How coaches can become better community partners, communicators,
experience providers and business developers
The vast majority of sports coaches and instructors engage with people from their local community who participate in sport for recreational purposes. These people want to enjoy themselves, have fun, improve their skills and be part of a welcoming social and sporting experience. Yes, if possible, they want to develop their skills, but they want to do so in an engaging way; they don’t want to be put under undue pressure from an over-ambitious and zealous coach.
In many cases, the coach is the main contact for people who come to your club and if the experience and engagement they are being provided with by the coach are not up to scratch they will walk away and they will tell friends and family. Whereas when a coach who speaks people’s language, engages and provides great experiences will develop a strong following across the club and the wider community.
As is says in Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation people take up sport for a variety of reasons, including to meet friends, stay active and have fun. Improving their technical performance is unlikely to be what motivates them, at least initially. And indeed getting better at sport may never be very important to some people. Yet most coaching qualifications at entry level continue to be focused on developing technical skills rather than how to encourage people to take part in sport and play and into their motivations.
If we are to engage a much wider range of people in sport, we need to make the people delivering it more diverse and develop coaches and activators who are truly enterprising.
Great participation coaches must be seen as partners with their community
A coach who engages with community partners from outside his/her club will attract more people and funding. These partners are often schools, housing associations, resident groups, community centres or other, often non-sport, bodies. If they perceive that a coach provides services that attract and retain their clients, the more likely they are to want to refer and fund the coach and the club.
So the coach must be able to understand the outlook and the language of these partners and their clients (s)he wants to engage with. Therefore, if you are ‘just coaching’ without taking the lives of the people you are standing in front of, you are much less likely to retain them.
Many people outside community sport often don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to understanding the benefits that sport can have in terms of improving behaviour, education and health. However, I have personally experienced the huge benefits that engaging with the local community can have for sports coaches, at all levels.
Sport does compete for the resources of the community. Community groups, faith, arts, etc. are also vying for volunteers, goodwill and money – if they are better engaged and involved than you and your club they will be more successful in attracting support and resources.
So coaches must be heavily involved with developing shared value so both the club and the community can contribute directly to the strengthening and development of each other.
Coaches must be great communicators
The coach is there to stimulate the participants and how he or she engages and communicates is vital. People are different. Some are nervous, some are indifferent and some are excitable, etc.
However they all have to be motivated; often in different ways. So a coach must be able to listen with enthusiasm and empathy – and not just to those eager kids at the front, but must also have the patience to have conversations with that shy girl in the back. Otherwise, learning and improvement do not take place and the important feeling of achievement is not happening!
Sports coaches need to communicate effectively with many of different people: players, members, parents, officials and other coaches amongst others. They need to have an outgoing personality and not be afraid to communicate, lead and inspire people. If they are coaching children and young people communicating well with their parents is paramount, in order to maintain their support for their child’s participation.
They need to understand the importance of maintaining the right body language and paralanguage (pitch, tone and volume of voice) in order gain credibility and trust. They need to be responsive, adaptable and flexible and listen to people’s lives.
A coach must provide great experiences – they should be activators
How are you making people feel at your club/centre? What memories do they take home? What do they tell their friends?
People participate sport for different reasons – the 40-year-old club tennis player and the 62-year-old walking football player both realise they will never be competing at the Olympics – but they still want to enjoy their sport. So a great coach must understand that progress and achievement will always mean different things to different people and therefore have a clear understanding of those criteria and deliver accordingly.
This principle also applies to community sports clubs, so when you coach, you really have to conscious of who you are coaching and what you are offering and if that fits in with their needs.
They will always forget what you tell them… …but they will never forget how you make them feel!
Enterprising coaches must improve their business development skills
The mindset and skill to anticipate and meeting clients’ needs in a sustainable way are key for enterprising coaches if they are to create real, long-term value. By having real conversations and becoming engaged with users and other stakeholder coaches can build relationships, develop new services and stay abreast with what’s happening in terms of other providers, trends etc. This will enable the enterprise to grow their enterprise and secure its sustainability.
Enterprising coaches must be digitally literate
As the use of digital media is growing exponentially (16 -24- year-olds are online 30 hours per week) coaches must have strong digital understanding and skills, enabling them to engage with their customers and individualise their programmes.
As coaches will, increasingly, be encouraged to engage with inactive groups they will have to understand and embrace their social media habits
This will also make it easier to be sensitive to participants’ life stages, and cultural and demographic differences.
We must raise the status of the many GREAT participation coaches out there but also accept that there is a huge need for improving the way that many coaches partner with their community and customers, communicate and provide great experiences. Then will we see growth in sports participation.