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UK Coaching Team
Rapport Building and Communicating Coach Developer Employer or Deployer

Thriving Partnerships Key to a Thriving Coaching Industry

UK Coaching’s Relationship Managers play a pivotal part in shaping the future of the coaching industry, working with national partners to develop, review and implement their coaching, participation and workforce strategies. Ollie Holt gives Blake Richardson some insight into the support and guidance UK Coaching’s RMs offer key personnel, to help them accelerate coaching and learning within their organisation

The coaching industry operates like the proverbial well-oiled machine through the smooth interaction of an array of interconnected organisations, networks and partnerships.

As an intrinsic part of several sectors – sport and physical activity, leisure, education, health, local government – as well as a huge industry in its own right, coaching’s complex infrastructure is worth deconstructing for closer inspection, to see just how all the separate parts join up and work together.

For truth be told, the exact process by which these multiple cogs interlink can flummox even those working in the industry.

As we peek under the bonnet to see what is happening inside the nuts and bolts of the engine room – where strategies are born and policies ratified – so a clearer picture will begin to emerge of the relationship between UK Coaching and its partner organisations, and of the whole interwoven structure.

UK Coaching Relationship Manager Ollie Holt is the common link between the miscellaneous organisations which make up the coaching sector and therefore the perfect person to take us on this inside journey.

Just the job

I am hazarding a guess, but I doubt many schoolchildren or undergraduates have been urged during a careers’ talk to consider becoming a Relationship Manager or Partnership Manager for the sports sector. 

The job title has an enigmatic quality. But just because it doesn’t make it onto the compiled list of ‘popular professions’, alongside the likes of teacher, police officer, journalist, electrician, train driver or accountant, it doesn’t make it any less valuable.

So, what is a Relationship Manager and how do you get to become one?

First thing’s first, those without a genuine altruistic drive need not apply. As Ollie says, you need a selfless desire to want to help others do better… who in turn will help others do better.

You need to have a love of people, personal development and coaching, an interest in sport and activity and a real passion and interest in working with organisations in building partnerships and sharing best practice,” he says.

Any CVs failing to include the sound bites ‘skilled at building rapport with partners’, ‘strong communication, interpersonal and leadership skills’ and ‘an aptitude for fostering positive relationships and promoting effective teamwork in the workplace’ will be destined for the ‘reject’ pile.


Personality and passion

Ollie’s route into Relationship Management was through coaching. He fell in love with archery at school and became an archery coach. After graduating from Oxford University, he went on to become National Coaching Manager with Archery GB.

Performing this role was ideal preparation for his move to UK Coaching – having experienced first-hand the precise needs of a partner organisation.

Ollie says it is imperative the RM team have a comprehensive understanding of how each of the five core areas of the business works so they can talk with confidence and expertise about the ‘UK Coaching Offer’ to partners.

UK Coaching strives to provide an all-embracing blend of services, supplied by separate technical departments. Aside from the Relationship team there is the Insight, Learning, Participation, Workforce and Talent and Performance teams, all driven to putting together, as Ollie describes it, “a core offer for funded partners, who we work with to accelerate learning within the sector”.

By having a front-facing role for UK Coaching, it is incumbent on Ollie to also have a deep understanding of the priorities, needs and challenges of all partners.

He adds: “As a collective, our team of Relationship Managers must have an extensive knowledge of the whole sector as well as our own business. We must communicate as a team and join up our thinking and then link this with the other teams in UK Coaching – connecting the areas of work those teams are involved in back with the needs of partners so that we create a perfect marriage of the two.”

This is why a natural enthusiasm for the job is essential. There is no point being adept at communicating effectively with colleagues and bringing them quickly up to speed if you aren’t also able to get their buy-in and animate them so that they engage in a project with the same levels of energy and interest.

It is this personality and passion that helps to gain partners’ confidence that UK Coaching can serve as a credible, trustworthy, personable and approachable member of their support team.

