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25 January 2008 PR 08/08

Loughborough research calls for professional coaching pathways

Researchers at Loughborough University have warned that the lack of paid opportunities and professional pathways for coaches undermines the Government’s aim to make the UK the world’s number one coaching nation by 2016.

Staff at the University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (SSES) undertook the three-month project on behalf of sports think-tank Sportnation, and uncovered a shortfall of paid coaching positions and limited career progression for home grown coaches which placed an unfair burden on unpaid volunteers. They called for better support for coaches at all levels, and greater appreciation of their role.

Professionals from 12 sports – athletics, badminton, cricket, football, gymnastics, hockey, netball, rowing, swimming, tennis, triathlon and volleyball – were consulted in the study which was designed to examine the issues within coaching and current coaching structures.

Utilising the expertise of research team Dr Tess Kay, Professor Kathy Armour, Dr Chris Cushion and Dr Rod Thorpe the study included analysis of existing published material as well as one-to-one interviews with Performance Directors and senior representatives from the identified sports.

According to the research, 69% of the 1.2m to 1.5m sports coaches in the UK are unpaid volunteers and in a sport such as athletics for example there are as few as 12 full-time paid performance coaches in the UK, with some disciplines having no full-time coach at all.

The research found that relying on a voluntary structure led to some groups being under-represented in coaching, in particular females, non-white groups and people from less affluent sectors of the community. Several of the sports interviewed felt that this narrowed their appeal to potential participants and limited the range of talented young athletes they attracted.

The research also found inconsistency between sports and a lack of formal pathway from recreational and community coaching through to coaching of elite athletes.

In response to the findings, commissioning organisation Sportnation has produced a report ‘Are we missing the coach for 2012’ which calls for investment in creating between 160,000 and 233,500 additional paid professional coaching positions by 2016.

The report identifies three principal factors – child and family poverty, the rise in one-parent families and working hours – which mean reliance on ‘volunteerism’ can result in social exclusion within sports coaching and sport. As a result only a self-selecting group of people can afford to give up their time as volunteer sports coaches. Better support and funding would give greater recognition to the contribution these people make, provide better support for those who want to develop their coaching abilities further, and widen the pool of potential coaches.

Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of Youth Sport Dr Tess Kay, who led the project, believes the research enabled the department to put hard evidence behind previous assumptions.

“We were very aware of the challenges facing coaches in the UK, especially in relation to providing appropriate support to athletes at the highest level of elite performance, but what the research showed us was how acute the problems actually are,” she said.

“It is very clear that the excellent work done by coaches on a voluntary basis needs to be more fully supported. There is a real need for clearer pathways for developing coaches and more investment in people willing to give their skills and time to coaching.

“It’s been really helpful to be able to tap into such a range of expert opinion from within sport to tell us what it needed. We do need to invest heavily in coaching if we’re truly serious about maximising this country’s enormous potential in sport. If we do this we can bring in a far wider range of talented young people and support them much better in their pursuit of excellence.

“Whether this will actually happen does depend on appropriate support from sport itself, politicians, Government agencies and commercial partners. We have to hope their support will be forthcoming.”


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Notes for editors:

  1. Formed in 2006 Sportnation is a think-tank made up of some of the most influential thinkers in British sport, business, academia and politics. An independent body, it is supported by the Lucozade Sports Science Academy. Chairman of the English Institute of Sport and Olympic gold medal winner Steve Cram is chairman.
    For more information log onto www.thelssa.co.uk/lssa/sportnation

  2. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

    It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    In the 2007 National Student Survey, the University was voted fourth in the UK, with 23 out of 29 of Loughborough’s subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. Loughborough is also ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national league tables. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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