Why is sport coaching education important?
If we believe in the importance of coaching, we should believe in the importance of coach-education.
As coaches, we use our greater experience and knowledge to guide athletes on an effective path of development. Coach-educators do the same for coaches.
What would you say to an athlete on your team who says that they can coach themself just as effectively as you can coach them? If we dismiss this as arrogance, close-mindedness, or “poor coachability” on the part of the athlete, why would we allow ourselves the same rationale for not pursuing formal coach-education?
Yet, this is often what coaches suggest: I can self-educate more effectively than a professional coach-educator could educate me.
If you’re reading this article, it's likely because you are at least open to the idea of coach-education, so I will keep this section brief and move on to some greater takeaways in the importance of sport coaching education.
How much do you value your time, money, and energy?
Pursuing formal sport coaching education demonstrates to yourself and others that you value professional development enough to significantly invest in this area. As a graduate student, I took my time more seriously, paid greater attention to the course materials, and poured more of my energy into my coursework than I ever did as a coach with some free time to read a blog, watch a YouTube video, or attend a weekend clinic.
There is a cost to self-education that often goes unaccounted for (in contrast to the more obvious cost of a formal education program). That cost includes both time and money. It’s hard enough for busy coaches to make time for reading, reflecting, and applying new materials without the added burden of acquiring and evaluating which resources are credible and accurate. As a result, we usually turn to easy-to-consume materials like blogs, videos, and perhaps a few inexpensive books. These resources are acceptable in the bigger picture of sport coaching education, but should be accompanied by more academic resources like research articles and textbooks.
I gained such greater value from the time and energy spent during my graduate program at the University of Denver. This was thanks to the trust I had in experienced, educated, and qualified coach-educators to individually select, organize, and present rigorous and challenging materials.
A community with ongoing support and mentorship
When immersed in a [quality] graduate program, you are surrounded by professors and fellow students who also believe passionately in the value of coach-education. Your peers will be eager to better develop themselves as coaches, which in turn further motivates you to do the same.
The quality of relationships and discussions found in the comments sections of blogs and Youtube videos, as well as in weekend clinics and certification programs, was nowhere near that of the meaningful relationships I formed with my classmates and professors.
Being with like-minded people is undeniably motivating and brings the practical benefit of learning from other driven, experienced individuals.
Curious about what you can do with a degree in sport coaching? Read the full article on the blog.
What do athletes need from coaches?
What athletes need from coaches depends on the sport, athlete, and context. We can learn this the hard way through individual trial-and-error, or through exposure to resources and experienced coaches to help guide us along the way. If you only have your own experience to draw from, you’re likely to replicate the kind of coaching you received or the kind of coaching you’d like to receive. This may not be appropriate or effective across multiple contexts.
Despite the contextual differences within sport (from youth sports to competitive high school and college programs, to high-performance or professional sport, to masters sports), all athletes have some level of fundamental psychosocial needs, including autonomy, competence, and relatedness. These needs may be even more important now than in prior decades, with athletes having greater ability to self-select their coaching and sport environment. When coaches don’t meet these basic needs, we shouldn’t wonder why athletes travel further from home, hire private coaches, seek online coaching, or transfer programs or schools to find an environment that does.
Enhancing sport performance remains an important element of coaching. Athletes need a coach who can effectively guide their technical, tactical, and physical development to help them improve at their sport. Coaches can use a variety of educational methods to improve their knowledge in this area. Formal education that is part of a structured curriculum on physiology, motor learning, cognition and psychology, the influence of aging on training, and more, is all crucial for our ability to help athletes improve their sport performance.
Learn more about what skills coaches need in today's society.
Informal education that happens outside a structured curriculum is important too. This occurs as coaches naturally pursue interests, talk about ideas with other coaches, receive feedback from athletes, and try things out in practice. Athletes generally do not want a coach who exists as a time capsule of knowledge from when we were athletes ourselves, or from when we had a good season with a certain team. If we want athletes to keep developing and trying to find a competitive edge anywhere they can, then we coaches ought to be doing the same ourselves.
In short, every athlete needs an educated coach who is prepared to support their continued physical, social, and psychological development.
We all have gaps in our knowledge, and coach-education is how we can fill those gaps, remain current for each new generation of athletes, and stay motivated to be lifelong learners.
What are the effects of poor coaching?
Poor coaching has numerous negative effects on both coaches and athletes. Some of the more tangible results include:
high injury rates due to inappropriate coaching methods
high quitting rates resulting from abusive coaching
high conflict among teammates or coaching staffs
On the other hand, sport coaching research indicates that when athletes play for a coach who participates in formal training and education, these athletes experience the following (Gearity & Murray, 2011):
- lower anxiety
more likability towards teammates and coaches
lower likelihood of quitting sports
According to the Aspen Institute of Sports (2019), the average youth athlete spends less than three years playing a sport, typically quitting by age 11.
One third of these athletes quit because they aren’t having fun, lose interest, lack adequate skill level to compete, are burned out or bored, or do not like the coach (Aspen Institute, 2013).
At the same time, four out of ten youth coaches surveyed in 2018 say they have never received sport coaching education on effective motivational techniques, physical conditioning, or injury prevention.
Poor coaching also has psychological effects on athletes who don’t quit and stick with sports despite playing for a coach who they’ve had bad experiences with.
Drs. Brian Gearity and Melissa Murray (2011) identified five key themes from interviews with 16 collegiate, semi-professional, and professional athletes who had experienced poor coaching. The athletes tended to comment that they experienced poor coaching in the following ways:
coaches were poor at providing instruction
coaches did not provide emotional or relationship support, and were more concerned with winning and making themselves look good
coaches were unfair in their conduct with athletes
coaches actively held the athlete’s mental skills back through distraction, self-doubt, demotivation, and causing division within the team
additional energy was required from athletes to cope with poor coaching behaviors
These athletes commonly reported feeling “stuck” playing for such coaches with great influence over their playing and athletic careers. We can combat much of this with sport coaching education to improve coaches’ ability to teach, motivate, and help athletes thrive on and off the field.
A formal program of sport coaching education isn’t the end of the road, but another step down the life-long path of learning and professional development. Take the step and get exposed to a wide array of topics, gain deep knowledge of new domains in sport coaching, and invest in yourself and the athletes you coach.
Dr. Brian Gearity on "Why coach education?"
Meet Will Ruth
Will Ruth is a dual strength-and-rowing coach in Vermont, where he coaches rowers through online strength training, in-person camps, and educational events for coaches and athletes. He has also played water polo and lacrosse, wrestled, rowed, competed in strength sports, and coached high-school lacrosse and college men’s rowing. Will is a big fan of sport coaching education, with his own experience including a BS in Kinesiology with a focus in Sport Psychology, an MA in Sport Coaching from the University of Denver, and certifications from US-Lacrosse (Level 3), US-Rowing (Level 2), USA-Weightlifting (Level 1), and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (CSCS). You can find more of his work at www.RowingStronger.com.