The ‘iCoachKids: Innovative Education & Training for a Specialist Children & Youth Coaching Workforce’ project (iCK), which is led by academics in the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett, aims to tackle the lack of existing opportunities for coaches of children to be suitably trained and recognised across Europe. The project, which began in 2016, looks to overturn this situation through the development of open and innovative education and training resources and opportunities for youth coaches.
The conference in Hungary showcased the work of the partnership over the last 12 months as well as including a series of keynotes and best practice case studies from across the European Union.
The day was open by Hungarian coaching legend and three-time Olympic champion water polo coach Dénes Kemény who stressed the importance of having well trained and qualified coaches working with children and young people: “If we don’t get it right at the youth level, we have no chance of developing great athletes at the elite level. Coaches and their education are central to this.”
Next it was Kris Van der Haegen, Director of Coach Education for the Royal Belgian Football Association (an iCK partner) and Assistant Coach for the Senior Women’s National Team. Kris very eloquently told the story of how Belgian football has taken very important steps to build a football participation and competition system completely tailor-made for children at different stages of development going from 1v1 and 2v2 festivals for under 6 players to the full size 11v11 for senior players. Kris emphasised that: “We have to see the world through the eyes of the children and create opportunities to enjoy sport for all of them, not just for the good ones or the ones who are extremely motivated.”
Zoltan Marczinka and Judit Balogh from the Hungarian Handball and Basketball Federations respectively provided a window into how Hungary is solving the issue of attracting more children into sport and how to equip coaches appropriately to give children positive and enriching experiences. Zoltan and Judit emphasise the role schools and school teachers can play in enhancing the sport experience, but also that teachers and newly qualified coaches need a lot of support and hence the creation of Hungary-wide mentoring and support schemes which are proving very successful. A great example to follow for other countries and sports in Europe.
Sheelagh Quinn and Declan O’Leary from iCK partner Sport Ireland Coaching shared with the attendees the experience of developing four coaching children workshops to support youth coaches in Ireland. The workshops were developed in conjunction with iCK project lead, Sergio Lara-Bercial, have been delivered to over 4,000 coaches with very positive feedback. These workshops will be very influential in the development of the iCK online training in the second and third year of the project.
iCK group member Marieke Fix ( from iCK partner in the Netherlands NOC-NSF) presented the findings from the very large iCK literature review of coaching children science and linked them to The iCoachKids Pledge, 10 guidance points to facilitate positive sport experiences for kids. It contains over a hundred practical recommendations to support coaches create child-centred effective sport environments to foster enjoyment and personal development as well as physical and motor skills.
Julian North offered a whistle stop tour of the research-based audit of the youth sport coaching workforce conducted as part of iCK in the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Lithuania and Hungary. The results paint a bleak picture of a general lack of recognition of the figure of the children’s coach which translates into a relatively low status and education level compared to other coaching populations like high performance. The audit also confirmed that customised learning opportunities for youth coaches are virtually non-existent in the EU and thus makes the outputs of project iCoachKids, especially the online training and resource guide all the more relevant and important.
Finally, project lead Sergio Lara-Bercial and e-learning specialist Pedro Lara from iCK partner Universidad Europea de Madrid presented the European Coaching Children Curriculum and the draft table of contents for the forthcoming three FREE Massive Open Online Courses for youth coaches which will be developed over the next two years of the project. Work on the development of these e-learning opportunities has already started and the first course is expected to be ready in the summer of 2018.
As well as the conference, partners in the ICoachKids project met to finalise the European Coaching Children Curriculum (ECCC). The draft ECCC was published a couple of months ago to a very warm reception. The ECCC is meant as a reference point to support organisations and coach developers wishing to assess and re-develop their existing coaching children learning opportunities or to create completely new ones to satisfy existing needs and demands. Feedback from partners and wider stakeholders on the draft ECCC was considered and a final version of the curriculum was agreed and will be published in the next few weeks.
In addition, and once the ECCC was approved, the forthcoming FREE three massive open online courses (MOOCs) were discussed. At this point, both the content and the pedagogical model were debated. The iCK group agreed that the MOOCs would be aimed at beginner and intermediate youth coaches, yet are confident that the quality of the courses and the ancillary materials and study guides will make them attractive to even the most experienced and knowledgeable coaches out there. In relation to the pedagogical model, the courses will incorporate a mix of taught content via videos and interactive activities, and reflective and applied work wherein the learning coach will be engaged in ‘real-life’ tasks related to the content covered on the course.
iCoachKids is co-funded by an Erasmus+ grant and led by Leeds Beckett University (LBU) and the International Council for Coaching Excellence (ICCE). It brings together another six world-class organisations with a common desire to support children and youth coaches and a proven track record of doing so. These include Sport Ireland Coaching, the Hungarian Coaches Association, the Netherlands Olympic Committee, the European University of Madrid, Lithuanian Sport University, and the Royal Belgian Football Association.