Where Have You Come From As A Coach Or Sports Parent?
What is your story?
Why do you believe what you believe as a sports coach or sports parent?
Where did these beliefs come from?
How has your past laid the foundation of your sports coaching or sports parenting today?
In his book Conscious Coaching Brett Bartholomew encourages us to discover our coaching identity through reflection and introspection. He argues the importance of getting to the bottom of our coaching drives and also the origins of these drives so that we can learn to better leverage and amplify these “specific and highly influential traits” to ultimately become a better coach.
Whether you are a coach, sports parent or both, I believe that this process can provide positive benefits to everyone.
Can you identify the transformative moments in your life that have led you to where you are today as a coach or sports parent?
I’m encouraging others to be introspective, so I thought it only fair that I share some of my story in an effort to illustrate and assist you to undertake the process.
Early Sporting Experiences
I was a keen sporty kid with average talent.
I was a Little Athletics participant. Never a great one. I made the state championships once for shot put and finished in “twenty-something” place.
I played Australian Rules football. I grew up in Melbourne, immersed in the sport and passionate about my beloved Essendon Football Club. I was an OK player, I loved it, but was never great.
I played cricket. I was a pretty good fieldsman but could’t bat or bowl. In five years, my top score was 28, I never took a wicket – but I once took a “hat-trick” of catches fielding in close to the bat.
My early sporting experiences gave me an empathy with and interest in working with the “average” kid. I can identify and relate with them. I’ve never been drawn to work with only talented youngsters and I have patience with those who might struggle a bit.
I had no coaching at Little Athletics. There were no coaches. I had “coaches” at footy and cricket but didn’t get any real “coaching”. The well-meaning but ultimately under-skilled volunteer coaches I had still leave me feeling a bit short-changed. Now I aim to provide athletes with the type of coaching that I didn’t have access to.
Books and Writing
As a youngster I would devour books and even try to write my own. This later gave me the capability to read widely and extensively about coaching. In fact on leaving school I had to decide whether I would pursue a career in Physical Education teaching or journalism. I ended up doing some work experience at the local newspaper but ultimately combined my two loves by studying a Physical Education/English teaching degree.
I today combine my loves of sport, coaching, reading and writing to produce the Coaching Young Athletes blog and this associated newsletter.
Two of my early heroes were my primary and secondary physed teachers. I still remember my primary school PE teacher helping me learn how to throw a ball underarm by stepping forward on my opposite foot.
I became a PE teacher because of the positive effect my secondary PE teacher had on me. I now see that I wanted to have a similar effect on young people that my PE teachers had on me.
My PE teaching degree gave me a fascination of pedagogy and the art of teaching and certainly an advantage in a number of areas – communication, group management, human movement, skill acquisition – that extends through to my coaching today.
Early Coaching Experiences
At about the same time that I began my PE teaching degree I went back to my old Little Athletics centre as a coach at the encouragement of my dad who had remained on the committee even after his three sons had left the sport. I introduced a program called “Play Training”, where I led groups of 5-8 year-olds through 30-minute sessions of skill-based games between their formal events.
This was significant in the development of my coaching craft. I found myself discovering PE teaching skills and strategies even before I began my Bachelor of Education. It also gave me an arena in which I could immediately try out what I was learning during the teaching course. I have a “soft spot” for young developing coaches, having started as one myself, and now have keen interest in encouraging and mentoring them.
During my late teens and early twenties I taught swimming for five years and also coached in the Australian Football League’s “Auskick” program, both of which had skill award programs.
Influenced by these programs and what I was learning during my PE teaching degree, I became passionate about the fact that there seemed to be a lack of skill teaching at Little Athletics. I concluded that in many cases you could virtually could not tell the difference in skill level between kids who had participated in Little Athletics for years and kids new to the sport. Hence I introduced a skill certificate program – to encourage and reward the development of skills. Several years later I was invited by Little Athletics Victoria to present this idea to over one hundred of delegates at their annual state conference. I was twenty-two years-old.
The Big Move
I moved from Melbourne to Sydney in 1994 to take on a development role with Little Athletics New South Wales, an organisation I still work for today. I arrived in Sydney knowing no one. I lived by myself for a significant period of time. This suited me. I am naturally an introvert but people wouldn’t know this if you saw me in front of a group of kids or educating a group of coaches. I love and feel comfortable within a coaching environment. It is my outlet.
Knowing no one and having no family in Sydney, I filled my time by coaching.
I built up an enormous volume of coaching through my work, but also outside of my profession. Coaching after-hours and on weekends gave me a rewarding thing to do in a new city, filling a life that needed filling at the time. At one stage I was coaching after-hours Monday to Thursday, attending the local Little Athletics club meet on a Friday and then sometimes coaching on Sunday. In fact I spent hundreds of hours coaching kids at various levels; from school children to state teams. Looking back, this was how I honed my craft and developed my adaptability as a coach
As I just hinted, my job gave me some exposure to some good young athletes. Part of my role involved coaching kids in talent programs and representative teams. I remember feeling a little intimidated by some other more experienced coaches in this environment and also a little insecure about my coaching early on. In fact I now recognise this as being “imposter” syndrome/phenomenon, where despite my good work, I doubted myself and worried that I would be “exposed” for not knowing enough. But I stuck to it, fumbled my way through, learned, developed and gained confidence with experience.
I learned through a huge amount of coaching and also a huge amount of reading which filled the rest of an otherwise unfilled time. I read a hell of a lot early on. My reading was a huge influence. I consumed books on the subject. Not just track and field books but books about strength & conditioning and coaching kids and psychology. Probably my biggest influence in coaching philosophy was Tudor Bompa’s “Total Training For Young Champions”, for which now there is a new edition called “Conditioning Young Athletes”. Bompa advocates for broad based development, multi-sporting, and avoidance of early specialisation, which had a huge influence on my development as a multi-event athletics coach.
I came late to parenthood.
Significantly, I developed my coaching style and philosophy prior to becoming a dad. In hindsight, this gave me an interesting detached perspective where I could look at things in a very objective way – what was best for kids, rather than what was best for MY kids. My philosophy was not clouded by emotion. I could stand back and look at the big picture – hence my passion for what I have termed “Big Picture Coaching“.
It also shaped my coaching style. Not having kids of my own, I filled the gap by coaching the kids as if they were my own.
Parenthood has now helped me be a little more empathetic to the view of a sports parent, something I naturally and understandably lacked for some time.
Keys to a Coaching Identity
Undertaking this introspective process has given me a much clearer understanding of my coaching identity and where it has come from. It has been a fascinating and enlightening process. Things now make more sense. One of the keys has been to get it down on paper, rather than just think about it.
I can now see that I had a lot of time to develop my craft. My early sporting and coaching experiences, my hobbies, my role models, my education, my profession, living alone in Sydney and my late parenthood were all were keys to how I developed as a coach
Where have you come from as a coach or sports parent? Can you clearly outline and articulate your identity and what shaped that identity?
Doing so will help you to identify and accept your strengths and weaknesses.
Writing this brief “autobiography” was a fascinating task that helped me dig deep into my coaching roots and better understand my coaching self.
I encourage you to reflect on how your past and the key moments in your life have impacted your sports coaching or sports parenting approach and identity. It is interesting, enlightening, and ultimately very helpful in clarifying where you have come from, where you are and where you may next need to go as a coach or sports parent.
I would love to hear what you learn
You can share your experiences by contacting me using the below details.
Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew
Conditioning Young Athletes by Tudor Bompa, PhD & Michael Carrera
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Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes and founder of the blog coachingyoungathletes.com. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin , Anchor or via email.