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CPD for equestrian coaches – a help or a hindrance?

Continuing Professional Development is something all that all professionals in many industries experience throughout their careers. In the horse world many coaches are compelled to attend and evidence a minimum amount of CPD each year in order to retain accreditation to their governing body. But, do coaches see CPD as an opportunity or inconvenience?

Psychologist Carol Dweck explores the growth mindset in her book Mindset and explains the difference between fixed and growth mindset. She argues for the power of ‘yet’ when a person understands that they can’t automatically achieve a new skill, they have to go through the process of learning how to do it and then perfecting it. During the inevitable failures experienced whilst learning that new skill the person needs to say to themselves “I cannot do that yet”. This leads to the obvious conclusion that they will be able to do it eventually.

“Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.”

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House

My question is, Is it a human trait to be suspicious of doing something that we feel forced to do? How does it make you feel when you are told what to do? Does it depend on who is telling you?

“When people feel that their choices are restricted, or that others are telling them what to do, they sometimes rebel and do the opposite.

This explains why there is a rebel in all of us; as soon as we are told we must do something we automatically resist.

This leads me back to my original question – is CPD an opportunity or inconvenience? If we embrace Carol Dweck’s theories and adopt a growth mindset we realise that the opportunity to learn is everywhere and we should embrace that. Equestrian coaches are in the business of educating riders to master their skills in their chosen discipline or sphere, be it ridden, groundwork or care. Therefore, it stands to reason that coaches should be hungry for new knowledge and to explore new theories or practices.

Alternatively, if coaches allow their psychological reactance to dominate their response to requests to fulfill minimum CPD requirements they are surely showing a lack of desire for self-improvement. I believe self-improvement should be a core value for all coaches. This desire to grow and learn is fundamental to improving techniques and welfare.

Perhaps the CPD activities on offer struggle to hit the target? This is where the governing bodies need to adopt their own growth mindset and perform their own self-reflection. I do not envy their job of staging CPD events that cater for all levels and all tastes, that must be a tough job. But this is where coaches need to look at CPD as an opportunity, reflect on what they need to develop within their own skill sets and manage their own CPD program. The clue is in the name.. CONTINUOUS professional development, developing your professional capabilities continuously.

This is where it can be advantageous for coaches to seek out a suitable mentor, someone who can question, guide and encourage reflective practice.

Jonathan McMurtry explores coach mentoring here

Opportunity lies everywhere, and yes – coaches should attend the conference and tick the box so that their governing body is satisfied they have achieved the minimum requirement to maintain accreditation. Accreditation is important, and for a lot of coaches provides the necessary insurances. But – coaches should make it a priority to find opportunities to learn and develop and stay curious so they can in turn inspire their athletes to stay curious.

We engage in a unique sport where two sentient beings are honing a symbiotic relationship, horses have a habit of surprising even the most experienced coaches. I believe we should not be afraid to seek guidance, we can’t all have all the answers all the time, embrace CPD and make the thirst for knowledge infectious.

I guess this adds an after-thought, what can coaches do to enrich and enhance CPD? I personally gain a huge amount of confidence from a small group of coaches brought together by a coaching development program. We WhatsApp and Zoom (a hidden benefit of lockdown?) and benefit from that support network where we can let our guard down and bounce ideas around without any fear of being judged. Coaching is a competitive market, but there are many athletes and participants wanting our services, be the best coach you can be and you will become satisfied by your work.

Tom Fray BHS Stage 4 and UKCC L3 Coach

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