The Coaching Association of Canada: Leaders in Collaboration to Strengthen the Canadian Sport System

Monday, January 18, 2016

The message throughout the Canadian sport system has always been that an effective, educated, and certified coach is the key to a quality sport experience for athletes. Over the past year, Sport for Life and the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) have signed a Partner Agreement that identifies shared priorities and goals, and areas where these organizations are best positioned to influence the quality sport experience in the Canadian sport system. Sport for Life builds knowledge, expertise, and partnerships to advance physical literacy, sport excellence and activity for life, while the CAC strives to enhance the experiences of all Canadian athletes through quality coaching. The CAC continues to be a well-respected multi-sport service organization and an important leader in our system.

Sport for Life had a chance to speak with the CAC’s Lorraine Lafrenière, CEO, and Alain Roy, Director of Education Partnerships, about working with partners, their leadership in the Canadian Sport system, and effective approaches to working collaboratively with Sport for Life.

Over the years, the CAC has been a leader in collaboration and working with partners. How do you think more deliberate collaboration in the system could help the Canadian sport system?

Lorraine Lafrenière: First, let’s consider system alignment – at the CAC, we believe the National Sport Organizations (NSOs) are owners of their sports, and our job as a system convener of coach education is to support them in successfully owning their sport. As with other Canadian sport system conveners, such as Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport for Life, etc., the CAC’s role is to support the NSOs with services and best practices to help provide a standard of quality delivery across the system. This standard of quality of services and support can be expressed through sport for life, the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), and in high performance Olympic and Paralympic objectives. The key for us has been to know our role – when you say “deliberate collaboration”, it is deliberate in us knowing our role.

Alain Roy: The NCCP program is based on collaboration. Its foundation is our partnership with those who develop, deliver, and support the NCCP.

LL: Yes, the CAC was created in 1971 as a federally mandated organization to create minimum coaching standards, in the absence of there being none, and in preparation for the 1976 Olympic Games. And, Alain is absolutely right – the vision of partnership is why we were created in the first place.


In consideration of the CAC’s mission and strategic priorities, do you see synergies between yourselves and Sport for Life where collaboration will positively impact the Canadian sport system? If so, can you provide some examples?

AR: Together, our strong partnership is exemplified through our collaboration at the 2015 Petro-Canada Sport Leadership sportif Conference and the 2016 Canadian Sport for Life National Summit (CS4L Summit) when we share and present workshops. We’ve also had success in working collaboratively with our NSO partners to organize and deliver three dedicated NSO planning days this past year. As both our organizations are in partnership with NSOs, these events assist in being more efficient and consistent in our communications.

LL: As with our partnership with Sport for Life, we've also created annual agreements with other partners to support areas of collaboration each year. This is an important first step to continually revisit the partnership, particularly as Sport for Life grows into being an MSO and aligns itself within the Canadian sport system. This is a very different relationship to those we have with other partners who have been in existence for some time. Sport for Life is working to develop and create a new and unique service for the Canadian sport system.

AR: And, our agreement with Sport for Life is based on an annual action plan where we will reflect on our progress each year. It will evolve and continue to be a really great partnership.


The CAC has an effective network to reach coaches in Canada. Given the important role the coach has in delivering quality sport programs using key concepts of Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) and physical literacy, how do you envision Sport for Life and the CAC working together to reach more coaches?

LL: I would say that it is not the CAC’s network, yet rather that it is the partnership’s network that has the ability and responsibility to reach coaches. The CAC is simply the caretaker to support it. The CAC has a very unique bird’s eye view of the system. We have a lens to see every partner and how they function. Each individual sport partner is able to see much deeper than we do — yet the CAC has a broad system view. The critical piece is that the CAC supports the entire partnership network. Areas of focus where we might need to give more support may result from our partnership with Sport for Life. The opportunities to engage around Partners Day or the CS4L Summit are when we are able to refine and move our partnership forward.

One of the first things to build is a very robust system of listening to the partnership and understanding what they need from us versus what we think they need. We feel we have created that balance and that's really important here. There is an opportunity through the multi-sport model, where our partnership has the opportunity to engage with Sport for Life to reach out beyond the traditional sport-specific or the traditional multi-sport model of coach education delivery with our provincial and territorial partners.

