Got any of these things? You might make an amazing RDA coach (UK Coaching Week)

Every scene like this has a coach behind it: could it be you?

We're just coming to the end of this year's UK Coaching Week: a great time not only to celebrate and consider what makes great coaching great and contemplate our reasons for doing it, but also to think a bit about attracting new coaches to our sports. If I'm honest, I can't remember a time I wasn't keen on the idea of being an RDA coach, but I'm sure that there are many amazing prospective coaches in and out of the organisation who aren't necessarily sure that they have the right sort of character to make it work. Some things are fairly obvious: a decent understanding of horses, and enough time at least to establish yourself as a volunteer and understand how your group works, for instance, but both of those can be acquired with enough time and effort. A great RDA coach also has at least a couple of these things which are a little bit more innate. I certainly aspire to have all of these things - you might be surprised at how many you already do.

A will to find the time

Have you ever heard that saying, "volunteers don't volunteer because they have the time, but because they have the heart"? (Or words to that effect...) I know plenty of amazing RDA coaches who fit being thus into lives which are already busy with lots of other things. Commitment to any sort of voluntary work is such a commitment because you could always have chosen to do other stuff with that time, whether (paid) work, rest or play. What's crucial for a would-be RDA coach is the will to find that time. It might not work right now, but it will in six months time. It might make this part of the week busy, but it's doable. It might mean sacrificing something else, but it's worth it. If you've got the will to make that time commitment, you're probably going to have similar resolve to make things happen in the sessions you end up leading.

A sense of humour

I'm going to venture that having a decent sense of humour is as essential for an RDA coach as being able to show up in the first place. I always think of my group's website: "riding must be fun at all costs"! Coach without a sense of humour and you miss out on the entertaining banter between volunteers, the wonderful and sometimes totally surreal interactions you will have with and between riders (I've had my age guessed as everything from 12 to 67...), and risk imploding when things go a bit wrong or diverge from the plan, as they invariably will from time to time. Good coaches don't have to be award winning comedians, but laughter is an important part of a happy, trusting, productive RDA session.

A thirst for learning

We are all on a constant learning curve: the organisation's most freshly minted new coaches, the RDA lifers with decades of experience, and everyone in between. It's well known in pedagogical practice that you learn and understand something best when you can teach it to somebody else: a great coach is one who is as keen to learn for the benefit of their participants as they are for their own development. Every rider and every session is as unique as you are, and there's no shortage of things to learn and ways to learn them. If that sounds good to you, you might just have the makings of one of those great coaches.

A problem solving head

Learning experiences in RDA often come along packaged up as problems, or challenges, or obstacles. It's more than worth the work, but coaching is challenging: adapted tack to communication, fear to disappointment, outgrowing favourite ponies to growing into new ones, volunteer management to the totally unmanageable stuff (weather, horses going lame, illness...). What I think is so good about the sorts of problems we have to solve as RDA coaches isn't just the fact that they are opportunities to learn, but that they can be approached in a way that suits you: whether you're a creative, logical, empathetic, philosophical, or bold thinker. (Just try to avoid the status of my own brain's worst pitfall: the over-thinker.) We don't want or need our coaches to approach things in a totally uniform way, and your efforts and input into rising to all the challenges that will come your way will be so appreciated if you're ready to do it, and probably to try a different approach or two every now and again. 

A way of leading that you're happy with

Coaching is a leadership role, but that doesn't mean you need to have been a classic "leader type" your whole life to do it well. You will be teaching, explaining, making decisions, delegating, managing the volunteers assisting you, and generally being proactive. What matters in all of these things is that you have (or come to have) a way of leading which you are happy and confident with. If you're starting out as a coach, this might take a bit of time to blossom, but if you think you've got at least the makings of a solid personal leadership style, you might be onto something. My only caveat is that your leadership style will need to work for the people around you in your group, riders and volunteers, as well: nothing a bit of thought can't make happen.

A selfless streak

Coaching or teaching, when done right, are generous acts even if you're being paid to do them. The best teachers I had at school were characterised by their incredible generosity of spirit and eagerness to pass on knowledge, even though it was their job to do some approximation of that. Coaching as a volunteer, as many RDA coaches do, or giving part of yourself to generating opportunities for others in any way as all RDA coaches do, represents a selflessness that some coaches don't even realise they have until they try it. It's a nice thing to do for yourself, but it's also so much more than that, and so much bigger than just you. If you've got that little selfless streak which pushes you to support, empower, and prioritise others, you're already one step along the way to becoming a brilliant RDA coach. Why not give it a go?

I am really excited to have worked with RDAUK to set up a new network for young & new RDA coaches: if you believe either of these descriptors apply to you and would appreciate a friendly and supportive virtual peer group to help you on your way to coaching greatness (or whatever else you're aiming for), please come along and join our Facebook group! (Prospective coaches also very welcome.)

To find out more about RDA coaching, click here.