By Antoinette McKeown (Chief Executive, Sport Northern Ireland)

It’s such a pleasure to be marking the inaugural UK Coaching Week. I would say that if most athletes and others involved in sport were to look back on what has influenced their lives, there would be a particular coach or coaches that stand out – men and women who have helped us to shape and cultivate, not only our passion for sport, but also our own characters and values. Some ultimately decide to take up the coaching baton themselves and pass on their insights and experiences to others. Whether it’s the parent coaching children for a few hours each week at a local club or the high performance practitioners coaching our Olympians and Paralympians, as my knowledge and understanding of their investment deepens my admiration and respect grows.

Coaching Week provides us with a brilliant platform to celebrate the absolutely vital role that coaches play in delivering sport, from playground through to podium, and also to recognise what great coaching is. On behalf of Sport Northern Ireland, I’d like to thank UK Coaching for their work in organising and leading on the Week, and we’re delighted to be supporting it together with our partners in the other Home Countries Sports Councils and many National Governing Bodies of Sports and other sporting organisations.

Sport NI has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with UK Coaching, collaborating on various projects and events aimed at helping to promote and develop coaching and coaches. For example, a year ago to this very day, we had the great pleasure of welcoming delegates from across the UK and Ireland (including HRH The Princess Royal) to Northern Ireland for the 2017 UK Coaching Summit. In my experience, the coaching community has always demonstrated a particularly strong sense of partnership and openness to exchanging ideas and best practice. That’s what makes events like the annual conference so valuable and enriching for all us working in sport and I am very much looking forward to attending the 2018 Conference in Edinburgh later this month and ctahcing up with colleagues in SportScotland and other delegates.

To mark this special Week, UK Coaching have unveiled the six Principles of Great Coaching, based around the idea that good coaching is all about PEOPLE:

  • Person-Centred
  • Empowering
  • Organised
  • Positive
  • Learning

Person Centred_1

These principles are a great way of providing focus and clarity when it comes to discussions around effective coaching. One of the questions that is often asked within the area of sports development is “what does good look like” and so I think it’s useful to have Principles like these to better articulate what it is we want to promote and develop. However, it’s not enough to simply launch these Principles – we all have a responsibility to live them and demonstrate them in our own practice. That’s why, yesterday, Sport NI marked Coaching Week with a special event within its ‘Leading Learning’ programme involving a number of governing body staff responsible for leading coach learning provision in their sport. This event will focus on the use of learning technologies to enhance and enable future coach learning opportunities. Tomorrow we’ll be hosting a ‘Women in Coaching’ shared learning event, reflecting on work over the last two years to help empower a number of governing bodies of sport to try innovative approaches to grow the number of female coaches and the development of existing female coaches within their sports.

Great coaching is absolutely vital at every stage of the sporting pathway. By extension, it is vital to Sport NI in the delivery of the Strategic Objectives within our Corporate Plan, whether it’s the Every Body Active 2020 coaches supporting the delivery of our ‘Sporting Communities’ objective by creating opportunities for more people (and particularly underrepresented groups) to enjoy sport, or the specialist practitioners at our Sports Institute working as part of ‘Sporting Winners’ objective by providing support services to our local elite athletes.

As part of our third Objective, ‘Sporting Clubs’ we are working to enable more people to develop and reach their sporting goals through a structured environment. Ultimately, more coaches, and more skilled coaches, are a cornerstone of creating a better club environment. I am delighted, therefore, to report that, in Year One of our four-year National Lottery-funded investment programme, Sport NI has supported governing bodies of sport to deliver 3,700 additional coaches (including 1,362 additional female coaches) and 6,908 learning opportunities for coaches.

Sportmaker Celebration Evening February 2018

Celebrating our SportMakers – Winning Coaches, Officials and Volunteers at Sport NI Awards celebration event in February this year

As well as investing in coaching, Sport NI is also keen to ensure that Northern Ireland’s outstanding coaches and sporting workforce, working at all levels of sports participation, are recognised and celebrated for their dedication, talents and accomplishments. This week we are opening nominations for our 2018 Sport NI SportMaker Awards, where we’ll be honouring coaches, officials and volunteers who have made an impact in the last 12 months. At the last Awards Celebration Event, where we were joined by history-making rugby referee Joy Neville, I remember feeling inspired and immensely proud as I listened to the stories of the people and projects receiving awards. Whether it was Netball NI Coach Elaine Rice, who led the Northern Ireland team to successful World Cup and Commonwealth Games qualification, to Simply Judo Connects, a Belfast project which helped to integrate refugee families into their local community through judo, the winners were all people doing extraordinary work to not only make sport happen, but to transform people’s lives through sport. Speaking to the winners on the night, I know how much it meant to them to be recognised, and so I would encourage to make their nominations.

To close, I would like to offer a personal thank you to all the coaches who are working day-in day-out at community halls, leisure centres, playgrounds, pitches and other facilities across Northern Ireland. I look forward to seeing a wonderful celebration of great coaching throughout this week and in the months ahead.

SportMaker Awards 2018 Logo