Building a Coach Development Program

The last few years have seen a boom in skateboard coaching as more people seek out skateboarding lessons and the power of skateboarding as a vehicle for youth and community development has become clear. As skateboarding’s National Governing Body, the key question became how do we establish a safe and accessible minimum standard of coaching whilst supporting skateboard coaches to develop their practice to be the best that they can be and drive forward skateboarding in the UK. Throughout this journey, the key has been collaboration not only with experts from a range of disciplines but with the skateboarding community itself. The skateboarding and skateboard coaching communities encompass a vast range of experiences, contexts and values, voices which needed to be heard if we were going to build something truly meaningful. Now, two years on from where we started, at the launch of the SBGB Coach Development offer, it’s clear that the most important thing we have done throughout this process is listen.

We started by working with Dr Esther Sayers of Goldsmiths University to audit skate coaches and skate schools across England so that we could understand the landscape of skateboard coaching in the UK. We found 90 skate schools operating all over England, with the Midlands and East the least catered for. It was clear that coaching qualifications were not well demonstrated or recognised which meant that anyone could be a skate coach and standards in skate coaching varied greatly. We also saw that it was difficult to find up-to-date information on skate coaches.

Photo: Garry Jones

This highlighted the need for an effective coach development programme that offered coaches the skills, tools and knowledge to develop their practice. More than that, we saw the opportunity to build a supportive and engaged community of skate coaches who felt empowered to carry skateboarding forward and truly make a difference to those they worked with.

In early 2021 we went to tender to find an external partner to support us, someone with robust coach development expertise and enough flex to tailor the offer to the unique values and needs of skateboarding. We needed a partner that would listen as much as they advised for the best interests of skateboarding. We found exactly what we were looking for in Grey Matters.

For many sports, coach development is steeped in historical methodologies and fixed hierarchies and we knew that cutting and pasting a coach development program from another sport wasn’t appropriate. It wouldn’t do justice to the coaches engaging with it and it couldn’t reflect what skateboarding is; the culture, the community, and the experiences at the heart of skateboarding. We knew we had to make sure that the foundation of our programme was built collaboratively with the skateboarding community, rather than a prescriptive, top-down approach by experts from other disciplines.

We set about talking to skate coaches up and down the country. We surveyed 310 skaters, held four practical-based focus groups with 40 coaches and held a number of in-depth interviews with experienced coaches and high-level skaters. We used these opportunities to delve deep into key areas; what is effective skate coaching? How do we reflect the culture of skateboarding in the UK? What is the key knowledge and expertise of current coaches that inform their practice? How do we ensure we are adaptive and capable of responding to skaters’ needs? The answers to these questions formed our Coaching Philosophy.

Grey Matters took the insight gained from this collaboration and combined it with their expertise in coach development to begin building a learning offer to support UK skate coaches. The next phase of collaboration was to work with a group of skate coaches selected as representatives of the wider skate coach community. We contacted a cross-section of coaches from different backgrounds; purely skateboarding to youth work and community development. Those coaching at a grassroots level to those working with elite-level skaters. We chose coaches who ran skate schools, community projects and those offering private sessions. We were also keen to represent many different demographics within the skate coaching community. This small group of coaches took part in an intensive version of the initial learning offer written by Grey Matters, challenging and giving feedback throughout. At every stage, we worked with the cohort to interrogate where the value was, and whether the approach fits within the context of skateboarding enabling us to identify ways we could adapt and improve the offering.

This group of coaches were trained as Coach Mentors, modifying the language and content of the Coaching Skills course further and delivering a series of pilot courses across the country. Throughout the delivery of the pilot courses, we gained feedback from the wider skate coaching community and combined it with reflections from the Coach Mentors, evolving the course into what it is today.

Now, two years on from our work with Dr Esther Sayers, we have a coach development programme that reflects the culture, context and community of UK skateboard coaching. It’s been a long journey but the insight we gained and the level of collaboration we achieved has been invaluable in building a learning offer which sets the standard for great coaching and supports coaches to offer impactful coaching to the skaters they work with.

We have now developed two coaching courses for skateboarding. The “Get Rolling” course supports new coaches to guarantee that the next generation are introduced to skateboarding in a safe and fun way. Our “Coaching Skills” course offers more experienced coaches tools and frameworks to support and develop their coaching practice. Building a workforce of inclusive, adaptable coaches who drive forward the positive aspects of skate culture and ensure that the skater remains at the centre of their decision-making.

This is just the beginning of our learning offer, we’re currently working on further courses to support the ongoing development of UK skate coaching and we’ll continue to collaborate with the skateboarding community, listening and learning as we go.

Find out more about our Coaching Skills course here.

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