Coach Education & Development: A Luta Continua!


C oaching in sport is one of the most unenviable jobs under the sun. The coach can be a hero this minute and a downright villain in the next.

Coaches are easy scapegoats for trigger-happy chairpersons and executive boards. When performance on the field goes down, the coach is the first one to be fired, even when some of the reasons for poor performance emanate from the maladministration and inefficiency of the same board members that are always howling on top of their voices for the coach to go.

Job security is non-existent for almost all coaches ranging from club right up to the national team coaches. You will always hear statements such as: “The coach is paid to deliver results”. All things being equal, this is true but, however, in most cases, we find that coaches are ill-equipped to deliver results as expected.

There is need for empowerment of coaches across all sporting disciplines to enable them to have up-to-date knowledge, skills and tactics. The Sport Education and Accreditation Scheme (SEAS) being implemented by the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone VI is certainly a big step in the right direction. Hopefully, it will continue to be supported and implemented by all member states and stakeholders in the future. This will ensure the full development of the coaching profession in Southern Africa.

Coaching is very similar to teaching. It is a noble profession which involves, in most cases, working with young boys and girls to develop them to their fullest potential.

Nowadays, there is need to perform due diligence and screening exercises to ensure that those who work with children do not have criminal backgrounds, either as paedophiles or child abusers.

In Southern Africa, child protection legislation is not being strictly enforced in sport, which is shame really, as some of the most vile adults can end up being sport coaches due to lack of background checks. As the saying goes, “One rotten apple can spoil the bag”.

There are some very noble men and women who are doing tremendous jobs of bring up healthy and well-rounded individuals utilising sport. In most cases, these great men and women do it for the love of sport and children. They are not paid but they work very hard as volunteers, spending hours upon hours developing essential skills among the children. These men and women need to be honoured, celebrated and encouraged through further training under the auspices of the various sports authorities.

The SEAS programme is indeed a noble initiative, which if fully supported, could transform the sport-coaching sector in Southern Africa thereby helping it to attract and retain highly qualified individuals. The performances of individual athletes and teams in international competitions largely depend on the quality of coaching that they received when they were growing up. It is, therefore, not a surprise to see athletes such as Usain Bolt producing world-class performances.

It is that simple. Go back in time and check Bolt’s teachers and/or coaches at primary and high school. You will find all the answers.

People marvel at the Brazilians and their Samba football. Even opposing teams are mesmerised by the sheer skill and talent that characterises Brazilian football. Other countries are trying to match the Brazilians by building expensive football academies and institutions hoping that they will be able to produce players with the same amount of creative flair and talent. Every young boy, who is able to kick a ball, in Brazil dreams of playing for “The Seleccao”, the national team. It is practically ingrained in   their DNA. 

Whether the boys end up living this dream or not is really not important but the support they get when growing makes this a distinct possibility for almost every one of them. This is because the talent identification and development system goes right to grassroots to the poverty-stricken favelas (shantytowns) in most parts of urban Brazil.

Even in these favelas where you find grim deprivation and poverty, you will not fail to find one adult, be it a parent, coach or teacher who is very passionate about football who ignites the fire in the bellies of the superstars that we see in world football today.

The same applies to table tennis in China. Table tennis is one of the games where, sometimes, it seems like it is practically impossible to beat a Chinese player. Just like the Brazilians, they do not have special magic. They start competing at a very high level when they are still young. When they grow up it is just a question of merely polishing up the skills that they have acquired over a long period and continuing to enjoy what they do.

Sometimes people are quick to find excuses as to why things are not happening as expected. Instead of just targeting the poor coach, the whole system must be examined.

Do we have an environment that fosters excellence? How much have we invested in coach education and development? Do we have the right equipment? As Southern African governments, corporate sponsors and sports lovers, we must desist from witch-hunts and apportioning blame but rather build from the foundation upwards. The foundation is a vibrant coaching education and development system.

As indicated before, you do not struggle to get football coaches in Brazil or table tennis coaches in China or even rugby coaches in New Zealand. It is a question of identifying those with the passion to develop various sports and supporting them accordingly in their quest to gain more knowledge and skills.

In Southern Africa, we do have an abundance of passionate and very talented teachers and coaches. The national and regional sports authorities must just do one simple thing. Give them a chance to prove themselves!

October 2013
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