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  • Norman Brook

The Role of the Coach in Sport for Development

The following article was presented at the Next Steps Sports Development Symposium in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in November 2011.

Community based “sport for development” organisations in Africa perform a significant role in encouraging youth to play regular sport and use sport as a vehicle to promote social change by developing the life skills of young people. To reach youth (boys and girls) they need amongst other resources a team of community coaches skilled in sports coaching and the use of sport to teach life skills.  Each organisation’s coaching workforce becomes a critical element of their ability to deliver both sports activity and life skills training. As the sport for development organisation, Hoops for Hope[i] describes them, our community coaches are our “Most Valuable Players” (MVPs).

The Importance of Quality Sport

In the context of sport which is played for “sports sake”, coaches play an important role in developing participant’s sporting abilities. In the world of sport for development, the coach’s role is actually about promoting social change through the medium of sport.  Community based coaches in sport for development organisations contribute to a range of social issues including HIV prevention, violence prevention, gender equality, alcohol and drug abuse, education, environmental awareness and the socio-economic empowerment of young people.

S4D Organisations reach youth through their coaching workforce

Some overlap exists between programmes designed for “sport for sports sake” and “sport for social change”.  The coach who is focused on coaching sport for sports sake still has some responsibility to develop positive behavioural characteristics amongst their players.  As well as seeking to develop the sporting ability of the young people they coach, these coaches strive to develop young people holistically. This approach develops the psycho-social characteristics as well as the sports skills of the player.

The community coach working in a sport for development setting equally needs to develop the sports skills of the youth they work with, not just their life skills. If coaches want young people to keep returning to their sessions, the sessions need to offer a quality sports experience.  Indeed, whilst the community coach is focused on addressing specific social issues through life skills activity, they still need to deliver quality sport.  In doing so they may even identify talented young players whom they will wish to sign post to sport performance or talent coaching.

The Millenium Development Goals

Pursuit of development or peace goals, such as those shown above does not exclude the idea of coaches delivering a positive sporting experience.  To the contrary, if we are to create the right settings to develop young people and promote social change, the quality of their sporting experience is critical.  One of my colleagues, Norwegian Sports Development consultant, Pelle Kvalsund, describes sport as the glue.[ii]

Sport is what attracts the children and it’s therefore ‘the glue’. If we reduce sport too much, the glue becomes less effective, and the effects of sport start to reduce. Although it’s important to use sport to spread important health messages, we must make sure we don’t ‘kill sport’ in the process.”

Good quality sports instruction encourages sustained participation by youth and allows them to develop their sports and life skills.  Participation in quality sports activities motivates youth to keep attending the sports sessions.  The sports content of “sport for development” programmes needs therefore to be of a similar high quality to that advocated in modern sports programmes.

Equally the life skills taught by sport for development organisations need to be of a high quality.  Quality life skills activities engage youth and help them increase their knowledge.  Life skills activities, like sports skills, need to be appropriate to each young person’s age and stage of development.

A Theory of Change

The question in many peoples’ minds is how participation in sport leads to social change.  This is a question that people working in the sport for development often find difficult to answer. They know through their experience that sport can help develop young people in a positive way, but like others find it hard to make the link between playing sport and their chosen social theme.  How can sport really help prevent HIV transmission, resolve conflict, or protect the environment?  The answer to this can be found in developing a theory of change.

At the heart of my thinking and of a number of sport for development programmes is a theory of change that embraces the philosophy of positive youth development.  Positive youth development theory and practice has been well researched (Schulman & Davies, 2007)[iii] and is used internationally as a model of youth development.

When sport is delivered in an appropriate manner it can create an environment that develops youth who are more likely to make positive healthy decisions, avoid risk behaviour, and make a contribution back to their family and community.  According to Lerner et al (2000)[iv] positive youth development programmes build the characteristics of confidence, character, competence, caring and connection in young people.  This happens when sport programmes:

  1. take place in a safe setting (safe spaces for sport);

  2. provide for positive adult-youth relationships (the coach);

  3. are of a long term duration (sustained and regular activity);

  4. provide opportunities for young people to build their skills (sports skills and life skills);

  5. provide for youth participation and leadership (peer or young sports leaders).

A theory of change for sport for development programmes can therefore be proposed that envisages positive youth being developed through sustained, regular, quality sports and life skills training.  As with all theory of change models we need to work backwards linking the desired outcomes/impact of the programme to the activity or actions of the programme demonstrating in the process how those activities or actions address the social problem.