‘You can see change happen’

I ask if Ollie agrees with my analogy that the multi-layered sports and physical activity sector is like an ant’s nest, with the person in the street unaware of the hive of vibrant activity going on below the surface, the sheer scale of the workforce or the complexity of the whole interconnecting structure.

Ollie pitches in with a metaphor of his own to illustrate the hard work that goes on behind closed doors, out of public view, to keep the system buoyant – in every sense of the word: that of the swan which, appearing peaceful and calm as it glides along the surface of the lake, is paddling furiously underneath.

With such an overarching remit, is he able to effect noticeable change within the industry and see the results for himself?

“Ultimately we want to have a large-scale impact with the organisations we work with. And the fact that we can make an impact and can see this at every level on a regular basis is one of the main reasons why I, and I think the whole team, like their jobs so much.

You see change in terms of helping an individual or individuals in an organisation improve their clarity of thinking around their goals; their sense of purpose, in terms of the quality of the plans and the infrastructure they want to put together; and also the challenges they face and what they can do to overcome them.

“Also, often the organisations you work with will be conducting some research or insight into what they do, and how and why they do it. So, through that research they gather over time you can see change happen.”


Great team players

The UK Coaching approach to Relationship Management is part project management, part consultancy and, by far the biggest part, coaching.

“Our team of Relationship Managers are doing things in a fresh way by taking a coaching approach to how we carry out our role,” says Ollie. “So, when we meet with people on a one-to-one basis or when we are bringing people together in a small group, or at larger events, rather than just talking about coaching, we model coaching.”

While Relationship Managers will work strategically with those who have a key responsibility for coaching within their organisation – such as club directors, system workforce managers, coaching and participation directors and managers, workforce directors, coaching system managers, policy makers and heads of coach development – they will also work closely with people within their teams, like education managers, education officers and development officers.

As for the organisations themselves, Ollie and his team work mainly with governing bodies (NGBs) – more than 100 of which are recognised by the four Sports Councils – and Active Partnerships – of which there are 43 covering every part of England. British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) are another major partner.

“Beyond that we have started working with the Premier League in the last few years, linking in with their community programmes,” says Ollie.

Measuring the impact of coaching

Looking to the future, Ollie can foresee a continued rise in the number of cross-sector networking events UK Coaching organises. It is an area the Relationship Management team has invested a lot of time in during the last nine months.

Organisations are really keen on coming together with likeminded individuals – other people who are walking in their shoes if you like, who know what it feels like to do their job and to support the work that they are doing,” says Ollie.

A recent example was an eLearning seminar held near Nottingham where 10 speakers representing different governing bodies delivered short presentations on the direction of their digital operations.

Ollie described the TED Talk-style ideas-sharing event as “absolute gold dust for the sector.”

The proliferation of such functions is tied in too with the pressing need for organisations to become more self-reliant, and to help those they support devise ways of diversifying their own sources of funding.

The spectre of investment allocations is an ever-present concern to all Sport England and UK Sport-funded organisations due to the cyclical nature of funding but now, more than ever – since the publication of the government’s Sporting Future strategy, A New Strategy for an Active Nation, and Sport England’s Towards an Active Nation Strategy – organisations must identify ways in which they, and the local clubs, associations and individuals they look after, can become more self-sufficient and economical.

As a result, the desire to measure or demonstrate the impact coaching has on people has jumped up partners’ pecking order of priorities.

“This is probably the standout area that every partner we work with is interested in and wants to better understand and implement,” says Ollie.

Organisations want to know what they need to change in terms of generating financial return on investment or social return on investment.

“It’s important to show, in great detail, how coaching is changing people’s lives.

"One thing we are very keen to do is to work with people to help them do this for themselves. So, it’s not about doing something for someone, it’s working with them to enable people and organisations to do it for themselves and with others in the sector. That gives us value for money with the public purse, which is really important, but it also empowers those individuals and organisations to be more sustainable and to work together collectively.”

As the proverb goes: Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.

Related Resources

  • Sport England Ten-Year Strategy: From Great Adversity Comes Great Opportunity

  • How to Build a High-Performing Team

  • Mums’ Team Participation Programme Hits the Right Note


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