Towards a Cultural Shift in Sports Coaching: The case study of child-first coaching in a South-East England football club 

Safeguarding in Sport Special Interest Group

Towards a Cultural Shift in Sports Coaching: The case study of child-first coaching in a South-East England football club – View at this link

Speakers: Dr Dikaia Chatziefstathiou and Dr Laura Gubby

Chair: Dr Suzanne Everley

Understanding the landscape: Safeguarding in sport

Safeguarding in sport is important for fostering a secure and inclusive environment where athletes can thrive physically, mentally and emotionally. A robust safeguarding framework establishes trust, promotes fair play, and contributes to the overall positive development of athletes, fostering a culture where everyone can enjoy the benefits of sports in a safe and nurturing setting. 

Exploring child-first coaching

In the sport safeguarding discipline, child-first coaching has become a pivotal paradigm shift. Recognising children as active participants with unique perspectives, desires, and vulnerabilities is foundational to creating a coaching environment that truly prioritises their well-being. By actively involving children in decision-making processes, understanding their individual needs, and valuing their voices, coaching becomes not only a means of skill development but a vehicle for empowerment and personal growth. This approach not only safeguards against potential harm but fosters a positive sporting experience, where children not only feel protected but also actively engaged and heard in their sporting journey.

The session

In 2023, Dr. Dikaia Chatziefstathiou and Dr Laura Gubby undertook a small-scale preliminary investigation to examine how a ‘traditional’ football club understands coaching, and the potential for the adoption of child-first coaching ideas. Participants included 20 children from 8-15 years old, and three coaches between 35-48 years old – all based in a South-East England football club. 

In this session, Dr Chatziefstathiou and Dr Gubby present their research project, and what their findings suggest about the potential of child-first coaching in sports. The session unveils compelling insights into how traditional coaching experiences may impact players’ acceptance of autonomous play and discusses the broader implications of child-first principles for coaching dynamics.