Coaching & Development, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Feb 28, 2020
Coach development: sporting leaders are talking about it but no one is sure if they are doing it correctly. 

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Coach development: sporting leaders are talking about it but no one is sure if they are doing it correctly. 

By John Portch

“It’s an interesting one because the coaching journey is messy by nature,” says Joe Montemurro of Arsenal Women. “You’re not sure where it’s going. You see this method or ‘this’ way and you think it’s fantastic and say ‘I’m going to use that’ but then you don’t know how to translate it and bring it to life.” 

Montemurro, who was forced to retire from playing at 28, worked part-time as a graphic designer during early coaching jobs in his native Australia, before heading to complete his Uefa Pro License at Coverciano, Florence, the home of the Italian Football Federation’s technical headquarters. He would then return to Australia as a full-time professional before embarking on his journey with Arsenal Women in 2017. 

Such peripatetic stories are far from unique but 2020 sees an ongoing drive to place a structure around coach development, to create pathways in a manner similar to those provided for athletes. Here are four considerations for the year ahead.

1. Coach development is not athlete development

Let us begin with the salient point. “Often what we do is align the coaching pathway to the athlete pathway and it shouldn’t be aligned,” says Toni Cumpston of Hockey Australia. “They’re quite different because you need to have a range of experience from beginner to expert level at each stage of the athlete pathway.” Athlete goals are fairly clear and linear but not everyone wishes to be a head coach; age-group level might be the area where they thrive. “I think too often people think that progression for the head coach is to be at the highest level – but it’s not. There has to be a master at each area of the athlete pathway.” 

2. Have regular, structured check-ins with your coaches

Setting KPIs can be a useful approach, particularly when there are more metrics than ever to chart progress. “In a team sport there are different dynamics and we’re all accountable for a specific facet of the game, what with all the data, analysis and information that you can accumulate,” says Paul Gustard of Harlequins. “I probably catch up with my coaches two or three times a year,” adds Chris Fagan of the Brisbane Lions. “And in my first year I spent as much time with my coaches as I did with the playing group. I spent a lot of time developing those guys, asking for their opinions, acting upon their ideas, so that they could build confidence and grow themselves. Our General Manager, David Noble, also does a good job with all of our staff; having a chat about their careers, where they want to head next, what professional development opportunities they might be considering. It’s a very holistic approach that he and I really work at because we think if all of our staff are improving then there’s a pretty good chance our players are improving too and our club will get a better result.”

3. Be sure to check your own development

Fagan spends considerable time developing Brisbane’s coaches but he will regularly check his own development by asking his playing group. “It’s not written and we’ll do it in front of the group,” he explains. “I’ll get up and say ‘righto boys, what am I doing well? Where could I improve?’ and we’ll do the same for the other coaches and it’s a really good environment that we operate. Sometimes the feedback takes you aback but you can always ask players for a little more explanation. We also have a coaching trademark, qualities that we want to stand for, and we get the players to score us on those on a regular basis too.” It is also something that Cumpston wishes to hear: “One of the biggest things for me is feedback from athletes. If an athlete says a coach is pretty good and connects with them; and you have a lot of different athletes who learn differently in the team, and if they’re all saying, ‘oh, he’s really good’ or ‘she gets us’ then that’s one of the best ways to judge a coach and how they are doing.”

4. But do not dismiss your coaching eye

For all the KPIs to which Gustard holds his coaches accountable, he still values their instincts. “I am looking for coaching growth as well as things that my eyes can see,” he says. “One of the greatest coaching lessons I ever learnt was that your eyes are your best coaching tool. I am now trying to instil in my coaching staff that they know to trust their eyes, trust their judgement, to coach better and to coach on the run.” Montemurro is another advocate. “The biggest thing I tell my staff is to have your beliefs; believe in what you think is the way to represent your team and how you want it to work but, more importantly, bring up some ideas for how you want to bring that to life; how to make it work in everyday language, how to make it work with your group.” 

What else does a winning team need in 2020?

This article featured in our latest Performance Special Report: The High Performance Manual: Winning in 2020, which features sports organisations as diverse as Red Bull, the Brisbane Lions and the Royal Military Academy discussing the pertinent topics across Leadership & Culture, Coaching & Development, Human Performance and Data & Innovation. Download it now.

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