Monday, 29 February 2016

Coaching - deliberate action to help adults get results from young athletes

The other day I had a chance to listen to the new CEO of Cross Country Canada, Pierre Lafontaine, speak about his vision for cross country skiing in Canada. It got me thinking about the profound need for capacity building of coaches in our country.  I reflected after his talk on the important perspective that someone new to a sport culture can bring to shifting the focus to something different. I thought about the importance of working within a shifted paradigm.

I'd like us to think about our role as coaches in helping other coaches get results from young athletes. If there is one truth about coaching in Canada it is that not many people own the expertise that comes from apprenticing under an experienced, knowledgeable coach.  What we have are workshops that are structured well, but become a point in time 'fill up the empty vessel' reference.  These workshops are competency based, meaning that coaches need to be able to demonstrate their understanding or skill in the various learning outcomes.  This is lived through evaluation by an experienced NCCP facilitator of the skill or understanding of the outcomes.

Evaluation of skill, practice, and understanding are important.  But really what is missing is the apprenticeship that comes in any profession.  As adults, we need to be given the sustained opportunity to work alongside a mentor - a seasoned coach - someone who we can watch and have regular conversations with about what we did, whether it had the intended outcome or not, and what we can do to make improvements in our practice as coaches.  I firmly believe that in coaching, we need these opportunities to grow and learn.  Without apprenticeship, we work in the silo of our own coaching practice and the only feedback or growth we experience comes from casual conversations between coaches.

Changing processes for how we train, mentor, and help coaches may be a radical idea.  I seem to be full of them at times, and the pressure to maintain the status quo is huge, particularly when 'expert' doesn't really mean very much.

So I put out there a radical idea, that the money we spend as a sport in Canada on coach training be thought about differently so that richer learning can take place for coaches - both volunteer and professional.  In my other world, that of K-12 schooling, we have professional learning communities (PLCs).  When PLCs are done really well, they provide opportunities for people to seek out others who they think they can learn something from, and they engage in rich conversation about what didn't work.  Expertise exists in the cross country ski coaching community in Canada.  It is just so siloed, even within clubs, that the general level of coaching remains far below what it could be.

Radical idea - maybe.  Rebel with a cause (to improve the level of coaching by challenging the status quo) - maybe. Nice guy - always.  Open to conversation - always.  Have all the answers - definitely not.

We are moving into the home stretch of our ski season.  In Alberta, for 10-14 year olds that means attending the Alberta Youth Cross Country Ski Championships in Bragg Creek.

Enjoy the rest of your winter.  Consider coming to our event in Bragg Creek.  I think you'd like it.

Roy Strum

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