Stewart A. Vella, Trevor P. Crowe, and Lindsay G. Oades

The Big Idea

One of the remarkable features of youth sport participation is its voluntary nature; another is how many youngsters actually participate—about two thirds of all youth according to both Australia and USA census records. But why is it then that formal coach education programs are largely unremarkable by comparison?

The big idea of this paper is to offer one way to increase the effectiveness of formal and non-formal coach education. In order to help coaches learn practical skills with a direct application to coaching, these researchers designed what they call a “transformational leadership training program.”


  • There seems to be a consensus that for the most part and for most sports, coach education programs are more indoctrination than invitation.
  • Proscribing the “right way” to coach is the wrong way to educate coaches.
  • With the help of nine youth soccer coaches, a new approach to coach education is introduced in this paper.
  • A workshop plus monthly follow-up phone conversations during a five month soccer league competition was the framework for the study.
  • While the results of this study are consistent with previous research, what was especially important to these coaches was the need to be given practical skill and understanding by way of collaborative relationships with coach educators.
  • While this might sound typical, these researchers move to a different level and redefine how practical skills and collaboration could be delivered.
  • They argue that just giving coaches practical “tool kits” and the “right way” to uniformly apply the techniques is short-changing the very meaning of education.
  • Instead, they put forward a transformational model that depends heavily on coaches imitating the coach educator in an open invitation to learn in parallel and much in the same way their athletes will learn in a more integrated, unpremeditated, and adaptable manner.
  • In this parallel fashion, coaches learn from coaching educators in the same creative way the coaches themselves might design practice on the wonderfully unpredictable and often improvisational skills that make voluntary actions in sport so edifying.

The Research

Setting up the need for a continuation of research these authors are conducting on coach education, this study opens with a deficiency list in modern coach education. The list is lengthy, including:

  • Relatively low impact
  • Not representative of the complex reality of coaching practice
  • Mostly absent are enough practical and interpersonal competencies
  • Little emphasis on positive youth development
  • Far too much indoctrination advocating “the right way” to coach
  • Too little emphasis on socio-cultural differences
  • Not enough help with teaching styles
  • Too much information presented too quickly
  • Little to no follow-up
  • A serious disconnect between learning theory and coaching practice

To address this deficiency and to suggest a different way to approach coach education, these authors designed a study introducing a model they call “transformational leadership training.” The program itself consisted of a two hour group workshop session, with monthly telephone follow-up calls for the entire duration of the five month sporting season. Nine coaches from the same soccer club coached athletes between ages 12 and 18. All the coaches worked in what is called a participation coaching context, with the emphasis on social interaction, skill development, and enjoyment.

The workshop details are outlined in Table 1 of the research paper. Basically the workshop curriculum included components on: developmental outcomes of youth sport, nature and significance of transformational leadership in coaching, common scenarios, goal setting, facilitating the coaches’ self-awareness, and reflection on transformational leadership behaviours. The coaches also received a training manual.

The nine coaches were also asked for written feedback on four questions about the training program workshop one week after its conclusion and at the end of the season. The questions covered: what they thought stood out in the training program and why, suggestions for additions to the program, and possible barriers to its implementation. The coaches were also surveyed on the value of each of the separate components of the workshop.

In addition to the qualitative and quantitative questions, and given the small sample of coaches in the study, the researchers also reported on two of the coaches’ experiences in more detail. They summarised their written responses, survey question responses and the note taking on the monthly phone calls from the researchers.

In general, this coaching sample believed of most value in the transformational leadership program were the principles themselves and the application of them to their coaching practices.   The coaches also benefitted most from the practical demonstrations and information covered. Six of the nine coaches mentioned dealing with parents as a must in any future coach education program.

From the information detail provided from the two case study coaches, one reported moderate to high success in becoming a transformational leader; the other that his motivation to be a transformation leader was moderate to high, but that he had very little success with the program. For both coaches, having “not enough time” was the primary barrier. They both also wanted more time in the workshop to practice what they were learning. Both as well wanted more than one month phone calls, and more frequent and maybe even face-to-face collaboration with the coaching educator.

In their discussion, the researchers say that their study of this particular model did demonstrate that youth sport soccer coaches do desire to learn practical skills and understanding by way of collaborative relationships with coach educators. But what haunts the researchers is the meaning of the relationship. What do youth coaches actually get from practical demonstrations? What can they get out of them? Are the current methods meeting coaches’ needs?

These researchers want us to move beyond coaching education as a “toolbox” approach. A more realistic model recognises the incredible complexity of coaching and the remarkable diversity of youth coaches themselves. So why not focus on the experience of learning itself? Why not create a parallel learning situation in coaching education? Why not give the coaches themselves true learning experiences with their coach educators in a manner in which the novice coach can then mimic in coaching his youngsters? The coaches-in-training then become temporarily like their own athletes-in-training. This way the coaching education mirrors athlete education. Good practices are thereby imitated through the dynamic relationship between the athlete, the coach, and the coach educator.

Closed skills (do it this way!) are replaced by open skills (variable, creative, adaptable ways)—both in coaching and in coaching education. Principles trump behaviours in this kind of education. The coach educator, in other words, provides the context of creative self-determination in their teaching. And the coaches, who are encouraged to reflect-in their own learning, are empowered to reflect-on creating a coaching environment derived from first-hand learning experiences themselves.

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