For the purpose of this article we will look at Millennium Development Goal 6 and in particular  HIV and AIDS prevention. The behavioural drivers of the HIV pandemic include early sexual debut, multiple & concurrent sexual partners, inter-generational & transactional sex, lack of condom use, substance misuse, and gender based violence.

If we are to combat HIV transmission amongst youth we need them to make positive healthy decisions and to avoid risk behaviour.  In particular, we need young people to delay their sexual debut, be faithful to one partner whose status they know, avoid inter-generational & transactional sex, use condoms, avoid drugs, not abuse alcohol, show respect to the opposite gender and avoid risky behaviours.  These are behaviours that young people who make positive healthy decisions, avoid risk behaviour, and make a contribution back to their family and community are likely to display.

These are characteristics that are developed in positive youth development environments that offer a safe setting, positive adult-youth relationships, sustained and regular activity, skills development, and provide for youth participation and leadership.  Youth sport projects that provide these settings and develop the skills and knowledge of the young participants can therefore contribute to HIV prevention by developing positive youth who are also equipped with the comprehensive knowledge of HIV and AIDS that enables them to make informed decisions.

A Theory of Change Model

In our theory of change model it is the community coach who delivers the programme of sports and life skills activity and who creates a positive youth development setting.  In this sense the community coach is an “agent of change” using sport as a means of creating social change.

The Coach & Employability

In most sport for development organisations the beneficiaries are viewed as being the youth, often boys or girls aged 11-18 years.  Sport and life skills training are delivered by the sport for development organisation’s coaching workforce.  A workforce that is commonly made up of volunteer coaches either peer educators aged 15-18 years of age or young people aged 18-30 years of age who are not in employment, education or training (NEETS).  The coaching workforce will commonly be paid a small amount of money called a stipend, or if no payments are made, will be motivated to coach to enhance their curriculum vitae or access other benefits.

The coaching workforce of many  sport for development programmes consist of young people with no vocational or tertiary level education qualifications who face poor employment prospects.  There is therefore a need for sport for development organisations to extend their view of whom their beneficiaries are beyond the boys and girls in their programmes to include their coaching workforce. Development organisations should be concerned with addressing the issues of future employability and sustainable livelihoods.  They should be considering how to support the community coaches in their coaching workforce and to develop them not just as community coaches but also as young people with a future beyond our programmes.

Decent Work

Everyone deserves the opportunity to access decent work as defined by the International Labour Organisation.[v]

Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.  It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men” (International Labour Organisation, 2012).

The reality in most sport for development organisations is that they are not in a position to provide their coaching workforce with sustained decent work.  Such organisations rely on their coaching workforce working for small payments or stipends.  The coaches despite receiving a small payment are considered volunteers and have no job security.  For the majority of sport for development organisations it will be difficult to fund full time coaching positions and to provide for decent work and incomes.  The focus therefore has to be on how we can benefit our community coaches and to assist them prepare for full time employment and decent work.

If we are going to enable young people working in our organisations to access decent work in the long term, we need to be able to meet individual, not just organisational, training and development needs. Each sport for development organisation will want to provide training and development opportunities for their coaching workforce that up skill coaches to deliver quality sports and life skills activities. These trainings lead to a skilled coaching workforce and the delivery of successful sport for development projects. This is training that meets organisational training needs, ensuring each sport for development organisation has suitably qualified coaches available to deliver their programmes.

What this training does not necessarily provide is for the individual development of each coach in terms of their future employability beyond volunteering for little or no remuneration.  Sport for development organisations should be providing their coaching workforce with opportunities to develop skills and gain qualifications that will equip them to enter employment or pursue some entrepreneurial enterprise.

Coaching Systems

The importance of individual coach development is recognised in the International Community Coach Education System (UK Sport International, 2010)[vi].  Coach development is one of the three pillars of the coach system of coach education, personal development and policies/procedures.  The pillar of personal development sets standards for issues such as personalised development planning, mentoring, learning opportunities, recognition/reward, and communication.

Some sport for development organisations are providing ad hoc “employability” training for their coaching workforce addressing issues such as computer training, entrepreneur skills, internships with local business, vocational skills training.  This in addition to the curriculum they have developed either individually or collectively to address organisational training needs around the delivery of sports and life skills coaching.

