Why are there no local coaches to take Zhuliang's place?

    Speculation about who will replace Malaysia's chief diving coach Yang Zhuliang seems to be centered in on Australian Christian Brooker. But bringing in another foreign coach to guide the national divers is being called a step backwards by former National Sports Council director, Mazlan Ahmad. He questions why there is no local coach capable of taking over for Zhuliang and why Malaysia must still seek foreign expertise to fill a key training role in the sport. In this article we will take a look at possible reasons why there are no local diving coaches to fill Zhuliang's shoes.

    According to an article in the New Straits Times another foreign coach will soon be taking Zhuliang's place in the Podium program. And it's the fact that Malaysia still needs a foreign coach in diving even after years of having Zhuliang in place with the national team and spending "quite a tidy sum in the sport" that raises the question about the purpose of having foreign coaches in the first place.

    What was Zhuliang's role? Outwardly it seemed clear that he was working with the elite divers. But was part of his job also training local diving coaches? These two roles are often spoken of together as if a foreign coach can perform coaching duties at the highest levels and also train other coaches. From a practical perspective though this is not really possible. A coach can do one or the other. Attempting to do both usually results in one or both functions suffering.

    But there are other reasons why Malaysia still needs foreign coaching talent in diving that have nothing to do with Zhuliang. Replacing foreign coaches with local talent is not an unreasonable idea, in fact, it's a pretty good one but there have to be several strategies in place in order to make it work.

    Coaches need expertise in areas not typically associated with coaching - Coaches are not simply 'created' by learning the technical aspects of a sport. Sport coaching requires expertise in several different areas. A good coach is a polymath; able to use information from complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. Acquiring this expertise takes years of work some of which may occur outside sport and coaching contexts.

    Coaching courses run by national or international sport bodies frequently cover many of the non-technical areas needed in coaching in addition to the technical areas related to the sport. Even so this does not provide the practical experience that every coach needs to help raise athletes to the elite level.

    Coaching experience matters - Experience is the real key to creating local coaches who can eventually replace foreigners. But without a significant number of youth sport programs in which young coaches can gain this experience then no amount of coaching courses or mentorship time with foreign coaches will suffice. Sport associations who are really interested in developing local coaches have to realize that developing local athlete training programs is part of that task. Where are local coaches going to get experience if there aren't sufficient programs in which to work?

    The development of athletes, which we have written about extensively on this site, and the development of coaches must occur together. You can't do one without also doing the other. Individual aspects of sport development don't occur by themselves. Athlete and coach development, strengthening good governance practices, creating scalable training programs throughout the country, and shaping an environment where commercial opportunities for coaches exist within the sport, separate from national level, government controlled, programs is essential to overall development of any sport. It is this holistic nature of the sport development process that is either ignored or totally misunderstood.

    The former athlete as expert coach myth - There is no research to back up the widespread notion that former superstars make good coaches. In fact, studies that analyse the career paths of coaches usually find that the most successful coaches were mediocre athletes when they competed. Researchers speculate that since these athletes were not among the best they had to study the sport, their training, their diets, etc. more than elite performers just to keep up with the naturally better athletes. They became students of their sport and gained knowledge that served them well if they became coaches later on.

    This is not to say that there aren't top athletes who later become great coaches. Certainly there are, but research shows that this is an exception to the rule.

    So, to summarize, Malaysia needs more diving programs that will produce more divers and more diving coaches to coach those divers and who can gain experience coaching lower level athletes. It sounds simple enough but our current reality shows that it is very difficult to do. Until it's done though Malaysia should accept the fact that foreign expertise is needed to work with the current crop of elite divers who are some of the best in the world.

    --------
    Bill Price (price@ussa-my.com) is the Chief Information Officer at USSA Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

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