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  • Writer's pictureKaren Gasbarino

Beth Barz - The Coach’s Coach

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Most athletic-minded individuals have their hopes set on playing their chosen sport at the highest level. As soon as they know that’s what they want to achieve, they work to make it happen. Serious athletes usually know their direction by high school, if not before.

It's not too often that the athletic-minded individual in high school isn’t dreaming of hitting the pinnacle of their sport as an athlete, but rather as a coach.

It takes a very special individual to know at 14 that they don’t only want to play the game, they want to coach; Shape the individuals; Form a successful team culture; Take 30 individual athletes and form the team that will strive for the top – together.

Being a coach is rewarding. Being part of a player's development as they take on the elite athlete's mindset both on and off their field of play is remarkable. Whether as part of a team – something bigger than themselves – or a result of the coaching they were exposed to, there is something different about athletes. While it’s an enormous responsibility with long hours and much care and concern, coaching often pays back in dividends..

Coaches wear many hats, from the administrative hat to the half-time pep-talk hat. It is a series of skills that presents many challenges. One coach might be excellent at the team management aspect, while another excels at more administrative matters. That’s a lot of variables.

With all they need to be successful, coaches also need training to tap that winning formula. To learn how to harness 30 individual personalities with 30 different circumstances and 30 ways they approach the sport.

So…who teaches the coaches? Who guides the men and women who have that incredible passion for their sport? Who keeps coaches stoked and buoyed up when many of them are volunteers and struggle to do it all as well as they’d want to?

Those who shape coaches who in turn shape athletes of all ages and abilities; those individuals must truly be a special – and rare – breed of coach.

Kingston Ontario’s Beth Barz is not just a rugby coach, though those who know her will say that she is a fantastic coach. More than coaching, though, is the role she’s especially proud of – being the coach's coach. Next level stuff is what fires Barz.

No matter how good they are at the sport in question or in leading people, each coach has something to learn to take back to their clubs and athletes. Even those born with the innate ability to create winning teams need help harnessing and shaping those skills.

Enter people like Beth Barz. She helps take already great coaches to the next level.

Plus, she has the accolades to prove it.

The winner of the 2022 National NCCP Coach Developer award, