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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

How do we encourage more people to coach?

This week is National Coaches Week in Canada! It is a week to celebrate the positive impact that coaches have on athletes and communities across Canada. This is an annual campaign to thank coaches for the integral role they play.

Coaching is one way that people can be involved in sports that has a direct impact on their communities, and people around them. The Coaches Association of Canada (CAC) identifies some of the ways coaches can have a social impact by modeling respectful behaviour and problem solving skills, model community building behaviour, helping others improve and build their confidence, learn effective ways to persuade, offer constructive criticism and provide advice, build planning skills, promote diversity and inclusion and safety in sport.

On top of those benefits established by the CAC, coaches have a direct impact on their athletes. Engaging with them in a positive way to encourage them to live active lives, and be responsible citizens outside of the pool. Coaches, whether volunteered or paid, spend a lot of time working with athletes to develop them both as competitors and people off the fields of play. What we teach at the pool is important outside of the pool.

The reason why I started coaching was because in high school I had wanted to become a teacher after university and I thought that coaching was a natural fit for this idea. And after I decided that I wasn’t going to become a teacher, I stuck with coaching because I enjoyed it. I started when I was in grade 10, and I am now in my 11th year of coaching and I certainly plan to coach for as long as I can. Coaching at the grassroot level gives me the opportunity to connect with and work with young people in my community.

The focus on grassroot community sport needs to be much bigger. After attending Global Sports Week 2020 as a Young Sport Maker, I got a look inside the world of European sport culture. The sport culture there is nothing like we have in Canada. We need to get on their level. Our community coaches will be key to this.

Coaches can have a really positive impact on a young person’s life. Giving them the knowledge and tools to develop many important life skills.

Often I meet coaches who know nothing about swimming and are coaching because if they didn’t step up, the team would have folded. For many summers when my brother and I were playing soccer, my dad volunteered as a coach (I don’t think my dad had never played any formal sports before in his life). This is not a bad thing, and I think that it is great that these people stepped up and gave their time to have an impact on their communities and young people. I think that these people do not get enough thanks for the work that they do.

This raises a question to me: is there a shortage of coaches in some communities? I think that in most cases, a coach who was an athlete in the sport that they are coaching may know more about the sport than a community member stepping up to coach (not to say that a community member can’t learn). Maybe this is not as big of an issue as I’m making it, but from what I have seen coming from a small province with lots of rural communities and even in the biggest province in our country: smaller communities have a disadvantage when it comes to attracting coaches.

Ontario alone had 19,668 registered swimmers in 2017 and 136 clubs across the province. As a coach I always hear of teams and clubs looking for coaches. Despite having 19,668 swimmers we still have to find coaches who know nothing about the sport. Maybe other sports don’t have the same experience finding coaches (I would imagine it is also difficult), but how do we keep enough of those 19,668 athletes in sport as a coach?

Let’s say the average number of coaches per team (all levels pre-competitive to senior groups) across the province is 20 coaches, that means there are 2,720 coaches. 13.8% of the almost 20,000 swimmers would have to stay in the sport and coach. One would think this is a tangible target.

How do we keep these people in sport? How do we engage them to ensure that sport is accessible to everyone. What kinds of programs do we need to create to get people to coach?

One example of such a program is the Game Plan and the Coaching Association of Canada partnership to provide some athletes who have retired from high level sport to get their coaching certification. This is one program that can help promote athletes to stay in sport.

But we also need to focus on those who do not make it to that level. Sports are for everyone, whether competing or coaching.

We need programs aimed at underrepresented groups. Women, indigenous, LGBTQ+ coaches, we need more people from these groups getting involved. Some really encouraging programs from the Coaching Association of Canada and Canada Games is that they send four apprentice coaches to the Games from each province and territory (two women and two indigenous coaches per province).

I think one challenge with coaching is that in most spaces it is volunteering, or community level sport. Most of these coaches are doing this part time because they enjoy it, rather than it being a career path. I think we need to make coach education more accessible. Many smaller grassroot sport teams do not have the resources to offer to pay for coach training. It can get expensive. There is funding available for coaches, but still this is an added barrier, especially for volunteer coaches.

I think the answer to the coach problem is trying to get people involved in coaching as early as possible. Unfortunately, most swimmers will not make it to the elite or professional levels no matter how much they love their sport. We need to turn this love of sport into a love that they can give back to the community. Maybe as athletes get older and get into university or later years of high school, we need to create a transition plan from competing to coaching.

Maybe a transition plan is a pathway. We get older athletes to mentor younger athletes on the team. Older athletes can come to a practice with younger athletes. I think mentoring is a first step into coaching. As a coach I know that my swimmers listen and want to learn from me, but sometimes it needs to come from older athletes. Being retired, my swimmers don’t see me swim, but they see how fast the older athletes are. They look up to them. Having older athletes come in and provide some mentoring I think is a good place to grow some roots for moving into coaching. (Check out the article on mentoring with Martha McCabe!)

After mentoring we can ask athletes to come in on a rotating schedule one day a week to coach the younger groups. In swimming we have pre-competitive groups (usually around ages 5-8). Having a different swimmer come in one day a week can help create a bigger team bond and also introduce coaching as an option for older athletes. Obviously coaching is not for everyone, but opening that door for everyone is not a bad thing. (In Ontario high school students need 40 volunteer hours to graduate: this can count towards that!)

After they finish a coaching rotation, let the ones who want to keep coaching stay on! I think we can definitely do better for keeping people on as coaches after they finish as athletes no matter what level they made it to.

Coaching can have a social impact by giving back to the community. Taking time to work with youth and help them grow as individuals and as athletes and further their journey’s in life can often have the biggest impact on a young person. With a lack of coaches it makes it hard to provide programming for people of all ages, not just youth. Without coaches it is hard for sports to have a social impact because there are no teams or clubs without coaches.

To get more people involved in coaching and in sport, we need to highlight the positive impacts that you can have as a coach. We need to remind people of why community level sport is important and how coaches can influence the future generations of leaders.


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