”

– Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, Duty of Care in Sport independent review, April 2017

What is the most Googled question related to coaching? It is: what skills do you need to be a coach? 

The short answer is, there are more strands to being a great sports coach than an ability to dispense technical and tactical advice.

As important as these time-honoured elements are in assisting people on their journey to reaching their full potential, great emphasis must also be given to the physical, psychological, emotional and social needs of the people you coach. 

This requires a demonstrable range of coaching skills, behaviours and strategies that help to foster positive environments and build positive relationships with your participants. Only then can a coach hope to fulfil the wants, needs and dreams of the people they coach.

With that in mind, here’s another question for you. What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Duty to Care? 

Chances are, it will be safeguarding.

This is undoubtedly a key strand, but just as great coaching is about so much more than providing sound tactical advice and expert technical instruction, so the term Duty to Care is multifaceted and about so much more than keeping people safe and protected from harm.

Not every coach, however, is aware of the breadth of the Duty to Care ethos

Duty to Care is actually an umbrella term that encompasses the following areas: Inclusion, Diversity, Mental Health, Well-being and Safeguarding. All the elements support and complement each other.

And to recognise the importance of education and training in each of these core areas, UK Coaching is offering coaches the opportunity to earn our nationally-recognised Duty to Care Digital Badge, supported by a range of partners, and awarded to those who can demonstrate a thorough knowledge of each Duty to Care theme.

UK Coaching Policy and Partnership Manager Heather Douglas explains:

Duty of Care is our responsibility to have a Duty to Care. We have changed the wording slightly to Duty to Care to make it more action-focused, as we feel it is important the coaching sector challenges its thinking around the wraparound care it provides those who take part in sport and physical activity.”



Understanding the bigger picture

Let’s break Duty to Care down into its constituent parts and briefly examine each of the five pillars in more detail.

  1. Sport coaches can feel daunted by the term safeguarding – which is the process of protecting children and adults from harm by providing a safe space in which to play sport and be active. It includes spotting the red flags of abuse and recognising poor coaching practice to ensure that you provide a positive and enriching experience for everyone. It is also about learning how to deal with any issues sensitively, appropriately and effectively, should the need ever arise.
  2. The words diversity and inclusion are not interchangeable. This is another common misconception. They each have a separate meaning. Inclusion is how you tailor delivery to different audiences and how you treat people to keep them involved. ‘Inclusive coaching is just good coaching’ is UK Coaching’s mantra, and being person centred is intrinsic to being an inclusive coach. 
  3. Diversity is who you attract to your session or your programme. Organisations, clubs and coaches have an obligation to provide equality of opportunity for those taking part and those who want to start coaching. This precludes discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, ability or sexual orientation.
  4. Just like physical health, we all have mental health and, just as our bodies can become unwell, so can our minds. Good mental health is defined as a state in which an individual feels able to realise their full potential, cope with the normal stresses of day-to-day life, work productively and make positive contributions to their community.
  5. Physical, psychological and emotional well-being can be defined as representing the positive aspects of mental health. By better understanding people living with mental health problems, a coach can positively influence the way individuals think, feel and behave and support them to build their resilience, self-esteem, self-efficacy and confidence, which are essential to maintaining and improving well-being. 


Duty to Care is multifaceted and the term is best understood by knowing its constituent parts. Each component can be incorporated into your coaching programmes and practice separately, but ideally should be developed as a unified system


A positive chain reaction

UK Coaching prides itself on developing great coaches who transform the lives of individuals and communities to help create a happier and healthier society. It is incumbent on us, therefore, to amplify all the themes under the Duty to Care banner as this will help to equip coaches with an extensive ‘Care package’ that they can draw on during their development and throughout their coaching practice to enable them to look after the people they coach, as well as themselves, effectively and appropriately.

Pause for a second to reflect on the following four words of that previous sentence… as well as themselves. 

If coaches are to succeed in supporting people to have a fantastic experience of sport and physical activity and helping them to thrive, then they must be supported to ensure they are happy and have the best experience possible to enable them to thrive in their role too. 

