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Talent Transfer

Avg: 4.83 / 5 (1votes)

Nick Ruddock Talent Transfer

This blog will likely split the audience.... Transferring talent!

The blog is not intended to encourage ‘poaching’, but in the contrary, to strengthen the link between clubs and their coaches, and offer a solution to coaches who are need of support and mentoring with athletes they may be ‘out of their depth’ with. It is written in the context of elite/high performance gymnastics.

I’ll cut to the chase with a question, and i’d love for you to join the debate by leaving a comment below.

If you have an athlete whose potential exceeds your competence as a coach, should you facilitate, or at least give the opportunity to the athlete (and their parents) to transfer to another environment to ensure they fulfil their performance potential?

I think so.

If your philosophy as a coach is truly ‘athlete centred’ then you will want to do everything in your power to ensure that the athlete reaches their potential. Even if that means fulfilling that potential elsewhere.

If your philosophy is ‘coach centred’ then you may immediately be thinking of the repercussions to yourself as a coach and what an athlete of this calibre can do for you and your career.

I understand the dilemma, really I do. How can coaches progress themselves if they’re not working with an athlete who has the potential to reach a high performance level? But my counter argument is that a young athlete may only have ‘one shot’, and as coaches we have many. This is particularly relevant for young gymnasts who have such a short window of opportunity to demonstrate their competence and build solid foundations for a prosperous future ahead.

Once you’ve been through the process of working with high performance athletes and you realise how many incredible, life changing experiences and lessons they get, you realise the enormity of the stakes to them either ‘making it’, or not ‘making it.’

It’s a huge responsibility as a coach. We literally hold the keys to their future.

It’s not just about a few medals. It’s about life experience. It’s about travel. Team work. Goals. Friendship. Self belief. Opportunity, and so much more.

To prevent a young athlete, indeed anyone from the opportunity of experiencing all of these things because of a coach centred (ego driven) philosophy would be a travesty.

But I really do understand the argument against picking up the phone to a higher performing club to seek a better environment.

What would the other parents think?
What about the other athletes?
I’d miss her!
How can I progress as a coach?
She might make a national squad and i’ve never been in one of those environments before!

It is also counter productive within the British system (and many others) to have a monopoly of only a handful of clubs producing high level athletes.

So here’s what I think …

We need to be better, much better at collaborating as coaches between clubs and supporting one another.

I believe the solution (or at least possible intervention) to encourage athlete transitions is to incentivise their coaches with high performance coach education support and mentorship.

Let’s look at the two following scenarios:

Scenario 1 – The current ‘common’ situation

Coach Sarah has an athlete called Millie. Mille is currently 9 years old. She has won her first national level competition and shows great potential for the future. It is Sarah’s first national champion (she should be really proud of this accomplishment!) but she has no track record of previous results at this level or above. In fact, she has had many athletes attempt to reach this level in the past, but without succeeding. She’s stuck, with no mentorship, personal development plan or experiential learning as an indicator to better future results.

Sarah continues to ‘be the best she knows how to be’ and tries hard to keep Millie at a high level for her age, but in time her lack of preparation and poor habits exceeds her potential, and by age 11 she begins to plateau and eventually declines in performance. She continues within the sport, but despite gaining a lot from her gymnastics, fails to reach anywhere close to her performance potential.

In tandem, Sarah has not developed much as a coach either, and will therefore only replicate the same results with the next athlete of Millie’s abilities. This process is repeated over and over again for the entirety of Sarah’s coaching career.

Scenario 2 – A better solution?

Sarah recognises that Millie has extraordinary ability. Sarah also has the self awareness and consciousness to know that she doesn’t yet have the expertise to ensure she reaches her potential. She is eager to ensure that Millie does fulfil her potential, and following consultation with her parents, contacts a few high performance clubs to facilitate her transfer to a higher performing environment.

The new club (or even better if this was facilitated by the NGB!) in question has an education and mentorship program in place for Sarah as an incentive to transferring Millie to their club. She get’s regular ‘coaching’ from the coaches, gets to watch Millie train (and help out too) and gets 1:1 mentoring to help improve her own skills as a coach. She still feels part of Millie’s journey and gets to work with her often alongside her new coaches. On the next occasion that an athlete of Millie’s ability walks into Sarah’s club, she’s better equipped with the expertise and support to competently coach them.

Scenario 2 really serves the best of both worlds. Both coach and athlete have a better shot of fulfilling their potential, by being supported and coached by experienced people. It takes humility and vulnerability to admit that we may not be the right coach to a particularly athlete, but that’s OK. Both are essential qualities for high performing coaches.

So which forward thinking club will be the first to adopt such a mentoring and coaching program, incentivising and providing support for club coaches who want to ‘up their game’ and do the best thing for the athletes they coach?

And which coaches will have the self awareness and vulnerability to facilitate such a move?

You may be thinking that it’s easier to employ another coach who DOES have the experience to ensure the athlete reaches their potential on ‘home turf’, and that’s a great solution, providing

a) the club has the money
b) there is a good enough coach who can fit the role, plus re-locate, plus fit in to the program, and
c) the leadership/current coaches are ‘happy’ to accommodate a new coach within the program with greater accountability than them (won’t work if there is much ego involved.)

