Saturday, February 20, 2016

Coaching Development

Today I'm going to discuss coaching education. I know, how exciting? But it is something that is important not only to us coaches, but to the parents, athletes and for our employers. We often believe the higher the certification the more qualified the coach, but is this always the truth? When someone chooses a squash coach they likely don't have many options. Unless you live in a big city with a lot of squash courts you likely only have 1 or 2 options on which coach to choose. If you are fortunate enough to have a choice, how do you decide? Is it who is cheapest? Who has availability? Or do you simply want the best coach? If you want to select the best coach how do you go about doing this?

Is a level 5 coach better than a level 4 coach? A 4 superior to a 3 and so on? See I went and did my masters in coaching to become a better coach; bottom line. Over the years as I've applied for a few coaching jobs they always ask what my certification level is. I would tell them it was 1 or 2 or now almost done 3 and I also mention that I did complete a 2 year masters program in coaching studies. A few years ago I was told I was a runner up for a Canadian coaching position because I had not completed the level 3 certification, although I had completed all of the courses. So this club hired someone from outside of Canada with a completed level 3 who I might add does not have a masers degree, yet alone in coaching! That felt like a ridiculous reason if this was the truth especially since this club did't have any elite players. Is there a benefit to the members of a squash club in having a level 3 certified coach? I guess to this one there was. So you can see I've had some challenges with the certification system and what it stands for. I'm more focused on becoming the best I can be, not just what just looks good on my resume.

I see a lot of coaches get hired simply because they are former PSA players. This is a club hiring a name. It surely doesn't imply that this person will or won't be a good coach. I know many coaching positions are taken up by ex-PSA players instead of professional coaches. So there clearly are times where certification doesn't seem to matter. About 15 years ago I did my level 1 course with one of the most famous squash coaches in Canada. He had been coaching for over 20 years and had no certification. Did he learn anything from it? I don't know, but I marvelled at how attentive and interested he appeared to be taking an introductory coaching course after coaching so many top kids and one of the biggest programs in North America.

I've often though about getting certified for my level 3 and take the level 4 courses. I don't know if that will ever happen. I've always wanted to coach a National Team and this is the only way I would be able to do that here in Canada. But I haven't enjoyed the certification process thus far. Coaching courses have had a minimal impact on my coaching education and ability. Where I have learned most is from being on court teaching. I've also learned a lot from working with and talking with other coaches. I know squash is a small scale sport, but I believe a mentorship coaching program would be far more valuable to my development. I am fortunate that I have been able to work alongside a couple of great coaches and they have greatly assisted with my development as a coach.

Reading books, watching and thinking about squash is learning and are all methods of self-improvement. We don't get credit for taking a self-interst in expanding our knowledge. A mentorship program is something I would love to do. I have always wanted to take part in a variety of programs for a short period of time (say a week or a month) to learn how other experienced coaches run practices and teach their students. To me this would be worthy of a flight across Canada or anywhere in the world. Maybe this is something the WSF can look into. Perhaps a group of clubs and/or coaches can volunteer to participate and offer to host temporary intern coaches for a temporary basis. If they could find a way to pay the intern so they can afford to do it that would be ideal. Only by sharing can we truly maximize our potential as coaches. If the WSF initiated this program I would sign up as an intern and host. But come to think of it I would probably only qualify as an intern because I haven't completed my level 3 certification yet!

Now it's my time to go on a little rant here on the Coaches of Canada. Coaches of Canada has a new policy which says coaches must earn credit every 5 years to maintain their certification. I know it isn't much, but forcing a coach to do something that maybe isn't going to assist with their development is the wrong approach in my books. Although I can see why this is a policy, doesn't this go against what motivates us? After reading the book Drive I realized that we often lose motivation for doing things we already do when we are forced to do them or external rewards are given. As a coach I am always learning, not to appease my certification but for my own interest and mostly to help the athletes I coach. To be a good coach you have to be selfless and you must continually learn how to improve your skills. Forcing a coach to do it goes against this framework of motivation and isn't necessary. I feel like all good coaches continue learning and those that aren't will just jump through the hoops to keep their certification up and keep a pay cheque coming in. So really, how does this help anyone?

In conclusion I ask is there a better way for coaches to learn? I'd like to think so. There have been plenty of times where I could have used some direction and guidance in being a young squash coach. Those that grew up playing and learning under a talented coach certainly have a great advantage as coaches. Is a worldwide internship program possible? I know some coaches don't like to share their secrets, but here I am sharing all of mine for free! Would enough coaches freely share their wisdom with peer coaches from other countries? I believe this would create a lot of important networks in our squash circle and all of those that take part would benefit. Now where can I sign up to coach alongside an Egyptian academy :)


  1. I don't often comment on your articles, though I do thoroughly enjoy reading them. This one was of particular interest as there is definitely a conflict between practical learning and academic learning and I enjoyed reading your experience.

    For three years England Squash ran a two day coaching conference and they, excuse the venacular, were bloody brilliant. Practical workshops, examples, discussion and networking with other coaches as well as some set piece presentations by coaches or people with no experience of squash and sometimes no practical experience of sport, but had relevance in other ways, sadly it hasn't been run for a couple of years due to cutbacks. The ONLY problem as I saw it was that it was kind of preaching to the converted. Like you, we were all there to learn, become better, be the best we can, sadly in my experience, many coaches don't sign up to the philosophy and don't attend such events.

    Keep up the good work

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