The game is always changing, and most coaches don’t have their own plans for how to stay up to date with new learnings. Improving your coaching performance is a must — but what’s the best way to do that? Develop an in-house coaching education program. With some purposeful planning, you need to first answer these four questions:
- What is your framework?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- Who needs to be involved?
- How are you going to do it?
What is Your Framework?
Your coaching education program and activities should flow from the foundation of your club’s mission, focus, and athlete development approach. You need to have the support of your board of directors and senior club leadership for this to create meaningful growth for your coaches.
Once you’re clear about the context and support for the program, identify specific needs for your coaching education program to address by answering two crucial questions:
- What do your athletes need?
- What do your coaches need to meet the needs of your athletes?
Once you have this information, you’re ready to build the components of your program.
What Do You Want to Accomplish?
Coaching education programs are composed of three basic types of topics: Components of the Game, Ancillary Support, and Survival Skills. These pieces help you determine what you actually need accomplished versus what you might say off the top of your head.
Components of the Game address the techniques, tactics, fitness, and psychological aspects of your sport. This includes age-appropriate teaching methods and skill-building for your athletes that are congruent with your club’s athlete development approach.
Ancillary Support topics are related issues that can lead to better performance, such as nutrition, injury prevention, and mental skills training.
Survival Skills help coaches work more effectively with the organization and its members such as:
- Recruiting and managing team volunteers
- Developing a team budget
- Communications and working constructively with boards of directors, coaches, parents, leagues, and other organizations
- Conflict resolution
- Keeping athletes safe (i.e. appropriate conduct, sexual harassment, and use of social media)
- First aid and CPR
- Hiring and managing a coaching staff (for Directors of Coaching)
For each session in your coaching education program, identify two types of objectives. Substantive objectives are the specific knowledge and skills you want participants to learn in the session. Experiential objectives relate to the type of learning environment and group work you want.
To ensure each coach is growing, match the level of instruction to your coaches’ current abilities and needs. For example, if your less-experienced coaches are unfamiliar with session plans for training sessions, consider providing prepared session plans as they learn and improve. Help those coaches develop their skills by teaching and mentoring them so they learn to build their own session plans later in the year.
In addition to formal sessions, include mentoring for your coaches during practices and games to reinforce and support their learnings.
Who Needs to Be Involved?
You need to identify all the people who need to take part. Ensure that there’s a host or sponsor for the program in the senior management of the club, such as a Director of Coaching or a member of the Board of Directors. In addition to clinicians, presenters, and instructors, consider the people behind the scenes who are critical to program success who will handle logistics, supplies, and technology needs.
Not only can the content of sessions be valuable for a variety of your club members, the experience of learning together can also build a stronger sense of community, understanding, and cooperation among the people with different roles in your organization.
How Are You Going To Do It?
Coaching education sessions are usually held in-person as classroom and/or field sessions. Depending on the needs and commitments of your coaches, you can also host them online. The design of in-person as compared to online sessions is different.
Virtual sessions have unique challenges — they require a different type of attention and engagement. They offer fewer visual communication clues, so session designs need to include more active methods of checking for engagement and understanding.
Online sessions move slower than in-person sessions because it’s crucial that people speak one at a time in order to be heard and understood. Pacing and scheduling of breaks is also different. For in-person sessions, consider taking a break every 45-60 minutes. For virtual sessions, people need breaks more often, about every 60-90 minutes. This means that you cannot accomplish as much in a one-hour online session as compared to a one-hour in-person session.
Use your logistical planning to make your coaching education opportunities convenient and accessible to participants. Key questions for behind-the-scenes planning:
- Who is responsible for inviting participants?
- Who will handle registration, if needed?
- For in-person sessions, who’s responsible for renting and setting up the fields or facilities, reserving and setting up the meeting room, audio-visual equipment, and refreshments?
- For online sessions, who’s responsible for providing the technology, supporting participants and troubleshooting issues during the session (separate from presenters)?
- Who’s responsible for developing and distributing background info, handouts, recordings, etc.?
As you set up your annual coaching education program, remember to focus on the topics and issues that best support your coaches in addressing the needs of your athletes. Consider formal sessions supplemented by mentoring and informal feedback at team training and at games.
Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping sports organizations better support players and coaches. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools.
In 2020, Ruth was inducted into the International Association of Facilitators Hall of Fame. She was a co-creator of the international 2019 Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports. In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged sports enthusiasts in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.