Coach education training challenging for coaches with a foreign background


In 2019, the Finnish Coaches’ Association organized the from Athlete to Coach (AtoC; in Finnish ULURVA) training for athletes with a foreign background with the help of a state grant allocated by the Finnish National Agency for Education to promote integration. The knowledge gained from the training showed that former athletes with a foreign background have a lot to contribute to Finnish sports coaching, but the ineptitude of the Finnish language limits the opportunities for training as a coach.

A total of 14 participants graduated in 2020 from the education training, representing nine different sports and 13 different nationalities. This was the most multicultural training group of the Finnish Coaches’ Association to this date. The participants were grateful for having been able to participate in the training and provided positive feedback on the training.

The AtoC education training showed that there is indeed a need for customized training and support with regard to the support of athletes and coaches with a foreign background in Finland. From the participants' point of view, the challenge in Finland is, that there are too few opportunities to train as a coach in languages ​​other than Finnish and Swedish, especially considering vocational training. Completing a professional qualification training as a coach is only possible in the two official domestic languages.

Based on the feedback received from the participants, the inaptitude of the Finnish language only slightly limits the coaching work itself. Other coaching skills, such as physical presence, group management, and the ability to see the essentials, are more important than language skills. In Finland, participants in sports activities have a good command of English, so using English in coaching situations is acceptable.

Those with a foreign background who have been in Finland for a long time already have a good knowledge of the Finnish language, but do not necessarily have the courage to use it.

Key points for integration are that former athletes with a foreign background who are now coaches get to know the Finnish sports system and receive the opportunity to establish a network in the coaching community. Some of the participants felt that it was difficult to get involved in Finnish club activities as a coach.

It became clear during the education training, that former athletes with a foreign background have different skills than Finns. Multiculturalism has constantly increased in Finnish sports and there is a need for multicultural competence in this diversified coaching environment. Coaches from different cultural backgrounds can provide peer support to immigrants, be it to coaches or athletes.

The education training was executed as planned and was a great success as an initiative, despite some challenges.

- The AtoC education training served to promote linguistic and cultural equality in the activities of the Finnish Coaches’ Association and provided valuable expertise for the future. The success of the initiative is also based on the fact that it has provided insight and visibility on the situation of coaches with a foreign background in Finland. One of the challenges of the education training was that the participants had a more heterogeneous sports background compared to previous training groups. Reaching out to the participants for the training was also laborious, summarizes Sari Tuunainen, Executive Director of Finnish Coaches’ Association.

The Varala Sport Institute, was the executor of the education training, and as such also deemed the initiative a positive experience.

- The motivation of the lecturers to teach in a foreign language was at a high level. The project-outputs will be utilized in the future, comments Pekka Rindell, the developer of coaching at the Varala Sports Institute.

For the year 2021 the Finnish Coaches’ Association successfully applied for project funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture for the promotion of cultural and linguistic equality for coaches of children and young people in Finland. The knowledge gained from the AtoC education training serves as a good foundation for this new project which aims at increasing the cultural understanding in sports activities and to train athletes with a foreign background as coaches and coaches with a foreign background as mentors. The activities of the project are implemented during 2021.