What About Me? Coaching in the Shadows

Mesmerising. Absolutely fascinating scenes last Monday on the Victoria Derbyshire BBC programme, during which retired MI5 officer Tom Marcus, hooded in black, shed light on his covert experiences throughout an eight year career with the British Security Services. From going undercover as a homeless person tracking deadly terrorist targets, to saving an officer’s life acting as a deranged drunk, in addition to foiling a bomb plot in a Manchester shopping centre you understand how intriguing listening to him was. Attempting to comprehend the work and sacrifice that these people do for their countries around the world, behind the scenes and in the shadows of everyday life – now that is a tough one; one which the large majority of us will fail to ever fully grasp or appreciate.  The most staggering and sad thing about it all? Tom can’t find a job. He resorts to working in a call centre and a burger bar three years on just to pay the bills in an attempt to support his family.

What has this got anything to do with coaching you might ask? In part it links with an interesting chat I had recently with a colleague of mine, during which we spoke about the challenges of getting on the map or career ladder as a coach. As considerable literature suggests (Jones Bailey, Thompson, 2012; Jones and Wallace, 2005; 2006; Wallace and Pocklington, 2002), coaching has drifted away from the traditional ‘coach-led’ approach towards a more balanced relationship between coach and athlete. An approach that places greater emphasis on holistic, as well as sporting development; one which involves coaches ‘steering’ as oppose to controlling hence the recognised concept of orchestration.

Think of the orchestrator on stage during a performance, steering rather than dictating their group throughout the piece. Are all eyes on him/her? I could be wrong, but the majority would probably say not. Their attention would instead be drawn to the various musicians in perfect harmony as they play with precision and grace.

Turning the focus to a sporting context, I can think of many coaches that would be delighted with this – the praise and attention of onlookers to go to their players rather than them; their efforts resulting in a mere physical or verbal pat on the back from parents, colleagues or line managers. Thinking about it, aren’t most of us like this? Don’t we all coach to help our players enjoy sport, improve and achieve success without any real wish for personal accolades? Haven’t we all accepted that the pre-requisite for that success is hours and hours of hard work on and off the field that frequently go unnoticed? Isn’t that internal gratification of bumping into a player five years down the line hearing that you inspired them to carry on playing worth it?

It might well be worth it for some we discussed; that’s all well and good, but how does a young coach who has aspirations to climb the ladder get themselves noticed? How do they find the balance between staying in the shadows as an orchestrator, and getting some recognition for the work they are doing? In some sports it might be consistently winning that gets you noticed….so one might be tempted to forgive those coaches who are results driven even if it defies what coaching is really about. After all don’t most employers ask for something tangible that demonstrates your ability to be successful? We should all know and accept that success doesn’t always equate to on-field results, yet unfortunately it remains embedded in the currency of coaching.

Indeed, in a world where the person who shouts loudest, or who knows the right person often wins (or gets the job) the coaching industry can be a frustrating, lonely and confusing one for coaches looking to further their career. At the higher levels isn’t so difficult as networking circles and media coverage increase, resulting in your name becoming more familiar with the general population of your sport. Even if you are relieved of your post, your mere experience at that higher level will rarely see you go without work for long. It is no wonder we see many coaches taking to social media to publicise their work. Fantastic a platform as the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are, their artificial nature does not decipher between those coaches who are really doing a good job, compared to those who just look like they are.

So how to come out of the coaching shadows whilst staying true to your coaching philosophy?

  1. Document Your Work

You may not want to shout about the work you do, for the fear of coming across as arrogant. There is nothing to stop you though, from sitting down and documenting all of the elements that your coaching encompasses; from the on-the-pitch things to the administrative tasks that consume just as much if not more time than actually coaching! This will make you recognise just how much you do, and if and when the time comes to interview or discuss your environment with someone, you can give a true and honest reflection of what ‘being you’ involves. They say that your work or players’ attitudes are a reflection of your work, and whilst this may ring true, your players can’t speak for you at interview!

  1. Broaden Your Coaching Network

Time is always of the essence and often we as coaches aren’t blessed with lots of it. If you happen to have a day off though, or a spare hour here and there, why not arrange to shadow or observe some other coaches at the higher level? Most of the coaching community are warm, inviting and happy to showcase what they offer and this might help you develop some links personally with other coaches, and indeed with other clubs. Word of mouth spreads quickly and it won’t take long for people to sit up and take notice.

  1. Enhance Your Cultural Experiences

One of the best ways to improve your coaching is by broadening your cultural experiences. Both Eddie Jones and Stuart Lancaster have recently spoken in the Daily Telegraph, about the impact that going abroad has had on their personality, perceptions and general coaching skills. It might be easier said than done, but if you have the opportunity, there may not be a better way to come out of the coaching shadows.

It would be fascinating to hear the thoughts and opinions from any young or aspiring coaches looking to further their careers, or indeed those who have met various challenges along the way in theirs. Head Coaches, Performance Directors and Head of Departments – your insights would also provide a stimulating debate!



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