Reflection on leadership and development in youth sport (Part 3 of 3)

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In this final instalment, this blog focuses on the implications of effective mentoring and transformational leadership on the role of a coach developer.

This piece of writing is part of a critical reflection on my development and journey as a coach, coach developer and leader. The blog has focused on the work an aspiring football coach (Tova) and I have done over a 9 month period.

Implications for my professional role as a coach developer

Research and insight concerning the role of a coach developer is relatively limited, as well as the evidence to demonstrate the impact of coach developers when supporting coaches. However, more time is being invested in this area to highlight the range of support offered to coaches. The role of tutor, assessor, mentor and developer are becoming distinct.

Studies relating to the effect of formal coach education highlight that the contextualisation of learning content is important, as well as the learner taking agency in their learning journey. “A review of the CPD literature across education, physical education and sport coaching suggests that a focus on participants’ learning in terms of receiving, building, and applying professional knowledge within a particular context is important (Nelson et al 2021, Armour et al. 2015), as is the agency between the individual and specific CPD activities (Chesterfield et al. 2010, Opfer and Pedder 2011)” (Stodter and Cushion, 2017). This research highlights a clear role for the coach developer, supporting coaches to make sense of professional knowledge in their unique coaching context and providing on-going support and collaboration between formal learning opportunities. Throughout the last nine to twelve months Tova the nature of the work with Tova has utilised research led knowledge, context specific application and active discussion to support Tova consolidate and adapt to suit her coaching approach and the needs of the players in her squad.

It is important to consider that every coach who is supported by a coach developer, will approach the learning experience with a unique set of experiences and expectations about learning. Tova highlighted throughout the journey of support what was important to her as a person and her aspirations as a coach commenting that it was valuable for her to show that, “different is cool” and that she wanted to “challenge how ‘football people’ think about coaching and practice”. Tova’s beliefs as a coach, coupled with her new knowledge about coaching has impacted on her practice as a coach and is represented as a blend of biography, information and development of coaching craft. This approach is representative of Stodter and Cushion’s model for how football coaches’ filter learning (Stodter and Cushion, 2017) and the introduction of a coach developer creates an opportunity to influence, support and nudge development outside of an existing coach biography. This model highlights where the support of a coach developer can challenge and influence a developing coach:

Role of a coach developer in supporting the learning and development of coaches

When reflecting on this research and applying to the relationship with Tova, the key functions of an effective coach developer could include, but are not limited to:

  • Nudging coaching behaviours; highlighting the benefits of transformational coaching and the impact it could have on Tova’s players and other coaches in her club.
  • Ongoing support and discussion; providing the opportunity for Tova to discuss coaching challenges in her context as well as understanding more about and being empathetic towards Tova’s wider life, learning and development.
  • Highlighting examples of good practice; promoting practice that reinforces Tova’s approach to coaching and has the potential to extend knowledge and shape coaching practice.
  • Sense making and contextualisation; creating a platform for discussions regarding coaching craft and contemporary approaches to coaching, supporting Tova to reflect on, adapt and modify approaches to suit her coaching context.
  • Promoting curiosity; asking open questions that challenge Tova’s thinking, to support a ‘sense-making’ process.
  • Creating links between key learnings and experience; assisting Tova to create meaningful links between formal and informal learning opportunities, real life experiences and reactions from players.
  • Highlighting coach bias; supporting Tova to appreciate her influences and recognise bias and blind spots as a coach.

Coach developers can have a positive influence on the experience and knowledge of a developing coach and the consequential impact on their players. The guiding influence of a coach developer has the potential to support the development of people transcending outside of their sport, rather than just as sport coaches. In a research paper following the lifelong journey of a rugby coach developer it is highlighted that, “As Mille gained in knowledge, status, and recognition, he realized how his life experiences had enabled him to become highly competent in not only coaching and instructing, but more importantly in supporting the development of others, whether as coaches or coach developers. This notion of support represents the essence of the coach developer role and for Jarvis, the essence of the human experience as members of society. When individuals play different roles, they not only learn and become more experienced, they also ‘learn to be themselves’” (Ciampolini et al., 2020).

The process of support with Tova has helped her understand more about herself as a coach and has also created an opportunity for me to develop my skills as an effective coach developer, leader and better understand my own professional journey.


This assignment has focused on the learning and development of Tova Olsson over a nine-month period and how my leadership and mentoring approach has supported her growth as a coach. The assignment has aimed to provide evidence towards answering the question:

  • How can effective leadership and mentoring support the development of a young (in experience) coach?

The foundations of answering this question have been built on critical reflection regarding my journey as a coach and coach developer, effective mentoring and transformational leadership. The contemporary literature that has informed my approach to supporting Tova has highlighted a range of important considerations that when employed together in a dynamic system make for effective coach developer – coach relationships and in this example, positive outcomes for Tova.

My studies have highlighted that effective mentoring is done in partnership, where the environment for learning is co-created between coach and developer and hierarchy is removed, aiding honest, reflective and progressive conversations. It has become clear that when supporting coaches who are young in experience, building confidence through replication and adaptation of existing coaching practice is important, but over time this process modifies to help the aspiring coach consider and evolve their own coach epistemology.

With regards to leadership, modelling and demonstrating consistent, positive leadership behaviours such as Bass and Riggio’s four I’s has created an opportunity for me to be intentional and purposeful with my leadership behaviours. The framework has validated my unconscious approach to leadership and provided a structure to reflect and build upon how I support others. Understanding more about and modelling transformational leadership and transformational coaching has given Tova the opportunity to adopt this approach for herself and consider how she would apply it in her own leadership context. The application of mentoring and leadership research has had a profound impact on my relationship with Tova and her relationship with the players in her team and other coaches at her club.

As highlighted previously, research in the area of mentoring in sport and the role of a coach developer is limited but practical application and adaption of research has made the process of learning and support memorable and has affected change in the way I support others in and out of a sporting context. Through writing this assignment and critically reflecting on my approach to leadership I have started to understand more about myself, my influences and the approach I feel is best for supporting others.

While working with Tova I have been able to understand in detail more about her aspirations as a coach and support the development of her coaching craft through mentoring and leadership support. More importantly however, I feel that the relationship that has been built has allowed me to know Tova as a person and a friend. In his book Leading, Sir Alex Ferguson highlights, “Unless you understand people, it’s very hard to motivate them” (Ferguson, 2016). He goes on to explain that, “You don’t get the best out of people by hitting them with an iron rod you do so by gaining their respect, getting them accustomed to triumphs and convincing them that they are capable of improving their performance”. This sentiment rings true for that of a modern, progressive leader. When reflecting on the work completed together Tova commented, “The unwavering support you have offered during my coaching journey has opened my eyes. My role as a coach has moved from teaching players to coaching young people.”

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