The ripple effect – the influence of coaches in unlocking potential far beyond the gym

07/09/2017 – Steve O’Keeffe is Sports Coordinator at the Fight for Peace London Academy. Steve’s experiences as a young man growing up in south east London, and the coaching he has done with a range of young people across a number of sports, convinced him of the crucial importance of the coach, not only in nurturing sporting talent but in unlocking potential far beyond the gym:

I grew up in south east London surrounded by a gang culture, it was sport and good coaching that gave me direction. In my case, it was the influence of many coaches and my college lecturer that finally changed my attitude towards education and made me realise my potential.

In areas where crime and violence are rife, opportunities to participate in sport are often sparse. There are organisations doing great work in inner city communities and making a substantial impact and I feel this needs to be built upon. To do this we need to really invest in our coaches and volunteers by educating them at all levels as to how we can maximise the impact we are having in the small amount of time we get with the young people we coach.

How can we be a positive influence on them? What makes us such a positive role model? I believe that training around mental health and youth work should be a key focus for any coach. I have studied mental health for many years now and I find understanding the difficulties some people may be having really helps me to help people learn. As well as being a coach, I am a Level Three qualified youth worker and it is the work I do 20 minutes before a sport session and 20 minutes after which is most important for me. Interacting with the young people and finding out about their day and getting to know them better. A coach needs to understand how to deal with certain situations or information they are presented with, getting to know young people, understanding them and their background. Even if you have just one session with them, it’s important to leave a lasting impact on just one person. It can change someone’s life.

If you coach at a community level, you have got the most important job of all. The work you are doing does encourage young people to stay in sport and stay active. Without these coaches we might miss the opportunity to produce our next generation of Olympic athletes. They may fall by the wayside never to be given the opportunity to compete at a regional level. They may fall in with the wrong crowd and begin to sell drugs at a young age because the only role models in their lives have been the older kids that have been selling drugs and making good money doing so. Our influence as coaches can have a ripple effect through generations to come.

The words I say to the young people I work with on a daily basis and the words I am saying to you right now are not my own. They are the words of the coaches that have had such positive influence on me as a young person growing up in an area where all I knew was crime and violence.

By being such a positive role model, you do not just affect the lives of the people you coach directly, but the lives of so many more that surround that person. The family of that young person you are coaching, the school in which they attend, if you have positively influenced this person and they carry on to take part in sport into their adult life, they too may become sports coaches and pass on those messages of positivity to the people they teach or themselves become Olympic athletes representing their country.