AR: According to a recent study which researched the relationship between coaches and the LTAD model[1], more than half of the coaches reported having very good knowledge of LTAD. Most of their knowledge was gained through NCCP courses and most of these coaches have significant coaching experience, so we can suppose that the majority of NCCP trained and certified coaches have LTAD knowledge. Our goal is to now continue to improve.


At the 2016 CS4L Summit, there were a number of sessions that focused on key coaching initiatives supported by the CAC. Can you briefly highlight a few of these and how the projects contribute to the quality sport experience?

AR: The CAC presented a number of workshops at the CS4L Summit on topics that included how best to align Sport for Life with quality NCCP coaching, and using mentorship to develop coaches through the LTAD stages. Mentorship is a very relevant topic as it can help align the system with respect to how we support our partners in areas such as high performance and women in sport. Responsible coaching is also an interesting topic to explore as it continues to be an important area where the CAC has put a lot of work to support the partnership.


The CAC, through the NCCP, has coach developers well positioned throughout the country for multi-sport and sport-specific training and certification. This is one way to extend reach to ensure quality sport through quality coach development. Are there other ways that we, in the Canadian sport system, can help support coaches and coaching?

LL: That's a complex question, because at the end of the day, it's about how we mobilize resources around supporting our coaches and coaching. We mobilize with, and through, our partners. For instance, the Canadian Sport Institute helps engage our provincial and territorial partners through the Canada Games Apprenticeship Programs. We now need to focus on the evaluation and quality assurance of the program. We have a very specific focus for the next couple of years around quality assurance to ensure we are doing more and better in what we are currently doing, rather than just doing more.

AR: In our next annual plan the goal will be to simplify the system, where possible, while not changing anything, yet establishing more efficient and consistent processes around the system for coaches.


The coach is often identified as the key to creating a high quality, level-appropriate environment for the development of physical literacy, and ultimately ensuring long-term athlete development. Do you feel coaches have the tools and support they need to play this important role?

AR: Yes. We provide the tools to coaches. We need to be always improving our training tools and support, yet everything is there. We can enhance the delivery through better communication. We need more certified coaches. We want to provide for all the coaches’ needs, while also meeting the needs of our partners to better promote and facilitate the training and certification of more coaches into the system.


Simplicity has been identified as a priority for the NCCP post-transition of the core program development. If there was one message about coaching and sport for life that we should be giving to parents as a system about the relationship between LTAD and coaching, what would it be?

LL: At the end of the day, LTAD is about informing the parent to be a better support for the coach. It is about informing the parent of the importance of physical literacy and coaching, in all aspects. Many community coaches are parents, so it is about preparing them to be better at building active for life participants regardless of the stage of their athletes or children.

NSOs and PTSOs often feel there are too many organizations telling them how to run their business, and the fact these demands are being placed on them by external organizations who do not coordinate is preventing them from doing their job. What steps will Sport for Life and the CAC take to ease this pressure?

LL: I touched on this in my response to the first question, in that it is about shifting our thinking around supporting the owners of their sport. Partner satisfaction is one of the key performance indicators that the CAC measures and it would be great if Sport for Life could adopt this metric as well, to reinforce partner satisfaction as a critical component in meeting the needs of our partners.

We are obligated to create, collaborate, and cooperate to support the partners within our Canadian sport system. We need to focus on balancing the need of all our partners in terms of our efforts to simplify, share, direct, and engage them. And, we must do so carefully and respectfully. We must continue to approach our partners through a seamless back loop, with a focus on really listening to what they need from us, interpreting those needs and then doing a check and balance to make sure we heard the right thing. The CAC’s 2016 & 2017 themes of simplicity, quality assurance, and responsible coaching are critical feedback we have heard from our partners and, as a result, have been adopted into our plans for the next fiscal year.

Thank you to Lorraine Lafrenière and Alain Roy for sharing their thoughts on leadership, the Canadian sport system, coaching, and the Coaching Association of Canada’s work with Sport for life.


[1] Relationship between coaches and the Long-Term Athlete Development model, Charlotte Beaudoin, Bettina Callary et François (2015)Relationship between coaches and the Long-Term Athlete Development model, Charlotte Beaudoin, Bettina Callary et François (2015)