Collaborative coach development at British Rowing

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By Dr Paul Garner

What a privilege it was to spend the day at the Redgrave and Pinsent Lakes in Caversham with British Rowing earlier in January. Having been invited by Head of Education and Training, Sarah Harris to attend the launch day of their brave new coach development initiative, as a critical friend, it was great to see the innovation and openness that characterised the day. Whilst coach education tends towards qualification and assessment, coach development should be more geared towards learning, without the pressures of evaluation and this is exactly what Sarah and her team set out to facilitate.  

Innovation usually involves an element of risk, perceived or actual, and it takes courage to do things differently, especially when the norms are well established and have borne fruit in the past. But even the most successful ways of working should evolve, I am not sure I subscribe to the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’; increasingly I prefer ‘if it ain’t broke how can I make it stronger’. This coach development initiative is a genuine attempt at a bottom-up approach, where the agenda is determined by the coaches and not by the coach developers. This requires patience with the ‘agenda’ not necessarily apparent to begin with.  

As is often the case with research, it takes time to set the issue and requires dialogue with knowledgeable others in order to reach a point where this can be articulated. Developing people is no different; bespoke, person-centred development relies on dialogue, reflection and guidance from skilful mentors – the issues of greatest concern are not immediately obvious but unfold as practitioners make sense of their complex lives.  

I am full of admiration for the intent behind this endeavour. With high numbers of female coaches in attendance, a focus on grassroots coaching and coach developers drawn from a range of sports, the willingness to do things differently was palpable. The real benefits might take a while to materialise, and there will doubtless be bumps in the road, but the best stuff almost always takes time and hard work.  

Here’s to Sarah and her team, to all the brilliant coach developers involved and to the coaches who are engaging with this project. Bravo!

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