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The Blog

Developing Education

Education is an ever-evolving process. When it comes to the best, learning never stops. As developing coaches we are always searching for content and working our way through the qualification pathway. But how does a coach educator develop? Swedish based contributor, Mark O’Sullivan examines the role of the coach educator.


“They should create an environment where children want to and can learn – we are again back to that desire to learn. A good learning environment “learns- in” and teaches the kids much more than the coach can teach (learn-out). Creating a training environment where participants learn from each other. That is the trainer’s pedagogical role”.

This is a quote from an interview I did with Per- Göran Fahlström in January 2016 elegantly explaining the pedagogical role of the coach. This approach to creating a learning space places great demands on the coach. The quality of someone’s coaching is likely to depend not only on their knowledge but also on their ability to cope with and use this knowledge. Thus the quality of a coach education program will depend on the knowledge of the educator and the use of this knowledge.

If expert coaching practice draws on theory and experience in order to produce innovative practice, then expert coach education development practice should do the same

I have been reflecting a lot recently on my role as coach educator (new Swedish FA C and B Diploma) and coach/curriculum developer at my club. I looked back at the time I was attending coach education courses and how these environments (in my own personal experience) seemed to be more functional than transformational.

Functional in the sense that this is the course, now get it done! At that time, the content of the curriculum based around skill acquisition and pedagogy was not something that I agreed with. However, times have changed some fresh innovative and critical minds have reviewed the material leading to the evidence-based curriculum that I work with today. Knowledge and understanding of this evidence can provide the coach educator with the possibility to become more of a facilitator of a challenging and transformational learning experience rather than a traditional functional instructor.



I reached out to Richard Bailey’s excellent Coaching Science group to help me make sense of my reflections. As usual many great practitioners, ex-pro’s, coaches and researchers proved to be generous with their thoughts and feedback. One of those was Dr Andrew Abraham who is Head of Subject for Sport Coaching at Leeds Beckett University. Recently Andrew has been involved in developing and delivering a post graduate qualification to coach educators within The English Football Association. I feel that his work and feedback through our interactions has helped me put some pieces in place. After all, any informed professional development should lead to me being better at developing better coaches.

The coach educators challenge is to deliver the coach education course in a meaningful way for the coach.

Some of Andrew Abraham’s research work attempts to understand the work of coach developers in the development of coaches. The general consensus is that there is limited understanding with regard to what coach educators do and therefore little understanding as to what their professional needs are.

A model of coach development decision making was developed by Abraham, Collins, Morgan & Muir (2009) that drew on similar work in coach decision making (e.g. Abraham, Collins & Martindale, 2006). This model was developed using available evidence and literature with the aim to unpack, explore and therefore define coach education. The model can be summarised in six domains.

Understanding club and FA context, strategy and politics: Understanding the culture of the situation that is being worked in and adapting behaviour.

Understanding the coach: Understanding the coach’s motivations, needs and wants.

Understanding adult learning and development: Understanding how to most effectively develop learning environments to support adult learning.

Understanding the coaching curriculum: Understanding the curriculum that will need to be delivered to support coaches in their development

Understands self: Understanding own goals, strengths and limitations striving to improve when the opportunity exists.

Process and practice: Understanding the process and practice of coach development

Ideally a coach graduating from a NGB coach education system should have

  • Thorough knowledge of the needs of the learner
  • Thorough knowledge of the sport specific content
  • Thorough knowledge of learning and teaching (i.e. pedagogy)
  • The ability to adapt and quickly build a thorough knowledge of the culture within which they operate

This of course is a complex path that needs to be navigated with guidance from the coach educator where the needs of the individual learner (in this case the coach) are met. Sometimes these individual needs are determined by how far along the coach education pathway the “learner coach” wants to go. In my experience this is often not a question of motivation or ambition but of time commitments and socio – cultural constraint. Here in Sweden there is a very deep tradition of parent coaches up too early teens.

Many of the coaches I deliver the coach education program to are happy to stay at the first level (C- Diploma) as they are only involved because they have a son or daughter active within the sport. How long they will remain as coaches often depends on how long their children remain as players. Some of these coaches are responsible for giving young players their first experience of football in an organised environment. I believe that this places great demands on the more conscientious coach educator who with limited time has to inspire and challenge the learner (the coach) to continue to reflect and develop a genuine desire to become better and continually improve. This may be achieved if the coach educator helps and inspires the coach to gain a sense of ownership of the material. Otherwise once the course and or coach educator is removed the self-development may slow down and the coach may fall back in to doing what he/she has always done.

