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School of sport: Coach catcher


INCREASINGLY in professional sport, we find that teams will no longer have a coach and an assistant coach (or even coaches) but now will have numerous specialist coaches.

In rugby we may have a forwards defensive coach and a forwards attacking coach, a scrum coach, a lineout coach, a backs defensive coach and a backs attacking coach, a place kicking coach and a from-the-hand kicking coach, a nutritional coach, a sight coach and many more, no doubt.

In cricket we need specialist coaching for bowlers which also needs to be broken down into specialist coaching for fast bowlers, swing bowlers, off-spin bowlers, leg spinners, ‘death’ bowlers, ‘powerplay’ bowlers; then we need coaches for different types of batting, for wicket-keeping, for fielding, for throwing, for catching (in the deep and in close), running between the wickets. How many coaches do we need? And how soon will it be before we have to have a blink coach, a tie-your-shoe-laces coach, a breathing coach?

The same does seem to apply in life as a whole. We have many self-proclaimed life coaches, success coaches, wellness coaches, career coaches, leadership coaches, accountability coaches, personal coaches, you-name-it coaches, yes, even failure coaches. It does make us wonder sometimes how on earth we ever survived in life when there were not such people around to coach us in all these intricate spheres of activity and influence! How did we cope without a posture coach, an entertainment coach, a speaking coach?

Of course, it is not like this in school sport, where there is not the luxury of having the specialist coaches at all levels. So we have school team coaches who have to do all the above, who have to equip and empower their charges in all areas of the sport. The soccer coach will have to coach the goalkeeper, the defenders, the strikers as well as coach the set-plays, the systems to be used in attack and defence, the tactics, the moves, the shooting, the heading, the trapping, the tackling — the everything.

However, that is not even everything. The school sports coach is also to be all the above as well as the life coach, the success and failure coach, the career coach, the wellness coach. Furthermore, he must above all and most poignantly be the values coach. The classic film ‘Coach Carter’ reinforced this whereby Coach Carter would not allow his players to represent his team and the school if they did not perform in academics, if they did not attend practices, if they did not present themselves smartly, if they did not sit in the front row of their classes. He caused a massive rumpus when he suspended his undefeated team because their academic results were not at the standard he had set. He was teaching or coaching them that the lessons learned on the sports field applied to life and the lessons required in life also applied to sport.

Coach John Wooden was another highly successful coach, not just in sporting terms but in life lessons from the basketball courts, as he sought to ensure that all his players had strong values instilled in them, that they considered the importance of character more than reputation. His role was not to win games but to build strong characters, which he did through sport. His role as coach went way beyond coaching ball skills; his role was to look for what Coach Carter called “the ever elusive victory within”. Wooden spoke of having his players, “Knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming”. That same truth applies to coaches; they must do their best to become the best they are capable of becoming by coaching the right things the right way.

All the above really underlines that we do need a Head coach —that is a coach who deals with the players’ heads. When we coach sport at school we must be all things to all men (or rather “to all boys and girls”); we are responsible for coaching the youngsters not just skills and tactics and moves but also, and above all, values that translate into every corner of their lives. Coaches are there to prepare the youngsters for whatever may befall them; to develop their abilities and their attitudes; to improve not simply the performances of the children but their character, above all. We should catch on to the lessons from Coach Carter and become a Coach Catcher.

  • Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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