Sport plays an incredibly important role in modern British life. As well as boosting the economy by billions every year, sport also encourages community spirit, gives players and spectators a greater sense of purpose, teaches young people fundamental life skills and improves the physical and psychological health of millions who participate.
Some people participate in sports simply for fun, while others view it as a fundamental part of their lives and strive constantly to do better. Whatever your motivations for taking part in sport, a coach can help you to not only excel but can also maximise your level of enjoyment in whichever activity you chose.
Through expert tutoring, constructive criticism, motivation and on-hand support, sports coaches can help individuals focus their minds, hone their bodies and learn their disciplines to ensure they have the best possible chance of succeeding.
What is sports coaching?
Sports coaching can be defined as the process of motivating, guiding and training an individual in preparation for any sporting hobby, career, or event.
Most professional sportspeople have coaches to help them train and compete - but you don't have to be a pro to hire a coach. It’s a common misconception that only elite athletes can benefit from the guidance of a sports coach. All you need is a desire either to learn a sport or to enhance your performance in the sport you already play.
To achieve great things in sport, we don’t necessarily have to put our bodies and minds through extensive training programmes, either. The most important aspect of improving sporting performance is to strive every day to be fitter, faster, stronger and sharper than we were the day before.
What is the role of a sports coach?
The role of a sports coach is hugely varied, but it mainly involves:
- Teaching rules, techniques and tactics to beginners.
- Providing an objective view to help teams and individuals enhance performance.
- Helping those involved in top-level sports deal with enormous pressures faced in a highly competitive environment.
Although the coaching relationship may seem akin to that of teacher and student, there is often a stronger connection than that. Particularly in cases where athletes progress towards a professional sporting level, coaches can become more involved in the workings of their life. The relationship between coach and athlete must be strong, professional and built on mutual trust and respect.
Below we explore why you might consider hiring a sports coach to help you.
Starting a new sport
Starting a new sport is a great way to meet new people, open up new opportunities for yourself and improve your mental and physical health.
Sports coaches can be hired to teach anyone the basic rules of a sport. So, if you fancy playing tennis but you've never even held a racket before - you could hire a tennis coach to teach you how. Your coach will make sure you grasp the very basics of the sport before progressing to anything more advanced.
Improve your game
Teaching the basics of different sports is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sports coaching. Once you've got to grips with the rules and techniques, you'll be ready to decide whether it's something you wish to pursue seriously.
If you find you have a natural talent and enjoyment for your chosen sport, you might want to build even further on that. The key to progress is practice, but there comes a point in every amateur and professional athlete's sporting experience when that progress appears to plateau. Unfortunately, when we stop noticing signs of progression, feelings of disparagement can start to kick in - making it much easier to give up.
A sports coach can be hired to assess your performance critically in order to identify particular areas in need of improvement. Once you have a plan for moving forward, those feelings of progression and movement will return - hopefully accompanied by a new boost of motivation to reach a higher level of performance.
Advance to a professional level
Only a handful of people go on to play their sports at a professional level, and to do so requires a huge amount of talent, effort, passion and dedication.
Individuals who show high levels of potential are often encouraged to hire a sports coach who will give them that extra push. Many sports coaches have backgrounds in professional sports themselves, so they know what it takes to make it to the top. A sports coach can act as an agent, putting hopefuls in touch with clubs, societies and sponsors to help them turn their hobby into a paying career.
Disability sports coaching
Disabled people can face more barriers to participation than non-disabled people. Coaching can help to prevent these barriers by encouraging a welcoming and inclusive environment for sport and physical activities.
Choice and accessibility are vital; all disabled people should have the choice between accessing disability sport or mainstream sport. A coach can select appropriate activities and make minor adjustments for disabled people, which suit their needs, to ensure sessions are effective and enjoyable for all participants.
Sports coaching for children
If your child shows a particular interest in a sport, you may consider hiring a sports coach to help them - or their team - progress to a higher level. Sports coaches are also becoming ever more utilised within schools, in order to provide specialised knowledge and experience to assist teachers.
All sports coaches working with children should meet certain standards proving they are safe, trustworthy and competent. When choosing a sports coach, make sure they have been DBS checked recently (previously known as CRB).
Understanding development stages
Children are always growing. As they get older, their bodies undergo fundamental biochemical changes that will inevitably affect their sporting performances. Coaches are aware of child development stages so they can adapt training programmes over time to match the changing bodies and minds of the children they coach.
Inspiring positive development
Sports coaching usually takes a holistic approach to performance. Children benefit from sports coaching because it teaches them skills they can apply to everyday life, including:
- good work ethic
- discipline and focus
- communication skills
- leadership and team playing
Of course, not all children have a positive relationship with sport and exercise. A coach can help to combat this, though, by placing an emphasis on the importance of taking part and having fun.
For more advice, Happiful explores ‘5 Ways to Help Your Kids Overcome Sports Fears’.
Assisting sport in school
With the increased focus on raising standards in PE and school sport in recent years, there have been further requirements for teachers and other practitioners to have access to effective professional learning. Sports coaches are one avenue for schools to access this professional development, via PE and Sport Premium funding.
Coaches can organise and plan sporting activities and support the work of PE teachers. In addition, this dedicated role within a school setting can increase participation levels in competitive sport and ensure that physical fitness and healthy lifestyles are continuously promoted to students.
Sports coaching techniques
Sports coaching isn’t just about developing physical attributes or skills. There’s much more to it than that. Sports coaches often take a holistic approach to coaching. This means they look at the whole picture rather than just one part.
So, for example, if an aspiring track runner wants to improve their time by a second, instead of focusing all their effort on the treadmill, a sports coach might suggest a psychological approach.
Are there any mental blocks preventing the athlete from running that little bit faster? What's happening in their personal life? Are there any personal distractions standing in the way of full concentration and focus?
Sports coaches use visualisation techniques, relaxation methods and self-talk exercises to help athletes enhance their performance from a psychological perspective. Most athletes agree that thinking positively and visualising success helps them to reach their goals.
Life Coach, Dawn Buckley, explores visualisation:
Sports coaches use visualisation techniques successfully with their athletes as a significant part of their training. They create mental ‘muscle memory’ that, when practised repeatedly, can have a significant impact on performance with no chance of injury or fatigue. The brain and body already believe it can succeed which is half of the challenge.
Dealing with failure
No one enjoys losing but this is often an inevitable part of taking part in sport. So, an important aspect of a sports coach's role is to support athletes through loss and to help them to see their failure not as an end, but as the beginning of a new journey.
Coaches can help players to see the bigger picture and to work on various skills in order to improve weak areas of their sport. This doesn’t necessarily prevent failure in the future, but it will help to change a player’s mindset and thoughts towards their own performance.
Recovering from injury
Injury can have a massive psychological effect, not only on professional athletes but on those that love sport and training.
Athletes who suddenly find themselves cooped up at home for weeks on end, unable to train, can quickly become frustrated, bored and disheartened. Being in pain can also have a negative impact on their emotional well-being, requiring extra support from sports coaches to keep them focused on recovery.