Saturday, 12 April 2014

Professional Learning Networks for Coaches - do they exist?

I've been at this coaching thing a little while - mostly focused on developing adolescent age athletes.  Over the years I been coaching, I have sought out mentors and opportunities to learn.  I've learned lots from these folks and appreciate the many times when someone with more knowledge or experience has shared some insight, learning, or wisdom about what it means to be an excellent coach. My experience as a coach in general though is that coaching in cross country skiing is closed business.

What I mean is that most coaches keep their coaching wisdom pretty close to their chest.  Sharing of wisdom and knowledge, although fairly common within a ski club, is a pretty rare occurrence between clubs and sometimes within clubs.  If you come from a small club without someone with advanced knowledge or experience, good luck trying to learn from folks with advanced knowledge from other clubs.

My observations are that there is something very proprietary about coaching knowledge.  Although NCCP offers coach training in the form of workshops and certification levels, most of the important learning happens when you work with a master coach directly.   Just being able to work alongside a master coach allows some osmosis to occur, but significant learning can occur when that master coach is willing to share out ideas of best practice.   I know there are many master coaches who share out their knowledge freely and liberally.  My experience is though, that this sharing happens far less in coaching than it does in the world of teaching.

The reality of learning to be a better coach is in stark contrast to my experience of learning to be a better teacher.  In the formal education world of teaching, professional learning networks exist whose sole purpose is to share out best practice.  These are groups of educators who share out what they do and why they do it to advance learning.  Twitter has become the primary conduit for professional learning networks in teaching.  Pinterest is also used extensively.  Thousands of teachers have blogs where they share out their experiences, their learning, and the effects of their attempts at innovation with their students.  No where in cross country ski coaching does a parallel to this exist.  Why is this?  How much better could our young athletes develop if ideas were shared more freely between clubs and by experienced coaches?  Why doesn't this happen in our world of cross country ski coaching?  I don't want to come off as a cynic, but really, I think that there is this mentality in cross country skiing that parents pay for a specific coach's experience and that if other kids want to access that coach's expertise, then they should pay just the same as every other kid who wants that specific expertise.

Its time that we move beyond this approach.  Narrow self interest such as what seems to exist in cross country ski coaching in many communities doesn't exist in the same way in teaching.  Its sad really, because how much better could beginning and intermediate coaches become if they had access to professional learning networks where coaches openly shared their ideas.  How much better could our kids become as skiers and athletes if professional learning networks existed?  Its time for a shift in culture in the coaching community.  A culture that supports coaches in their professional development.  In teaching, every classroom is still unique, teachers still struggle with learning to become better at what they do, but in education world, teachers live in a culture where everyone's best ideas and leading practice is shared openly.

Its time for change.  Its time to change the culture of how cross country ski coaches share out knowledge and experience to advance a broader community of coaches.  Right now, there is very little evidence that professional learning networks exist in cross country skiing.  I'd like to know of some coaches who write blogs sharing out their best practice.  I'd like to follow coaches who share out their best practice with other coaches.  I'd like be part of chats on twitter with other coaches interested in sharing best practice.  Sure, some coaches have blogs - but most often the content of these blogs is more about the trips that these coaches take their athletes on than about the nuts and bolts of coaching.  Please , someone, point me to a group of coaches who do this work. I'd like to meet them and grow with them.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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