A recent article for > Responsiball.Much is being talked about football and its social responsibility. Part of this is clubs attempting to build closer links with their surrounding community and broader stakeholders. One such way football clubs have tried to connect (or in some cases reconnect) with their communities in the UK has been via Football in the Community (FitC) schemes.

These schemes initially focused on participation coaching with children, which was more often than not delivered within schools. The scope and agendas that FitC schemes work towards has changed significantly over the past 10 years, due to central government championing football as a vehicle to address a range of social issues (i.e., social inclusion and health). Whilst we talk about the broad Football and CSR debate, very little is known about how football clubs and FitC schemes look after their people. With people (or staff) being the core, lifeblood of any organisation it’s critical we understand “what’s going on” in these schemes, which we are expecting to deliver targeted work tackling the complex societal issues we have like unemployment and obesity.

For the past 6 years I have been involved with a range of FitC schemes working across a range of agendas, actively researching and collecting information of working practice using a range of data collection techniques from interviews to conversations. The intention for this article is to highlight some observations to raise awareness of how football looks after its people and specifically the ‘coach’.

THE COMMUNITY COACH

The coach can be critical in the development phase of players (and people) in both their behaviour and lifestyle choices (see below). It’s therefore essential that we understand and support the role of a community football coach equipping them to meet new demands on new agendas.

I have grouped my findings from extended and detailed observations into three areas for consideration:

COACH ASPIRATION

It appears that coaches often join a FitC scheme in a bid to move on to, in their own words, “something bigger”. In this regard, coaches often aspire to move on to football academies (i.e., performance coaching), as opposed to developing and progressing their career within community coaching. At a recent industry event, a community coach was asked to present their experiences and craft knowledge on working within social inclusion. I was dismayed on reading their bio, which failed to allude to any notable ‘community’ experience, but focused on their academy coaching with the U9’s and their scouting activities at U13’s. I asked, “Where’s all the stuff about your work you’re here to talk about (i.e., in social inclusion)?, which was met with the response, “Well you never know who might be here. I might get my break!”

COACH QUALIFICATIONS

In the past, coaches joining FitC schemes have been required to have their FA Level 2 coaching qualification as an industry standard or some kind of Level 2 coaching qualification. This translated to the coach: “If I require a Level 2 – I need to coach at Level 2. Why else would I need to have this qualification?” In reality, FitC coaches, whether coaching football or multi-sports, are often destined for school and community coaching session. Whereby it is widely accepted that the FA Level 2 is not necessarily of any real use or benefit. Especially, when working on health or participation agendas. I am pleased to see some clubs have stopped this; however there is a culture of collecting badges and coaches being judged by their badge, especially within Football.

INDUCTION

Following recruitment and respective HR type meetings, a new coach joining a FitC scheme is often thrown in at the deep end, the ‘lucky’ ones perhaps get some time to observe ‘experienced’ coaches. This type of practice is fine, however in this area where the agendas are shifting quickly (i.e., from participation to tackling obesity) existing staff may not have the necessary experience to effectively induct a new member coach into their role. Essentially, a lack of innovation in coaching and/or poor practice can become the norm.

Such observations are not confined to football and exist in many other sports, organisations and sectors. However, it is apparent a more strategic approach is needed to fully capitalise on the potential offered by football as a vehicle for social change.

THE MESSAGE

The people (coaches) ‘on the ground’, are generally good people striving to do their best, with many performing well above and beyond expectations despite these sometimes unproductive working environments. Many managers in football will read this safely assured that they are providing their people with the best chances of being effective coaches. For others it may be an opportunity to introduce something new and make things better!

The table below may help in tackling some of the issues raised in this article:

Area Action
Coach Aspiration *Develop and champion internal and external role models.*Offer career progression pathways within your organisation.*Ensure that during the recruitment of staff you find the people looking for a career and not just a job (or worse, those who just want any job in football).
Coach Qualifications *Work with national governing bodies and Sports Coach UK to utilise (or develop) other coach education and training pathways.*Work with external organisations in relevant industries to target new training and education opportunities.*Ensure any career professional development is relevant (i.e., not just an FA Level 3 because that’s next one ‘up’!).
Coach Induction *Allocate time for mentorship*Choose positive mentors that echo the philosophy and values of your organisation.*Develop platforms for reflective practice and to share experiences and skills between staff and to create a culture for improvement.
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