Here Dr. Richard Bailey gives his thoughts on how his expectations of the coaching experience changed from when he was an athlete…
My expectations of the coaching experience have changed considerably since I was an athlete. Of course, this was quite a long time ago!
I was lucky to have competed at a relatively high level in a number of sports, including rugby and cricket, before settling on fighting sports like Karate and Kickboxing. In all of these sports the coaching would be best described as mixed.
Some coaches were knowledgeable, supportive and kind; others were not. Some were role models; others were raving lunatics! I tended to accept the coaching that was on offer partly because that was all I knew, especially if those coaches were judged to be successful. And I figured that these coaches were strong in specific areas, so there was always something to learn from them, even if they were limited in other areas.
In some cases, the coaching was harsh, even brutal. In the case of fighting sports, made sense at the time, as it was obviously necessary to cope with pain and injury of a regular basis. So I regularly trained with broken bones, recurring injuries and exhaustion.
Sometimes, it was just comical. I remember the coach of my last cricket team insisting that none of his players used first names, and that we never socialised together, as he wanted to generate a ‘professional’ attitude among his team that was not diluted by the jokey friendliness of most of the opposition. We were all under 16 years old.
Things have moved on considerably since then. I have seen a radical transformation in the perceptions of what makes a great coach. Two changes, in particular, seem particularly significant.
The first is the movement towards an ‘athlete-centred’ approach, in which the interests and needs of the players are at the forefront. In other words, the athletes are ends in themselves (their development is the whole point of the enterprise); not just means to someone else’s end, such as the coach ego or club’s success.
Athlete-cantered coaching need not be soft or easy. On the contrary, it should be appropriately challenging, and my own understanding has been transformed by working with coaches who manage to balance the requirements of competitive sport with the simple fact that they are dealing with human beings.
The second change has been the slower emergence of evidence-based coaching. Sport continues to be dominated by tradition. But more coaches are recognising that ‘we’ve always done it that way’ will not do.
Common sense is a feeble justification for practices, especially when those practices can risk the health and well being of players. Academically validated qualifications are part of the picture. More important, though, is the wider acceptance among coaches that a scientific mind-set lies at the heart of professional, athlete-centred coaching. Tradition and authority have little value here.
Science, alone, offers a candle in the dark!