Training Coaches

As the first line of interaction with girls, coaches make all of the difference. Strong coaches will both help girls develop sport skills and facilitate the transfer of the sporting experience into an empowerment tool for life. Weak coaches can disempower girls and have a long-lasting negative impact on self-esteem and love for sport. Ultimately, the success of a programme lies in the hands of the coaches. Programme directors are responsible for making sure coaches have the tools they need to effectively serve participants.

Perhaps the most meaningful standard by which a coach’s competency (and ultimate success) can be measured is in relation to the goals of the program in which they operate. If sporting excellence is your main purpose, the quality of your coaches depends on their ability to build good players and teams—through techniques, tactics and game strategies— and win games and championships. If the goals of your programs are to equip children with life skills, you must build those capacities in the coaching staff. Being a “good” coach means more than just facilitating a sport session; it means having specific knowledge, facilitation competencies and providing a panorama of support to the participants—often from situations with a multitude of challenges and vulnerabilities. Coaches need to be adequately prepared to deal with the sensitive and complex issues that affect the daily lives of their charges.

However, many coaches in sport for development programmes are not adequately trained or prepared for their objectives. Often elite sport coaches, with high expertise in technical training and athlete excellence, have little training on how to explicitly teach valuable life skills that develop and empower youth. Facilitators who teach and develop life skills at various development organisations may have a deep understanding of what it takes to empower youth but have little training or knowledge of how to teach the basics of a certain sport.

Coaching, or perhaps more accurately, coaching consciously, is often a new skill for individuals. It is crucial to provide an environment where a coach feels like he or she can learn and improve, whether that means improving their technical knowledge of the game or learning how to link sport with life skills and lessons. Some coaches might not feel prepared to teach and talk about sensitive issues such as gender-based violence or sexual health. Other coaches may not feel comfortable running a basic football session. Overall, adapting an attitude of patience and investing in a coach’s development is important. Ideally, coaches are already highly skilled and sensitive to team dynamics, but, more often than not, these skills can be cultivated and developed over time. Organisations should take a look at what their coaches’ capacities and skills are and where they might need extra training in order to foster a holistic approach to using sport as a tool for development.

Also, women’s rights organisations, which work with deep concern for the girls’ interest, might be new to using sport as a strategy to achieve their objectives and, therefore, need to think critically on how to recruit and train coaches in their new programmes. 

Tools for Training Coaches:

  • Manuals. Providing coaches with a written guidebook of technical information about how they are expected to lead girls is a first step in training. Manuals often include programme rules and philosophies, ideas for drills and tips on practice planning. Most manuals are produced internally by programme directors and other coaches and include very specific information about sport-specific skills, facilities and local cultural considerations. However, if you are unable to create your own, there are also coaching handbooks that are produced by third-party providers, such as national or international sport federations and/or coaching bodies. Coaches should also understand that it is at times acceptable to stray from a set curriculum, depending on the girls’ needs and preferences. For access to online manuals, see Youth Development Football, a supranational programme implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in partnership with the Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa in 10 African countries. The programme offers several free manuals that help coaches in various sports for development contexts.
  • Curricula. Besides technical training manuals, curricula that help coaches address life issues like gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, teamwork, or peer pressure are essential for coaches attempting to approach sensitive topics. Be mindful of language barriers. It’s important to provide coaches with manuals that are written in a language they fully understand. Most manuals do not include chapters on physical education for those with disabilities. Enhance your knowledge if you teach mixed groups of girls with and without disabilities by looking for manuals about girls with disabilities and sport. For more information on finding and choosing a quality curricula, see the Curricula section of this guide.
  • Workshops and training. Learning styles vary from one individual to the next. Some coaches may be able to learn everything from a manual, while others prefer to learn from live demonstrations or discussions. Holding or attending in-person coaching workshops can be a valuable way to share information. Coaching workshops and training can be focused on any aspect of the job, such as creating safe spaces for girls, teaching a specific skill, or how to recognise and address instances of gender-based violence in a girl’s life. Internal training can help ensure that all coaches are working within the same philosophy, promoting the same values. These face-to-face meetings can foster powerful idea exchanges between individual coaches. These meetings can also provide opportunities for programme leadership to reiterate the programme’s values and goals. It might also be important for male coaches to go through gender sensitivity training if they will be coaching adolescent girls’ teams or mixed-gender teams.
  • Mentoring. One of the cheapest and most effective ways for coaches to learn is from mentors. Programmes should look for opportunities to pair up younger coaches with more experienced coaches. Learning “on the job” from mentors is an extremely effective way to improve coaching skills.
  • Observing and evaluating coaches. Regular evaluations are a vital tool in supporting a coach’s growth and ensuring that he or she is positively serving girls. The evaluation process can be a learning experience for all involved. Evaluations should be conducted by supervisors or programme directors as well as girls and peer coaches. Inviting girls to participate in developing and conducting the evaluation process can send a powerful message to a girl that her voice and experience matter.
  • Effective evaluations from a supervisor or peer can be conducted verbally, but should also be written, as a record of a coach’s performance and as a measure of accountability on both sides. For their protection, girls’ evaluations of coaches should be done anonymously and in writing.
  • Code of conduct. Successful sport programmes for girls have very clear expectations for all the coaches and staff within the organisation. Coaches are in a position of power. Every coach should sign a contract, stating that he or she understands and will abide by the organisation’s mandates. This provides for complete accountability in case of abuse or misuse of that power. The contract is also a valuable communication tool, demonstrating that both the administration and coaches understand clearly what is expected to create a safe space for girls. Program directors should also be very clear about penalties for breaching the code of conduct. There should be a clear organisational commitment to a “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment, violence or abuse.