Coach Matters

Have you ever thought about sports coaching broadly? What values is coaching founded on? What is good coaching? What is the role of the coach? What is the coach’s significance in the athlete’s development in sports, as well as in life in general? What does sports coaching offer to society? What rights and responsibilities does each counterpart have in this mutual relationship between the coach and the athlete? How do these things change as athlete moves forward on their path?

In 2016, the Finnish Coaches Association (Suomen Valmentajat ry), along with Professional Coaches of Finland (Suomen Ammattivalmentajat SAVAL) and the Finnish Olympic Committee, published the guideline titled “The Coach matters” (Valmentajalla on väliä) which acts as the ethical code of conduct for the Finnish coaching scene. The content is not a list of restrictions, but more of a concise description of what is fair and good. The code of conduct brings forth the values that coaching should be based on, the role of the coach and what the relationship between the coach and the athlete should be like in different phases of their joined path. “The Coach matters” guidelines provide the coach with the possibility to mirror these guidelines in their actions and to display the ethicality of them.

It would be most welcome if “The Coach matters” guidelines sparked a discussion on coaching and accelerated the change in the coaching culture from sport-specific technical-tactical coaching to a coaching culture that places emphasis on human resource management ‒ to coaching where the coach’s role is to help the athlete.

Good coaching

Good coaching means coaching of a person in both individual and team sports. In order to succeed in helping the athlete, the coach has to know both his/herself, as well as their athlete. Coaching is a long-term development process, in which both counterparts learn. The learning is based on the athlete’s inner motivations. In coaching, this means that the coach helps the athlete find their inner motivations and their personal sources of strength.

In athlete-centred activities, the coach's most important goal is to help the athlete to develop and use their own resources. The athlete is at the centre ‒ and so are his/her resources and inner desire to learn. The athlete is involved in all stages of the coaching process: planning, implementation and evaluation. In such a way, the athlete grows responsibility for their own actions and has a strong sense of ownership of practising the sport.

In athlete-centred activities, both the role of the coach and athlete are demanding. It is different from coach-centred or performance-based coaching and requires the ability to build athlete-coach interaction. The coach has the responsibility for the overall picture of the coaching process. The coach’s role and responsibility vary according to where the athletes are on their path.

Values of sport

The idea of sports is to compete according to a previously decided set of rules: to determine who is the best in this competition and in this context, and how other contestants compare to the winner. For the competition to occur within the idea of the sports and for everyone to do their best so that the score would be correct is at the core of sports.

The idea of sports is also self-development, as well as finding and using one’s full potential. Sports may offer a journey to knowing and developing the self in many ways. At its best, sport provides the possibility for learning, progress and acquiring various experiences.

In many ways, sport is about emotion. Sport offers the chance to feel and experience various feelings in a supervised environment. It offers the chance to learn to identify and regulate one’s feelings. This is why it is important that the actions in sport are so, that both feelings of joy and sadness can be felt in a real manner. Below is a list of values that are an integral part of good sports.

1. Joy, excitement and passion

There are many reasons for doing sport. Exercise promotes good health and sparks joy, emotion and experiences. At its best, all activity is summoned from the athlete’s own joy, excitement and passion for sports. Exercise is valuable in its own ‒ one does sport for pleasure.

2. Strive for excellence and to continuous self-development

In sport, one strives for the best possible performance. Success in sport is based on the development of the performance, strenuous coaching and on the athlete’s ceaseless will to develop themselves.

3. Trying and perseverance

The athlete faces both success and adversity in coaching and competition. Adversities are a fundamental part of learning and progress. Sport is a long-term development process based on trying and trying again. In order to see possibility for growth in a challenging situation, one has to keep a positive mindset.

4. Respect and fair play

Respect for life and others is a part of good sports. It means respecting the sport, the athletes, all actors in sports, as well as the rules.

5. Acting together

In sports, the goal is common. Coaching and competing are team efforts of many people. In sports, one is always a part of a larger scheme. Sport is a team effort and it creates a sense of community to its actors and spectators.

The coach that acts accordingly to values of sport

Good coaching is founded on the values of sports. Good coaching is described in the three following sections.

The coach’s duty is to help the athlete holistically

The cooperation between the athlete and the coach is based on trust. The coach helps the athletes to know themselves, to identify their resources, to become their own leader and to cooperate with others.

Coaching is a long-term process that includes successes, failures, trying again and learning through them.

The athlete is an active actor. The coach involves the athlete in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the activities.

The coach wants to know him/herself and identify own motives for coaching

The coach knows him/herself and is able to identify own strengths and weaknesses. The coach is not afraid to be him/herself.

