Five years after he had watched the Olympic closing ceremony there, Prince Harry was back at the London Stadium. This time he and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were at the graduation ceremony of the latest bunch of apprentices from Coach Core, the organisation the Princes had established to create a whole new generation of sports coaches. It was, Harry said, the most appropriate place he could be. Because it was on that occasion, watching the end of London 2012, that he and his brother had come up with an idea that they felt would provide a tangible, lasting Olympic legacy. “We believe our graduates are the future of coaching,” he said in a speech delivered from a podium which had been built roughly where Usain Bolt crossed the line to win the 100 metres in 2012. “We believe they are not just great coaches, but great mentors and great leaders of their community.” Watching him speak were some of the 250 young people who have gone through the intensive, year-long apprenticeship programme. People like 18-year-old Alisha Wilson, now working as a full-time swimming coach in Glasgow after graduating in June. Or 19-year-old Muhammed Mumin, who spent a year on Coach Core before heading off to college to study business. Or Andre Nathaniel-George, an 18-year-old from Harrow, who is now working as a tennis coach for the London school sports charity Greenhouse. “It’s been amazing,” he said of the course. “It’s not just the people who you coach who benefit from this. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve become so much more confident, more outgoing. In all honesty, I don’t reckon I’d have been able to stand here and talk to you a year ago.” The statistics Harry delivered about the programme are impressive indeed. 98 per cent of Coach Core graduates are now in employment or further education, 80 per cent are still engaged in coaching six months after graduating. But the Princes’ purpose in setting up the scheme was not simply to create an employment pathway. They wanted to change the way in which coaching is learned, to ensure that their graduates were as versed in psychology as they were in the technical aspects of their sport. In an era when an England football coach can be sacked for inappropriate behaviour and a Paralympic swimming coach removed from his position for systematic bullying, it is clear there is work to be done. To that end, Coach Core involved elite coaches, asking them to mentor those on the programme. And on the day of the graduation, the London Stadium was given over to sessions being led by Will Greenwood, Judy Murray, Mark Hunter and Max Whitlock. Though in truth some of those taking part were more interested in getting a selfie with West Ham’s Mark Noble and Javier Hernandez, who, along with their manager Slaven Bilic, were interested bystanders, than they were in throwing a rugby ball around with Greenwood. As he watched the sessions unfold, Scott Hann, the coach who had progressed Whitlock from a young hopeful to a double Olympic and world champion gymnast, was particularly impressed by the Coach Core philosophy. “I’ve seen so many kids damaged by bad coaching,” he said. “The scariest quote I ever heard was that an athlete should be more scared of their coach than of the skill they need to learn, that way they won’t be frightened of learning the skill. When I was first a coach it was the received wisdom. And then we wonder why we didn’t produce a gold medallist before Max.” Greenwood too insisted that no-one ever improves as a sports person by being shouted at. “I played under a coach who was literally purple with rage every time we went into the dressing room at half time,” he said. “He’d spray the walls with rage. Did it make me a better player? No. Did it makes us a better team? Of course not.” Meanwhile, as the royal party joined in the groups, throwing themselves into Judy Murray’s tennis game with particular gusto, Prince William was asked what he believed was the most important thing a coach needs to do. “Listen,” he said. It was sound advice.
How Prince Harry is creating the next generation of coaches –