Friday, 7 November 2014

Is Coaching a Profession in Cross Country Skiing...

I love reading and learning and I sure love skiing and coaching.  Lately I have been reading John Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers - Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012).  Its a fascinating read - tackling what do we do as teachers (or coaches for that matter) that optimizes learning.  The holy grail of what it means to be a great coach.  Definitely worth a read.  Today I read a section of text focused on the goal of 'professions'.  It led me to reflecting on whether cross country ski coaching could be considered a profession using the same descriptors.

I'm not really sure what happens in America or elsewhere, but I do have a pretty good sense of what happens in alot of places in Canada.  And I'd say, we miss the mark a bit in terms of meeting the criteria of 'profession' as outlined by Hattie in his book.  Here is how Hattie describes a 'profession'.

A profession identifies the goal posts of excellence.  What does excellent coaching look like?  The answer to this isnt just understanding technical skills, or being able to give informed tactical advice.  Excellence occurs (according to Hattie, and I agree with him) when teachers (and I'll use the word coaches from here on in, because I believe that the two are interchangeable) create tasks with a greater degree of challenge than experienced coaches might.  Expert coaches have a deeper understanding of content and are more sensitive to context; instructions are more integrated, more coherent, and at a higher level of abstraction than experienced coaches. Expert coaches influence surface and deeper understandings, they believe that all athletes can achieve the success criteria; they mentor learning and provide feedback, and they possess more integrated knowledge of the content.  in a profession, these are the goal posts of excellence, and professions define them and people strive towards them.  In Canada, we have well developed/developing coach training materials.  We have descriptors of skill development in our athelte development matrix - what we miss I think is clearly defined 'goalposts of excellence' that guide developing coaches towards excellence in coaching.  There just isnt very much sharing of best practice ideas flowing out of the experts as is found in the teaching profession. We really need to try to embrace the notion of what it is to be successful in coaching.

A profession, Hattie explains aims to encourage collaboration with all in the profession to drive the profession upwards.  I am well aware that some expert coaches do share out their best practice ideas with the broader community, but most live within the confines of their own clubs and really there is no motivation for sharing of best practice when ensuring you have enough kids in your club to support your salary is your priority.  In Canada, teaching is publicly funded except for private schools.  Teachers are encouraged to share with each other.  I sure would like to see more of this happening in coaching cross country skiing.  As experienced or expert coaches, we really need to be helping all other coaches in a collaborative manner to attain excellence in their coaching. 

Professions also aim to esteem those who show defined competence.  Recognition is important.  In order to recognize excellence in coaching, you really need to have defined what it means to be an excellent coach.  I'm just not sure that any criteria exist anywhere that coaches can work towards.  Any recognition I am aware of in my part of the world seems pretty subjective in nature.  Something to work on - ya, for sure.

I'm a big advocate for sharing expertise.  I encourage you to start with sharing in your club, and invite coaches from other clubs to work alongside you to learn from you. 

Winter is just around the corner.  Enjoy!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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