Coaching education in the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, will be reformed in fall 2021. The aim is for an increasing number of sport coaches to have an academic education. “When coaching is based on research knowledge, results in sports will improve,” says Senior Researcher Juha Ahtiainen, who has been involved in designing the education path. The studies will include, more than before, practical cooperation with various partners in the field of sport and physical activity.

A majority of Finnish professional coaches are working without any academic education. This was revealed in a survey of coaches in 2019.

Taija Juutinen

Professori Taija Juutinen

“In sport circles, there has been discussion about coaching education for a long time already,” explains Professor Taija Juutinen, the vice dean in charge of education. “According to the Coach Survey 2019 administered by Kihu (Research Institute for Olympic Sports), only three percent coaches had a university-level education. Of the professional coaches, 27 % had university-level education. Educational reform is needed in order to enhance cooperation with various actors.”

The Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences provides studies with various aspects and approaches in eleven study subjects. The new coaching education path offers a sound and multidisciplinary educational basis for different coaching tasks. The coaching education integrates the perspectives of sport biology, sport pedagogy and sport psychology with academic and professional competencies. The degree studies give excellent qualifications for a sport or wellness coach as well as for jobs pertaining to coaching-related teaching, management, development and research.

Juha Ahtiainen

Yliopistotutkija Juha Ahtiainen

“This coaching path is being offered by a science university,” says Senior Researcher Juha Ahtiainen, who has been involved in designing the education path. “The production of new knowledge distinguishes us from other education providers. Our students receive academic education they can lean on at work and in life in general. We bring our own important contribution to the field of coaching education. Leaning on and applying research knowledge is one of our strengths.”

Funding from the Ministry of Education and culture made this reform possible. The faculty applied for and received a subsidy from the programme for improving the level of education and competence.

Well-rounded cooperation provides students with practical experience

Education in sport coaching is developed together with various actors in the field of sport. For example, a collaborative model for coach education has been tested with the Football Association of Finland, and the first pilots on mentoring cooperation at the workplace have been launched with sport academies.

“The reformed education aims at enabling high-level competence for people working in the field of sport with different expertise profiles,” Juutinen says. “This is in line with the aim to increase professionalism in top-level sport, which is set out in, for example, the strategy of the Finnish Olympic Committee.”

Ahtiainen adds: “In this educational path, the connection to working life is now more important than before. We are developing possibilities for mentoring and practical training together with different actors. We also wish to offer to our students opportunities for international practice periods in coaching.”

One aim is to increase the share of highly educated coaches especially at the early stages of sport careers. When educated coaches are guiding and coaching children and adolescents, it enables successful paths for athletes from childhood.

“Through competent coaches, we are ultimately aiming at better sport success in the future, of course,” Ahtiainen says. “Nevertheless, coaching contributes to public health as well, while an increasing number of children participate in sport club activities at a very young age already.”

Juutinen continues: “In sport for children and adolescents, one challenge is to get more children to join in and stick with these activities. This calls for substantial knowhow regarding issues other than sport-specific technical performance. In our well-rounded study programme, sport pedagogy and sport psychology studies provide concrete tools for professionals working with children and youth.”

Ahtiainen adds: “And when we have coaching increasingly available at schools for after-school activities, for instance, then there will be reason to pop a bottle of champagne.”

For the study line of sport and wellness coaching, 30 students will be admitted in 2021–2022. The students are selected by separate applications for the bachelor’s and master’s programmes in Sport Biology. The application period in spring is 17-31 March.

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