Olympic hero Sergey Bubka: the future of sports depends on how coaches can adapt to societal changes

  • Insights
  • 12/07/2017 09:11

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Sergey Bubka
Sergey Bubka, who will be addressing a conference in Tallinn on the role of sports coaches in society (photo: IOC)

One of the priorities of the Ministry of Culture during the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU is the role of coaches in society.

On this topic, the ministry interviewed the Olympic gold medallist and 6-time world champion in pole vaulting, Sergey Bubka. Currently serving as the Chair of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Entourage Commission, Bubka reveals how he sees the role of coaches in today’s sports and reminisces about which coach has influenced him the most.

How has the role of a coach changed over the past decade, especially considering social aspects such as values, integration, life skills, and personal development?

Coaching is becoming a more diverse and multifunctional job with every new generation, as sport becomes more and more professional, and the level of performance in sport increases. Coaches had been experts in healthcare, sport science and athletes’ equipment, as well as in psychology, for decades, but now new challenges emerge.

As the global media space has expanded enormously in the recent years, and information becomes accessible, it gives more opportunities for the education of athletes, but also brings the values of the Olympic movement, clean sport, and fair play under a certain risk. Seemingly easy ways to reach success, which are actually false, can tempt the young generation of athletes.

The role of the coach and the athlete’s entourage grows essentially in these circumstances, as the coach has to be open for new knowledge and new values, but also to find a balance with the essence of sport and traditional values, for the sake of the integrity of the Olympic movement. The fight against doping, which has to start from the first athlete’s step at the playing ground, is now one of the key parts of coaching – but it is not the only one. A coach is a mentor for sport and for life skills, but he is also a carrier of the basic values of sport.

What are your expectations towards the coaches of children and youth, so that those who train adults would be able to take on young athletes with the right motivation and values?

Obviously, it is not an easy task for youth coaches to motivate a kid to practice sport nowadays. Computers offer another reality for children all over the world – we have to deal with this fact. What I expect from youth coaches is that they find a way to use new information technologies in order to involve kids in sport.

The experience of the educational programs of the Youth Olympics, inaugurated by the IOC in 2010, proves it is possible. Online workshops and courses, communication with fellow sports participants all over the world, as well as with sport stars and role models, social networks’ fan groups – there are many ways to make the global net serve the traditional values of the Olympic movement.

We can not and should not deny the global e-world but we have to find a good balance, and – a true challenge for youth coaches above all – to integrate it in teaching future athletes. The Olympic family should take it seriously and help coaches all over the world, as the future of sport is at stake.

What kinds of activities has the IOC planned in order to elevate the value and recognition of coaches in society?

As the Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Entourage Commission, my role and the role of the Commission is to improve the quality and level of services to athletes by engaging with, and uniting, stakeholders. Coaches are the main group of the athletes’ entourage and one of our priorities.

The IOC has developed different tools and programmes to support athletes on and off the field of play and within society. The IOC Athlete Learning Gateway is an education tool dedicated to athletes and coaches with courses including 'Career transition support', 'The art and science of coaching', and 'How to be a successful leader'.

Have coaches influenced your worldview, and how? Is there anyone who stands out in terms of helping you form your values?

My success has become possible due to my coach Vitaly Petrov whom I met when I was 10 years old and who worked with me through almost all my career. My coach is still considered as one of world’s top pole vault experts, bringing new champions on the stage, like Brazilian Tiago Braz at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

I admire my coach and owe him a lot – in fact, he taught me basic sport values which are unchangeable through the ages. He taught me that my sport success starts with the win over myself, over my laziness. He taught me to respect what I am doing and never cheapen my sport with doping. He taught me to respect my opponent and the spirit of sportsmanship, as your victory is always false if you cheat.

My coach taught me that sport is a means to reach peace and communication between people, that sport opens frontiers and people’s hearts. He told me that I should never stop studying, and never stop doing what I think is good for people. There were lots of episodes when my coach’s wise advice helped me to make a well-informed decision both in sport and in regular life.

Conference

On July 13-14 in Tallinn, the international conference 'Role of sport coaches in society. Adding value to people’s lives' will be held. The conference speakers include Sergey Bubka, Roy Hodgson, Sergio Lara-Bercial and many more experts on the topic from around the world.

The conference can be followed on the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union website through a live stream, and it will be available for viewing later on the Estonian Presidency YouTube channel.

A day before the conference, the traditional informal meeting of EU Sport Directors will also be held in Tallinn.