Coaching as a humble vocation

I have the good fortune to meet and spend time in the presence of coaches.
I have been in England for the last three weeks and have caught up with a number of coaches. It has included a knife, scissors, paper meet up with Russell Earnshaw.
I have been reflecting on this conversation in the light of responses to the podcast recorded by Russell.
Two responses in particular have been provoking (in the stimulus sense of the word) me.
The first … “so what is world class coaching?”
The second … “what about coach development?”
A conversation with a coach crystallised my thinking about answers to both questions.
This coach shared a story about an experience as a coach more than a decade ago. It involved the unlikely setting of Thirsk racecourse.
The coach was driving round England and meeting up with individual players. There was one player to meet and it was proving difficult to arrange a time. The player was a primary school teacher and could only find time on a Thursday night at 8pm and she would have an hour before she drove back and hour to her home. The coach had a 400 mile trip home after the session. He had no funds for a hotel stay and needed to be back at work at 9am the following morning.
Why Thirsk? The racecourse kept floodlights on until 9pm and there was a set of goals inside the race track. The bonus that night was that there was a torrential rainstorm.
The session went ahead. Player and coach were soaked and exhausted. Within the session the coach picked up a technical issue and suggested a change. It did not go well and they both moved on to another activity.
Ten years on, the coach and player were sitting in a World Cup Final dressing room after winning the world cup. The player said “It does not get much better than this”. The coach said “What, even better than Thirsk?”.
It was the most wonderful moment of laughter and tears.
Humble Vocation
I wrote to my two friends who had asked me the questions after my Thirsk moment.
Dear …
On all my travels since our conversations, I have been thinking about coaching.
I want to challenge ‘world class’, ‘world leading’ and ‘best practice’ labels and claims.
My thoughts:

  1. Our calibration against these titles can only ever be partial.
  2. Practice is changing continually.
  3. We can champion modesty.

So, I think we should just talk about coaching and the personal relationship each coach has with her or his athletes.
I want to stop using coach ‘development’ too and talk about coach learning.
As each of us coaches more, we learn about coaching. Each of our journeys as a coach is different. There is a danger I think that we link ‘development’ to a coaching award system and progression.
All my conversations with coaches address an essence of being a coach.
I am hopeful that this approach leads me to talk with coaches about their own and the athletes in their care flourishing.
As coaches we try to learn more and reflect on our practice. We have great moments but we also know we have poor sessions.
I do think that ‘great’ coaches are profoundly humble and modest. ‘Good’ coaches are on the way there but have not made that final journey to invisibility.
When we are in the presence of great coaches we do not need other labels. These coaches do not see themselves as great coaches they describe themselves as coaches.
Their journey is a journey into contemplative silence. In their presence, we learn profoundly and are transformed. Life is never the same again. I am thinking of calling this a Thirsk Experience. (I am writing a blog post about it.)
I think this places coaching in a humble place and positions it as a vocation.
My warmest wishes
Photo Credit
Thirsk Racecourse (dvdbramhall, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


  1. Hi Keith, been following your recent post and rock, paper siccors challenges. Agree the way forward (very much formulated and promoted by PD Duffy and other leading coaching leaders) is to discuss “individualised coach learner journeys” as we challenge ourselves to become “High Performing Coaches” in all aspects of the ages and stages of development (i.e. Children, Youth, Talent and Performance). If still in England and around East Midlands please feel free to drop in.
    Kind regards Graham

    • Thank you for finding the post, Graham. I hoped there would be much in the post that resonated with you and spoke to our conversations over the years. I will miss you on this trip but hopefully next time. Warmest wishes, Keith


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