On Coaching: Be What You Teach

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Blane_italyWe live in a strange world.

If you want to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a shaper of people’s minds in a school, there are considerable and rigorous processes to go through to qualify to do those things – and rightly so, as such individuals are putting themselves in a position of responsibility and have a duty of care to the people who come to them for help.

So why, I ask, do we not think the same processes need be in place for coaches of physical disciplines?

‘But wait’, I hear you interject. ‘Personal trainers and sports coaches need to pass certifications too, don’t they?’

And yes, in some situations and for some activities they do indeed. Certifications and pieces of paper conferring grand titles and assurances of expertise abound. There are thousands of them. Tens of thousands. And almost any of them you can acquire in a couple of days and for a few hundred pounds or dollars. The ‘thousand-dollar t-shirt’ as I’ve heard it described.

Let’s be honest, most of these so-called certifications aren’t worth the paper they are written on in terms of actual educational value. They don’t assure expertise of any sort on behalf of the holder. They don’t tell you how good a coach someone is, they merely tell you how bad they aren’t. Minimum standard achieved. And that standard is often laughably, and dangerously, low.

310245_2504227887755_1314741888_32946275_927939032_nAs a professional coach of a highly physical discipline, I would argue that it is just as – if not more – important that those who put themselves in a position of authority regarding the development and safety of another’s physical well-being are as qualified as those who look after people’s financial or intellectual health.

A sports coach can have just as much impact on a person’s life as an accountant, a doctor, a policeman or any other profession. If a personal trainer makes a mistake the student could be seriously hurt, or develop chronic injuries, or even be mentally scarred. Yet pretty much anyone can ‘qualify’ to be a personal trainer or gym instructor with a few weeks, some money and the ability to sit through some authorised ‘guided learning hours’.

Think about it. If you walked into a karate dojo and the teacher was wearing a brightly coloured belt that demonstrated he had achieved the minimum standard to pass his first or second rank in that art, had been training a few weeks, did some of his learning ‘online’ and never had his skills seriously tested, would you be happy putting your martial arts education in his hands? Or would you search until you found someone wearing a darker belt who had been training for years, fought often and devoted his life to the art?

Certification Sickness

funny-certificatesThe problem is that there is a disease now – a ‘certification sickness’ – that makes the afflicted believe that all he or she needs is a piece of paper to justify establishing himself or herself as a ‘teacher’ of physical development. Another symptom of this disease is the odd mentality that has the notion that just because he or she wants to be a coach of a physical discipline, that is somehow enough. It isn’t.

Certifications don’t qualify you to coach. Nor do passion or enthusiasm. Time, experience, knowledge, ability, expertise – these things qualify you. You may need the piece of paper too, to confirm to various arbitrary conventions and requirements put in place by your society’s lawmakers and regulating bodies, but please do not confuse that with capability. You wouldn’t think of setting yourself up as a doctor without years of training and study beforehand – yet every day people set themselves up as fitness trainers and physical coaches with the idea that a piece of paper can replace all that.

I’ve practised and taught many things throughout my life – but I’ve never even entertained the idea of teaching something until I’ve studied or practised it for several years, in as much depth as possible. To me, the very idea that one would attend a coaching certification course without ever having practised the activity in question is, well, insane. What sort of credibility would that person hope to have when presenting himself to others as a ‘coach’ or ‘teacher’?

Walk your Talk

Dan QM MilanHere’s my point: if you want to coach a physical discipline, or anything for that matter, your first step is to become bloody good at it. You have to BE what you want to teach. Yes, this will take years. Yes, this will require hardship, effort, sacrifice and intense study. That’s just the way it is. A good martial art school won’t just hand out its black belts. A good certification programme won’t let just anyone pay their money, sit on their ass through some lectures and walk out with the stamp of authority. A good programme will test you, it’ll have tough standards to achieve that demand evidence of the years of practice. If it doesn’t, walk out. Ditch it. A certification that allows you to pass without really testing your knowledge and skills isn’t worth having.

We’re proud of the ADAPT (Art du Deplacement And Parkour Teaching) certification. It’s accessible to all in the early stages, as any programme should be, so that those who want to coach can begin gaining experience as an assistant to a fully certified coach – but only as an assistant. The ADAPT level 1 does not qualify the holder to coach alone, ever. That’s what the level 2 is for, the full coach certification. And that’s not easy. We’ve been told by various authorities that it’s the toughest sports certification in Europe. It has around a 30% pass rate. It demands a lot from the candidates, it tests their skills, their strengths, their knowledge and their commitment. It’s not easy. People fail. It works. You won’t find an ADAPT level 2 coach on the planet who isn’t damn good at parkour as well as at coaching.

That last bit is important. Because, of course, just being good at the discipline itself isn’t enough either. Coaching is a skill-set of its own and one that also requires intensive study, research and practise for an individual to become competent. Add that to the qualifying criteria. But a certification, even a good one, isn’t enough by itself. They’re necessary in the world we live in, and they can create a recognised standard and a benchmark for best practice – but that’s it. They will never tell you how good a teacher someone is.

Know Your Role

It comes down to integrity, and honesty. Ask yourself, simply and directly, do you have enough skill, knowledge and experience to be guiding others properly? Coaching is a huge responsibility, so if the answer is no, don’t do it. Go train, learn, study, research – for as long as it takes for that answer to become a yes. Because a good coach can have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives; but a poor coach will, at best, waste people’s time and, at worst, deceive, delude and damage the people in their care.

Be what you teach. Look beyond the certification sickness and realise that it’s quality that qualifies you. Embody the principles, the values, the methods of your art. Live it so that you understand it, inside out. Make yourself an expert practitioner first.

Then you’ll actually have something worth passing on.


For more information on parkour’s concepts and movement methods, see http://www.parkourgenerations.com

Join a class: http://www.parkourgenerations.com/training

Take a course: http://www.parkourgenerations.com/certifications

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