The coach understands their own role as an example and role model. The coach creates a positive and good atmosphere for the learning process. The coach treats athletes equally, as well as other actors involved.

The coach does their job passionately and professionally and the coach is striving towards continuous self-development.

Coaching has effects

Sport is a part of culture, which provides content for life and a wide range of opportunities for implementation. Sport generates joy, enthusiasm and passion for one’s own work. In accordance with this spirit, the mission of the coach is to help the athlete succeed, to make progress and to grow as a person.

Learning and striving towards progression are at the heart of coaching. The coach’s role in sports is important. The coach is the leader of the coaching process and the unifying force between the athlete and the various stakeholders. In moments of failure, the coach is an energetic source of strength with the ability to motivate, as well as to relaunch the collaborative process again and again.

The progress and cooperation in sports can serve as an example for other sectors of society. Coaching is a planned and long-term process of cooperation between an athlete and their support network. These skills are also useful for other sectors in society.

Sport creates community. One can experience strong emotions and experiences doing sports. Sports produces joy, sadness, success and disappointments in an organised environment. Doing things together accumulates a wide range of skills. At the same time, it creates a strong sense of community among both the athletes and the spectators.

Conditions for good sports

In order for the fundamental ideas of good sport to take effect, every individual has the right to:

  • experience joy from doing sports
  • be treated equally
  • act in a safe environment and atmosphere
  • take part in a fair game in which one competes and acts according to the rules and does one’s best so that the outcome will be fair
  • take part in healthy and clean sports
  • act in accordance with one’s own goals and starting points and become valued
  • bring forth any grievances

Coaching relationship

The relationship between a coach and an athlete is often a very meaningful relationship, a power relationship and a contractual relationship. Both counterparts have rights and obligations to each other. Rights and responsibilities vary at different stages of an athlete's path. The coach must recognize the importance of the power relationship and the limits in their exercise of power. The coach and the athlete must be able to trust that both will stick to mutually agreed matters. The agreed matters must be in accordance with the athlete's level of development. A prerequisite for a coaching relationship is to understand and consider the whole of an athlete’s life. The dignity of the coach or the athlete never depends on the amount of success in sport.

Good sports on the athlete’s path:

Children’s sports:

The main goal in children’s sports is gaining joy from doing sports and exercising. This joy of sport is sparked by learning, building social relationships, various emotions and playful competition. It is important for the child to be encountered as an individual and for them to be heard. The child has the right to safe sports. The adults involved in children’s sports should understand their role as an example and their responsibility in the quality of the activities. Adults should cooperate in such a way that the activity supports and contributes to the healthy and safe growth and development of the child through versatile exercises. The responsibility for raising the child belongs to the parents. The coach supports the child’s upbringing, and the coach has the right to the support from the parents, the sports club and other actors. Everyone involved in the activity participates in building the atmosphere. In these activities, it is important that others are taken into account so that joy, learning and security are realised for everybody in all circumstances.

Youth sports:

In youth sports, the main goal is to find the joy and enjoyment of exercise and sports in activities that go hand in hand with one’s objectives. The enjoyment of exercise and sports arises from doing activities that go with one’s objectives, setting appropriate goals and a comfortable and safe atmosphere. The athlete is entitled to healthy, clean and fair sports. It is the adults’ responsibility to create an open interaction with the young person to support their growth and sports activities. A coaching relationship is one of trust based on honesty, where the athlete gradually grows responsible for their own sport. The coach’s responsibility for the athlete is based on the age of the athlete they work with. The coach and the athlete are entitled to their own values and the coaching is based on jointly agreed practices and commitment to those practices. Sport offers an opportunity for long-term self-development and a wide range of learning experiences.

Adult sports:

Enthusiasm and passion are the driving forces in adult sports, independent of the goals. In adult competitive sports at the highest level, the opportunity to reach one’s highest potential is the most important. The opportunity to reach one's full potential is rooted in passion, commitment, the right kind of goals, doing one’s best and in taking responsibility. The coaching relationship is founded on an agreement on common practices and in confidence that both counterparts will work to the advantage of one another. The coach and the athlete understand the impact their actions have on the larger scheme. Striving for the best requires finding one’s boundaries as well as risk-taking. Learning something new and striving for the best is possible if one has the permission to fail and to learn from it. Common choices are conscious and based on honesty and the best potential expertise. In such a manner, it is possible to take responsibility for the decisions made. Both the coach and the athlete build an atmosphere and a culture that respect others, as well as the rules of the sport.

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