And through experience, ticking all 3 of those boxes is tough, very tough.

Just think about the impact that such an incentive program could have on international results if the talent was working with the right coaches? And just think about the impact it would have on the lives of the athletes that got to fulfil their potential.

I’m sure there will be some feedback and comments to this article, which I welcome. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

I’ve written this following extensive experience working within clubs all over the world, and seeing the abundance of talent that exists. The problem is not finding talent, it’s nurturing it, and ensuring it’s in the right place.

‘For a flower to grow, you need the right soil as well as the right seed.’

If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.

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Comments (5)


Nick, I am a Level 2 rugby coach in a small club in County Durham. I fully support the idea of enabling young players to progress to a higher club to achieve their potential and develop their skill levels. As a coach, in the past I have actively supported players to move to better funded and equipped clubs who have more experienced coaches. Some players have eventually played County level and at Youth International level rugby or have coached at a high level. Our most recent "successful" player is now playing Premier League rugby union. About 5 yrs ago he was playing in rugby around 10 leagues below that level. One of my players who at 16 yrs old has been targeted by Newcastle Falcons in their youth academy and he goes with our blessing. However there are always "what ifs" and we counsel such players and their parents about the challenges and possible consequences of such moves. Such players are always welcomed back with open arms if things don't work out with no sense of failure on our part towards them if they do not achieve their goals. On the flip side for our club, a number of players who moved on years ago have returned in coaching roles and are themselves now developing our club and players to play a much better standard of rugby. As a coach I do recognise my limitations and the impact I can and do have on players and their skill levels. We also have a system in house where we can move age appropriate players to be coached with senior teams in our club if a player is both physically and mentally prepared for it and with full consultation with that players parents or carers. Some times coaches cannot develop their skill levels for a variety of reason, family, domestic, job and career issues all impact on coaches as individuals. What is important is the individual and a readiness of coaches and clubs to support young people to progress in their individual chosen sport. The RFU has a series of coaching courses designed specifically to develop coaches to reach their potential and each County have structures in place for higher grade coaches to deliver short CPD courses on a regular basis to coaches to develop and maintain skill levels. They do work and are an excellent way of maintaining a coaches interest and make them feel a valued member of the game.

Avg: 4.8 / 5 (1votes)

Thanks for taking the time to comment John. Sounds like you have some great systems in place for this area!

Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)

Hi Nick

Interesting piece. Of the two scenarios you present, the second is clearly better, and whilst the first certainly isn't favourable, I see that athlete transferring as just one of several options.

For me the main problem with scenario 1 is the following "Sarah has not developed much as a coach either, and will therefore only replicate the same results with the next athlete of Millie’s abilities. This process is repeated over and over again for the entirety of Sarah’s coaching career." To say that is the main problem may sound coach centred, but for me, I believe a coach owes it to their athletes to become the best that they can. I'm aware that puts a bigger responsibility on coaches than many have the time to commit, and how we provide enough coaches thinking that way when we already have a shortage is a gaping whole in my vision for the sport for which I haven't yet managed to find a solution.

People often talk about Peter Coe and Sharon Hannon as examples of people taking athletes from a young age right through to reaching the pinnacle of track and field, but to me what is most interesting is that they are both examples of people who made their own education a priority - Both started coaching athletics because their children wanted to do it.

Fortunately in my sport of athletics education has become incredibly easy to access in recent years - the challenge is more filtering out the wheat from the chaff. I genuinely believe that in the vast majority of cases a coach can find the resources and support that they need to provide the quality of coaching that is needed. Where I think there is a big gap is time - if an athlete is at a stage in their development to train full time, having a volunteer coach working around a day job may not be sustainable.

Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)

This situation happened to me this year, where one of my students was selected for the county. Whilst I realised that he would need to have training with other students at a similar level as himself I was hesitant to recommend another coach as emotionally he was not ready. However through the summer he attended a school for badminton training and was awarded “the award for most progressed student” for the week. This gave him confidence in himself and I now feel that he is ready to move on, if this is what he wishes to do. He said that he would like to continue with my group and attend the training group simultaneously. A compromise, but his own choice. I feel a choice that if he is not happy with the new group, he can always return to where it all began. It is not so much that I am unable to continue with his coaching, he does need to be with players of similar standing to progress.
Margaret Taylor NYPC Coach Badminto

Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)

Hi Nick,
We have had a situation where we had a boy gymnast who showed some potential and being a Women's Artistic club at the time, encouraged him and his parents to go to another club that trained boys competitively. You should always have the welfare of the children as your first priority and if they need to move to develop their talent then you should encourage them to do so.
I do like the idea of scenario 2 though as it is getting harder to progress as a coach, if there is a shortage children at your club who you can develop to those skills required, and this would help train coaches and forge better partnerships between clubs, which should prevent poaching of talent which does still sometimes happen.


Avg: 0 / 5 (0votes)

Scenario 1; Sarah will realise she is not gettig satisfaction from always passing on her best people. Either her Club must assist her to improve or she will retire. She should seek help from a coach mentor and maybe take her talented person to another coach who is willing to help her and her person so that both she AND the athlete can progress together. That way both gain experience and progress. Never be too scared to ask for help. Its the only way to reach potential.

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