“Instead of allowing in new thoughts and trying something different they do what all the others do. Then they feel that they cannot be wrong. The Swedish words for security and inertia (trygghet och tröghet) sound very alike and what is reassuring is often too slow and difficult to change. This is often reinforced by players who become coaches and coaches who become managers. So it is often people with the same experiences that control operations in our football clubs”. – (Per- Göran Fahlström, Footblogball interview January 2016)

Sometimes helping coaches identify what they want is not necessarily what they need, is of great importance. No doubt that Per-Göran Fahlströms thoughts above can be added to the socio-cultural constraints that impinge on coach development and thus coach education.

To develop coaches and to meet their individual needs we need to consider how we develop innovative coach education. The research paper Developing expert coaches requires expert coach development: Replacing serendipity with orchestration (Abraham, A., Collins, D., Morgan, G., & Muir, B; 2009) looks in to this and suggests some criteria.

  • Is the coach educator capable of delivering this? This may sound obvious, but our experience is that often people have not recognised how they may limit the development of others. Sports have often been guilty of putting people in charge of major educational initiatives who simply don’t have the expertise to complete the task. This is often the reason why the short term fixes, that Druckman and Bjork (1994) refer to emerge. People without expertise try to fix the most obvious thing that is wrong and often fail to see the underpinning problems that are really the issue (Abraham and Collins, 1998). After all, we only know what we know, our decision making is constrained by personal theory which in turn is built on our personal ‘repertoire’ of experience (Gilbert and Trudel, 1999)
  • What counts as competent practice is predefined. The standardized nature of competences can encourage a uniform approach and, in so doing, discourage creativity and imagination;
    We need to adopt a critical approach; the competence-based approach recognizes the importance of underpinning knowledge but offers little guidance in how it can be used. Therefore, working towards achieving competences will not, in itself facilitate the integration of theory and practice
    The stretched time resources of many coach education programs inevitably means that an eclectic approach is taken to their delivery often leaving little if any time for critical consideration of that knowledge, a key factor in integrating theory into practice (Thomson, 2000, Nelson and Cushion, 2006). In essence, an uncritical approach to coaching development may lead to the development of ‘skilled robots’ rather than ‘knowledgeable doers’” (page 121) (Thomson, 2000).
  • Insufficient expertise in coach education may also limit the development of coaches due to a lack of understanding of the subject matter they are delivering. For example Collins et al. (1991) suggest that providing a model of the content to be taught to a learner can help the learner get an overview of the content before they have to go into more detail (an idea that is similar to the whole part whole approach).
  • In order to develop a clear model of the content that is to be taught the educator must have an excellent understanding of their subject. However, the need for an educator to really examine their own understanding of a subject only comes when they realize that they need to teach that knowledge and so the final development of a model of their subject may only come through the experience of teaching it.

“From my research experiences I’d say some educators are put in place because they are good/highly experienced at coaching, not necessarily because they are highly experienced at helping other coaches to learn” – Anna Stodter (Lecturer in Sports Coaching Anglia Ruskin University)

NGB’s in creating a coach education curriculum want to define an ideal future and develop a culture. The coach educator through the medium of coach education works with understanding the present (the coaches on the course) and closing the gap between the present and the ideal future. During the course they (coach educator and coaches) together work with the evolutionary potential of the present moving slowly towards cultural goals without any assumption as to what that end destination looks like for each individual.

In a world seeking quick fixes, silver bullets and linear prescriptive explanations and models, coach education has many challenges to consider. The prevailing attitudes towards coach education by administrators, parents, coaches, mentors, government. The endless products and myths that are sold in to parents, children, clubs, coaches, coach educators and NGB’s. The professional demands and expectations that are being set on a profession that in most developed countries is not even fully recognised as a profession.

So let’s summarise my thoughts by paraphrasing Per-Göran Fahlströms quote that I referred to at the beginning of this piece.

“They should create an environment where coaches want to and can learn – we are again back to that desire to learn. A good learning environment “learns- in” and teaches the coaches much more than the coach educator can teach (learn-out). Creating an environment where participants learn from each other. That is the coach educator’s pedagogical role”.


Abraham, A (2016) Task Analysis of Coach Developers: Applications to The FA Youth Coach Educator Role. In: Advances in Coach Education and Development from Research to Practice. https://www.routledge.com/Advances-in-Coach-Education-and-Development-From-research-to-practice/Allison-Abraham-Cale/p/book/9781138100794

Abraham, A., Collins, D., Morgan, G., & Muir, B. (2009). Developing expert coaches requires expert coach development: Replacing serendipity with orchestration. In A. Lorenzo, S. J. Ibanez & E. Ortega (Eds.), Aportaciones Teoricas Y Practicas Para El Baloncesto Del Futuro. Sevilla: Wanceulen Editorial Deportiva.

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Footblogball Interview with Per-Göran Fahlströms (January 2016): One cannot shape and form schildren’s sport around such small numbers.

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