Former top-level footballers are being fast-tracked up the coaching ladder because of a belief that they are best placed to gain the immediate respect of players, according to a study.
At the start of the 2013-14 season, 96% of all head coaches at the 92 league clubs in England and Wales had previously played their respective sports at an elite level, research by the University of Lincoln and Leeds Beckett University discovered.
A survey of both football and rugby union club directors confirmed that coaches backed by a successful playing career were often preferred over those without such illustrious pasts because it was felt current players would be more likely to buy into their philosophies.
One club director said a new coach needed to “wow everybody” immediately to gain the respect of players. Coaches who failed to immediately connect with their team could quickly face dismissal. Another director said the “raw personality” of a top former player better equipped them to make the right decisions at the right time.
Clubs claimed highly-qualified coaches without glittering playing records sometimes failed to get their messages across, the survey found.
Often clubs looked to recruit a top player from within their own system ahead of outside professional coaches. One club director admitted that if a player had been good to them, “demonstrating the values that you like”, they would be considered for a coaching role.
Lead researcher Alex Blackett, from the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Lincoln, said the findings were important in understanding how coaching talent was developed and progressed.
He said: “The fast-track transition from elite player to head coach is so common that it is easy to overlook the reasons why this pattern exists, and whether it is in the best interests of the sport.
“Our study showed that club directors place a great emphasis on past playing success when appointing senior coaching staff – often over and above formal coaching qualifications – because of a belief that playing pedigree is the best way as a coach to earn the respect of current players.
“This represents a disjuncture between the skills promoted on formal coaching routes by the sports’ professional bodies and the recruitment strategies of our top clubs.
“In an era where scientific advances in coaching have elevated performance of elite athletes in many disciplines, it may be that football and rugby union are needlessly shutting the door on a large pool of potential coaching talent.”
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