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The life beyond your session | Coaching Children (Ages 5-12) | ConnectedCoaches

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The life beyond your session

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This blog first appeared in the Autumn 2017: Aiming Higher issue of Coaching Edge and was  posted with their permission. Coaching Edge has since been replaced by UK Coaching's digital subscription service. You can find out how to subscribe here.


Mental and physical health, home life, financial difficulties – everyone arrives at a coaching session with ‘baggage’. How much should a coach reach out into the lives of their participants?

This isn’t a story about bad coaching. Not really.

There are examples of bad coaching here, things that happened and can’t be undone. Situations and
responses that will make you wince.

Instead, we’re highlighting this story – these lives – because what they tell us can inform the way coaches work, for the better, and ultimately that’s how we improve.

That was the drive behind Amina Weston telling us, through the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, her experience of coaches and the difficulties that led to. Not that Amina blames the coaching community – she was at pains to praise the first two coaches she came into contact with – or the sport in question, gymnastics.

She just wants to limit the chances of her experiences being repeated in the future. Her son, Esau, was a gymnastics prodigy, promoted from school to sports centre to high-level club a matter of months after attending his first after-school sessions.

Yet with each step up, each success of his that Amina and her family cherished, came a step up in cost. Until it became almost unsustainable.

“From the start there was a cost for insurance but once he began at club level it was costing more money, then there were club clothes, competition entry fees, paying for travel,” Amina explained.

“I remember early on travelling to Barnsley for a competition. Esau went through the doors but when I tried to follow him the staff stopped me and said ‘oh no, you have to pay’. I thought ‘oh my god, more money!’ – I’d not brought any packed lunch, thinking I’d treat us to food there for once, but this entry fee suddenly ate into that. A fee to see my own son in a competition I’d already paid for him to be in!”

Not wanting to stand in the way of Esau’s rise, Amina became used to situations like that, and the consequences that would have at home.

“While Esau was competing at that level we didn’t have much of a life. Everything was around him, making sure we had enough to cover him and other daily costs like bus passes to get to school. So the amount of shopping we did went down, we stopped going out, it became really hard.

“At one point I remember putting a tub out on the table for Esau’s competition money, so if any of us ever had any spare change, it’d go in there.

“Leading into competitions there would sometimes be extra classes, and I remember that happening once and I just didn’t have the money. I went home and sat in tears. Then the next day I went to renew my bus pass and was told they’d cut the cost by £4 so I was in tears again, thanking the bus company for making it possible for me to pay for that extra class.”

While Esau’s early coaches had been helpful and attentive, Amina found that as he rose to an elite level that personal touch began to disappear.

“The coaches never realised or asked about our financial situation, they just assumed that we had that kind of money, so it didn’t matter how many leotards or how many trips they told us Esau needed.

“The first they knew of it was when I took part in Leeds Poverty Truth, and they were shocked at our situation. In a way we were lucky because I’ve always been really good with food, so they were getting proper, cooked meals, that I would make out of very few ingredients, so they never appeared poor
in that way.”

Esau has left the sport now but, not wanting his bad experience to go to waste, Amina has worked with UK Coaching to provide guidance on the issue of working with children from low income families.

“My advice to coaches is to look and watch the children more closely - when you ask for a new outfit see who is the last to come forward and buy it. If you’ve not got much money it’ll take longer to work out a way to pay for it.

“When you put on things like holiday camps, are there kids who don’t attend? Talk to the parents about that, it might be because they’re away, but it might be because they can’t afford it. Then you could look and see if the club can cover that cost.

“During sessions, look who’s buying the snacks. People on low incomes are less likely to be able to do that. These are little things that coaches can notice. If you’re a coach, or a teacher, part of that has to be talking and noticing the person in front of you, not just the athlete.

“There’s a temptation to think that the parents would be embarrassed to have a coach ask them about money, but I for one would have been glad. And I wouldn’t have expected them to say ‘ok, well we’ll pay for it all then’, but they would have understood that we’d sometimes need more time to pay, and that alone would have been a big weight off my shoulders.”

UK Coaching Guidance

Liz Burkinshaw , Development Leader Officer at UK Coaching and ConnectedCoaches Community Champion outlines UK Coaching's work with the Joseph Roundtree Foundation.

UK Coaching believes that coaching has the power to transform lives. We have a vision that people from all parts of the UK are able to be active and gain the wider benefits of being involved in sport and physical activity.

This includes the boosts in physical and mental well-being, and individual and social development. We have been working with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to better understand the lives of people living in poverty and what coaches might need to understand so that they can provide more positive experiences for them.

For coaches to be more inclusive and welcoming to those on low income they should consider the following:

  • Challenge your own assumptions about people on low income. Do not pre-judge or assume that people are lazy, disorganised or wasteful.

  • Get to know people. Make this a priority in your engagement. Understand more than activity levels and physical capabilities.

  • Recognise when people are struggling on low incomes. You often can’t tell just by looking at someone if they are struggling or not. Don’t assume that everyone has a lot of disposable income and will be able to take up the opportunities that are presented.

  • Give people advance warning. People on low incomes don’t have a lot of disposable income. If they want to do something they have to budget and save. If extra equipment, trips or opportunities come up, give people plenty of warning so they can start to save.

  • Be aware of the stigma of being on a low income. People will feel isolated and left out if they are the only ones not able to take part in paid-for trips, events or extras. They will feel humiliated if they don’t have the right clothes and equipment. How people, especially children, feel when they come to a session significantly impacts on their participation.

  • Ongoing encouragement. If you notice someone hasn’t been attending for a while, give them a call and ask why. People may be afraid of failure and being seen to not be good enough. Ensure you build confidence every session in their personal, social and sporting skills.

  • Come up with solutions together. Do not preach or dictate solutions or advice. It must be collaborative and found by understanding each other.


Did you know?

  • 13 million people live in low income households. That’s one in six in the population.
  • Half of those in poverty are in working families, with 68% of children living in poverty coming from a working household.
  • The number of people from lower socio-economic groups who play sport (26%) is much lower than those from more affluent groups (39.5%).

Find out more by visiting leedspovertytruth.org.uk and jrf.org.uk


Next Steps

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