Other organisations are taking a more formal approach to “employability” training seeking to create a flow of young people through their organisations that move on to acquire sustained and decent work.  An example would be A Ganar Alliance[i] who use soccer and other team sports to help youth throughout Latin America and the Caribbean succeed in the workplace and in life. This is a is an economic empowerment program that uses the power of football to help at-risk youth develop market-driven job skills, become entrepreneurs or return to the formal education system.

The A Aganar Alliance System


Another example is the approach being taken by Coaching for Hope[viii] in South Africa.  South Africa has a National Qualifications Framework and a sector education and training authority for sport called CATHSSETA[ix].  Employers are looking for job applicants to have a recognised vocational or tertiary level academic qualification that sits on the National Qualifications Framework.  Coaching for Hope is currently working to align its three level football and life skills coaching curriculum with the National Qualifications Framework in South Africa and also with regional community coaching framework, the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa Zone VI Sports Education and Accreditation Standards[x].

In aligning their curriculum with international and national standards Coaching for Hope will add value to the training giving it relevance within the region and recognition within South Africa as a skills development programme.  Those coaches successfully completing the Coaching for Hope training in South Africa will be able to use the training as units or credits towards a full vocational qualification in sports coaching or management.

Coaching for Hope are also seeking ways of enabling community coaches from their partner organisations to not just under take skills development programmes (unit standards) but also to access 12 month training programmes that will lead to full vocational qualifications in sports coaching or management.  Coaching for Hope are also seeking to align their football and life skills training to the National Football Federation coach education curriculum in order to create pathways from their training to recognised National Football coaching awards.

Overview of the Coaching for Hope Alignment Project

Employability Theory of Change

The coaching workforce in sport for development organisations is a critical element of their ability to deliver both sports activity and life skills training. As their “Most Valuable Players” sport for development organisations have a responsibility to develop these young people and help them on their journey towards decent work.   This entails not just providing training that meets each organisation’s needs in terms of quality coaching both of sport and life skills, but also each individual’s training needs in terms of their employability as they progress from working as volunteers in the sport for development field.

In our theory of change for our coaching workforce we envisage moving young people aged 18-30 years of age who are not in employment, education or training towards decent work whilst they are working with our sport for development organisations as community coaches.

The recruitment phase is critical as money and time can be wasted in training individuals who have not attained a reasonable academic level to enable them to benefit from training or who lack the true motivation move towards employment.  The recruitment process should ensure that new members of our coaching workforce have prerequisite qualifications and experience.  An assessment should also made of their motivation and whether they can last the course of the journey to decent work.

Initial training should focus on developing the coaching workforce’s capabilities around delivering sports activities and teaching life skills through sport.  This coach education should be supported in the field by activity programmes, mentoring by more experienced coaches and be supported by clear coaching policies and procedures in areas such as health and safety and child protection.

Community coaches are then deployed to run community based sports activities and to teach life skills.  Once the community coaches have proven their worth in delivering the sport for development organisation’s programmes, they can be selected to undertake training focused on preparing them for decent work.  Some sport for development organisations may wish to partner with other community based organisations that specialise in preparing young people for employment.  Others will develop their own programmes.  Individual coaches will undertake a personal development plan which will include vocational training and work experience in different settings.  Vocational training may be delivered in the form of a college course or a work based learning programme.

The potential exists for sport for development organisations to fund positions in their coaching workforce through work based learner programmes. Such programmes would finance training and a stipend for an extended period of time i.e. 12 months.  The benefit for the sport for development organisation could be the funding of full time coaching positions and for the individual coaches, the possibility of attaining an accredited and nationally recognised qualification.

In addition to working as a community coach, sport for development organisations could broker other relevant work experiences in their local communities for the coaches undertaking work based vocational training.

The final stage before entering the employment market and gaining decent work would be the job seeking stage. Here community coaches would be encouraged to move on from their voluntary positions armed with a recognised vocational qualification.  Training would also be provided in related skills such as interviewing technique, writing a CV, etc.

The individual would now enter employment and earn a decent remuneration.  Although they would most likely move away from the organisation as a full time coach creating the opportunity for new recruits to enter the programme, it is hoped that they would remain affiliated to the sport for development organisation and contribute as an individual in their non-working time.

Employability Theory of Change Model

Figure 6: Employability Theory of Change Model


[iii] Schulman, S & Davies, T. (2007), Evidence of the impact of the ‘youth development model’ on outcomes for young people – a literature review, The National Youth Agency.

[iv] Lerner, R. M., Fisher, C. B. & Weinberg, R. A. (2000). Toward a science for and of the people: promoting civil society through the application of developmental science, Child Development, 71, 11–20

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