Why is this important? Because looking after the people who look after the people sets in motion a positive chain reaction. 

To put it another way: to help others, coaches must first help themselves. This statement is rooted in the knowledge that people are more willing to help others and engage in caring behaviours when they feel happy and content themselves.

If you are unhappy, frustrated, physically exhausted or emotionally drained, you will not be able to give the people you coach your best self.

Governing bodies, Active Partnerships and any organisation that employs or deploys coaches has a responsibility to protect its workforce. But it goes further than a moral and legal obligation. Providing support to develop self-care strategies allows coaches to prioritise their own well-being, which then creates a self-reinforcing cycle of virtue and happiness. 

When the support principles are carefully aligned to the five pillars of Duty to Care, you create a powerful system of wraparound care – a culture of individualised care management that extends to everyone, from practitioner to parent to participant, without judgement or prejudice.

A Duty to Care for the carer

It is important to note that self-care is particularly relevant to the coaching sector because of its intrinsically motivated workforce, which puts coaches – whether ‘hobby coaches’ or ‘career coaches’ – at a higher risk of burnout than those engaged in many other vocations.

How is success measured in coaching? The truth is there are countless indicators on top of the number of medals athletes bring home or victories a team achieves, which can lead to coaches living the life of their athletes and making the same sacrifices – and thereby enduring the same stresses and strains.

For example, feeling a responsibility to help those you engage with become the best that they can be, and to grow as people as well as performers, can also place a heavy burden on a coach. 


Timeout: It is important that coaches remember to check in on themselves and regularly monitor their mental health. Knowing when it's time to slow down or ask for support will help to keep stress levels under control

And bear in mind that, for many coaches who support people to meet their needs and aspirations, they are juggling the multiple roles of sports coach, life coach, friend and confidant, counsellor and role model with the added responsibility of holding down a full-time job!

So, while the coach is looking out for the welfare of their athletes on their journey of self-discovery, who is protecting the coach during their emotional rollercoaster ride?

It is important to emphasise therefore that Duty to Care extends to a duty to care for the carer.

The all-consuming nature of coaching and the physical and mental demands it places on individuals – for whom taking their foot off the gas does not come naturally – means it is imperative that someone has their back too. 

Learning journeys: A progress report

Undoubtedly, if belatedly, things are changing for the better.

Sport England is endorsing UK Coaching’s approach to Duty to Care and recommends that all its funded sports bodies who employ and deploy coaches into their programmes undertake essential Duty to Care training and complete the Knowledge Checks to gain their UK Coaching Digital Badge.

Meanwhile, CIMSPA (Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) will work with its partners to encourage them to make both equality and diversity training and mental health training a mandatory requirement for deployment for the whole of the sport and physical activity sector’s workforce.

One-stop shop for Duty to Care learning

UK Coaching already has a comprehensive bank of learning solutions in place to cover the five pillars of Duty to Care, and we will be adding to our suite of learning content (guides, workshops, online learning) throughout the course of 2020 and beyond.

The learning provides a broader scope to meet the needs of the modern learner and modern workforce beyond current safeguarding regulations.

Our ambition is that the learner journey must be easy and accessible, non-linear, pick and mix at people’s own pace, and must recognise prior learning, so that coaches at different stages of their development and career can build their coaching armour easily,” says Heather.

“This means developing a programme of Duty to Care learning on our website and embedding key principles in the content we design, including the development of five new Knowledge Checks for coaches to gauge their confidence in these five areas quickly and for free.

Looking after our coaches and those they interact with so they don’t crack is a serious issue. But we want to progress the learning journeys of coaches by shining a light on these issues, rather than casting a shadow.”

UK Coaching Duty to Care Digital Badge

Earn our free nationally recognised Digital Badge by demonstrating your thorough knowledge of the five pillars of Duty to Care (Safeguarding, Diversity, Inclusion, Mental Health, Well-being)

Find out more

Related Resources

  • Exploring Our Duty to Care as Coaches

  • Coach Well-being: Taking Time for Yourself

  • What the Duty of Care in Sport Review means for UK Coaching


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