Be Like Ian! You can ‘talk the talk’ but can you ‘walk the walk’?

by Andy Heald, Director of Quality and Education, TWP and Premier Education Group

Since I started at Premier Education Group over 10 years ago my role has been continuously about enhancing the quality of our coaching workforce and the activities we deliver to children throughout the country.

As Premier Education Group grew in size and capacity over the years, it has been imperative that I always have an eye for coaches that, in my opinion, have the true competence and qualities to not just be outstanding coaches/activity professionals, but also possess further competencies and passion to influence the sector of coaching and PESSPA.

This week I received the following message from one of the franchisees at Premier Education Group outlining the amazing work and impact one of his activity professionals, Ian Smith, has had on one of the children he coaches.

This got me thinking…

I immediately felt obliged to share this news and on receipt of this wonderful and warming feedback I was not surprised to hear it was about Ian. He is a true advocate not just for Premier Education Group but for the whole sector of delivering high-quality physical activity opportunities to all schools, children, and families of whom he interacts.

This is not the first piece of amazing feedback we have had. Over the years I have received hundreds of compliments like this about our workforce from children, teachers, governors, leaders and parents but the point that got me thinking is that Ian just didn’t become the amazing coach and advocate he is today, this just doesn’t happen because he attended a college course, gained a degree or accessed a sports coaching course. To ‘be like Ian’ it takes a balance of personal skills and competencies such as the 10 things that require zero talent that you can see below plus training and qualifications.


Most employers and leaders will agree that finding people that have the above competencies is by no way easy! It has been my passion throughout my career to continuously enhance the quality of the coaching children’s sector and the activities we deliver to children through sport and physical activity. This doesn’t just happen! At Premier Education, our success has been built on solid foundations around quality (quality people, quality training, quality provision = quality outcomes). We don’t always get this right, who does, but this is how we approach things and frustratingly at times I do come across teachers and schools who expect off-the-shelf high-quality people over night. It just doesn’t work like that, but working collaboratively and utilising support, quality and training methods we often get it right more than we get it wrong.

I also often receive feedback from teachers and parents about our coaches, like Ian – but what happens when Ian and the others move on?

Again, something that has always happened over the years I have been involved with Premier Education Group, is that when one of our outstanding coaches moves on, parents and teachers often say “well they are not as good as Ian”, or “I won’t be carrying on my contract if I don’t get Ian”, “I will look elsewhere for my child as the new coach isn’t the same as Ian”. This is so frustrating, especially after all the hard work and lots of support (that comes at a cost), the people that have made the original comment about the change in coach are often left to eat humble pie once they have been proved wrong and often result in saying they are better than Ian!

To be an outstanding coach like Ian takes time, takes training, takes experience – what is also frustrating is as a sector people are not always willing to pay the price for the quality which ultimately leads to people like Ian leaving the organisations as they cannot get paid enough for the job they are doing. It’s a ‘vicious cycle’. There is a lot of talk about coaches working in schools – and how this is deemed poor practice, not sustainable etc etc – a discussion that has been debated for over the last ten years. However, these poor opinions (in my opinion) come from a consortium of people who have a lack knowledge of what impact a coach, like Ian, can have on children that is clearly evident what a coach like Ian can have from the feedback you will see at the end of this blog.

Teachers and leaders need to understand what it takes to recruit, train and develop a coach like Ian, but most importantly they also need to understand what it takes to retain and motivate a coach like Ian, and it’s this third point that is most frustrating of all as it’s the point that ultimately leads to the high churn rate and sees a coach like Ian leaving the sector for a job in a call centre as it pays them enough to live!

Being a coach is a voluntary role, but it is also a paid role albeit a role that is not very highly paid. If we are to drive up sector standards, there needs to be a better understanding on the role by schools, parents, etc. If you pay peanuts you will get monkeys, and low-quality provision. What I call a ‘busy, happy, good coaching’ coach that looks the part and can entertain a group of children doing physical activity and drills is not an outstanding coach. This model isn’t sustainable, and these people don’t survive and the churn of coaches goes on. I am not ashamed to say that Premier Education prices for our school provision are far more expensive than a lot of our competitors – but the reason for this is because of our consistent investment in people like Ian to be the best and not to be ‘busy happy good sports coaches’!

Train with Premier have been continually working with Premier Education as part of the wider consortium to drive standards. We will be launching our new Level 3 Diploma for Coaches in the coming weeks which is a qualification developed in partnership with Transcend Awards that is fully aligned to the new coaching standards for children and schools that we also helped create with association with CIMSPA. We are again really excited to release this qualification to all our coaches which will set the benchmark for outstanding coaching in schools.

Needless to say, it’s based on the points I’ve raised already in this short blog that Ian is an outstanding coach. However, my final point that we must also consider is that outstanding coaches should have the opportunity to be outstanding coach educators. I come across too many coach educators and teachers that can ‘talk the talk’ but can’t really ‘walk the walk’. Like a ‘busy happy good coach’, it is easy to just be a busy happy good deliverer and following schemes of work that some educators do. But surely as educators we must have walked the walke to truly inspire our coaches and share our true experiences.

With this in mind, you can imagine, I did not hesitate to approach Ian to become part of my national Train With Premier tutor workforce so he can continue to ‘pay it forward’ and educate more coaches of the future to share his passion and learn what it takes to be a true coach that is measured not on the sessions they deliver but on the impact they have.

I will close this by congratulating Ian on this amazing feedback received in such uncertain times. It was a pleasure to read. Keep up the great work and I look forward to continuing to work with Ian, as we work together to find the next coach that can be like him.

The outstanding feedback on Ian from the parent and schools can be found below…

Hi Ms Cale,

I wanted to give you some positive feedback about Mr Smith, who I believe is one of the athletics coaches at the moment, who has been teaching year 1 this term. My daughter has absolutely loved his lessons and I have noticed her confidence has really grown in athletics and in competing generally this term, under what seems to have been partly due to his encouraging influence. There was one day in particular where she ran various races and then he put her in the final against 3 boys and she won – listening to her explain how she was scared about running with the boys but then decided that ‘Mr Smith thought she could do it so she decided to try really hard’ was wonderful to hear. It was his approach that made her believe in herself, because I know she can be quite shy sometimes in front of people.

At that point I had never even heard of him but we happened to pass him at pick up and he stopped me to explain how well she’d done. The children seem to adore him – all the mums have been saying similar things and the kids are now booked into the summer camp because they realised he was running it.

My point is,that at a time of craziness his influence and teaching has been a great addition to this term, along with the other fantastic members of staff at Alwyn. I just thought it was worth mentioning.


Headteacher feedback

“Your enthusiasm for learning new skills and passing this onto them really had an impact on their PE skills but also their attitudes towards learning”

“In all of my years of teaching I have never witnessed children having such structured PE lessons: they have not only had fun, but have learnt some great skills”


In summary

  • If you are a coach– be like Ian! Ensure you have the 10 things that require zero talent and gain suitable qualifications for your role. Engage in consistent CPD and self-review/development. Are you an educator or a busy happy good entertainer?
  • If you are already like Ian then why not consider becoming a coach educator. Contact usto get involved!
  • If you’re a schoolteacher or head teacher – You may already have an Ian! How do you support them, retain them? Are you really investing the correct amount into this hugely impactful role for your school? What are the standards of coaching? Are they educators or entertainers?
  • Employers– spot the competencies in people to be like Ian! Invest in them and train them. Don’t be scared to tell people just how good we are – charge what you’re worth! Quality means doing it right when nobody is looking.