Kids' coaches are key players

Volunteer coaches and trainers help many young people become Olympians. But what kind of training do these coaches receive?

Date published: 2008-02-25 1:32:04 PM

In Canada, nearly three million youngsters aged five to 19 play sports regularly under the watchful eye of thousands of coaches, and they often spend more time with their coaches than with their school gym teachers. Pierre Trudel, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in sports education, has been studying the training received by volunteer coaches, who play a major role in developing junior athletes.

The coach’s role is more than just showing the athlete how to move with a ball or take an accurate shot with a puck. Competition also fosters moral values that are inextricably linked with sport. “Such values are the importance of trying hard, of showing team spirit, and of being disciplined," Trudel says.

The values are not always transmitted smoothly and without incident. “Some coaches have demands that extend far beyond the bounds of amateur sport,” he points out. “For example, some will even ask athletes to keep playing when they are injured. Others will push athletes to sacrifice themselves ‘for the sake of the team’ by sitting on the bench because they are not as good as their teammates.”

The problem is that many coaches are influenced by professional sports, where winning is everything. In addition, not all of them have received sufficient training or support to build a healthy, safe sports environment that puts personal development ahead of winning. And on top of that, there is the pressure to win exerted by parents and sports organizations. “We should not lose sight of the fact that coaches are volunteers, Trudel adds, “who also have professional and family responsibilities. Our demands on them must be realistic.”

Pierre Trudel’s research has shown that volunteer coaches would benefit from sharing their experience and knowledge with one another more often when they have to solve a problem or meet a challenge. “Imagine how much they would gain if they could discuss matters with other coaches,” he says. “There’s no more effective form of training than that.”

Pierre Trudel’s research on the training of coaches was funded through SSHRC’s Standard Research Grants program.