Ontario coaches lack training and diversity, new report says

Most Ontario coaches aren’t properly trained to instruct young athletes and handle critical issues like concussion protocols, youth mental health and athlete development, says a new report examining the overall landscape of coaching in the province.

The 2023 Ontario Coaching Report says only half of the province’s coaches have completed some type of safe sport training, while over a third have not signed a code of conduct or completed a background check prior to coaching.

“Those that are trained and certified feel more confident dealing with some of the more challenging parts of coaching,” says Jeremy Cross, executive director of the Coaches Association of Ontario, which authored the report.

But, he adds, it’s not easy to impose training standards — or to achieve diversity in coaching — when three-quarters of the province’s coaching force is made up of unpaid volunteers.

“Recruiting volunteers is difficult,” said Cross, especially given high demand: roughly 300,000 coaches are needed on an annual basis to meet the demands of millions of Ontarians participating in sports and recreation. The report, which surveyed 1,000 people coaching 80 different sports across Ontario, says the coaches are predominantly white men.

One of those coaches, Aprille Deus, says she has benefited considerably from the country’s National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), which provides standardized sport education to coaches.

“It helped me understand a little bit more the areas of growth for an athlete as well as how to develop a program from the ground up,” said Deus, a former competitive athlete who coaches junior varsity girls basketball at Crestwood Preparatory School in Toronto.

Aprille Deus coaches junior varsity basketball at Crestwood Preparatory School. (Ken Townsend)

Only 42 per cent of Ontario coaches have completed some NCCP training, per the coaching report, while only 30 per cent have specific certification in the program.

Deus says the program — which helped her understand athlete mental health, strength and conditioning, physiology, and how to plan practices— is vital for improving the calibre of coaching across Canada.

The report says coaches with NCCP training were more likely than than those without to feel confident in handling issues such as concussions and return to play protocols, as well as taking action to end hazing practices.

Training costs time and money, and sport programs should offer mentorship, support networks and financial resources to their coaches to help, Cross said.

“We know that it is helpful and it makes more confident and competent coaches, but we also have to do it in a way that is manageable, so that we’re not losing coaches right off the bat,” he said.

“It’s going to take a village to keep people coaching and engaged and running quality, safe programs.”

‘Never had a single female coach’

Cross says athletes would also benefit if there was more diversity among coaching ranks.

The report shows that six of every 10 coaches in Ontario are men, and that racialized people are underrepresented.

Representation in coaching is important for athlete confidence, said Nayla Brooks, who coaches multiple youth female hockey teams with the city’s Learn to Skate and Select Hockey programs.

“Growing up, I never had a single female coach,” she said.

When athletes see themselves represented in their coaches, Brooks says it encourages them to stick with the sport.

“They see that they can go to that next level.”

Aprille Deus is pictured coaching basketball.
Aprille Deus says coaches would benefit from participating in NCCP training. (Ken Townsend/CBC)

Hving female coaches when she was an athlete produced a “very different energy” and understanding on the court,” Deus said.

“There should be a lot more diversity in our coaching, especially for females,” said Deus. “I’ve never been coached by an Asian-presenting or Asian-identifying woman, so I hope one day I could be that person for someone else.”

Cross says the association is trying to get more women into coaching through various programs, such as Women in Coaching and Changing the Game.

Ontarians tend to begin coaching at gender-balanced rate, according to the report, but male coaches are more likely to stay coaching for longer, earn more experience, end up in a head coach role, and ultimately be NCCP-trained or certified.

Cross says he’s also concerned that only 58 per cent of coaches know the “rule of two,” which says a coach should not be one-on-one in private with an athlete and that all interactions should be in observable and justifiable settings.

The report recommends mandating NCCP training and requiring background checks within Ontario’s various clubs, organizations and sport bodies. 

At the same time, it shows that the overwhelming majority of people coaching in Ontario say it is a positive experience. That’s something Cross is happy to see.

“So many of them are doing the most amazing things in their communities,” he said. “We have to make sure that we’re recognizing [them] for the work that they’re producing in their communities.”

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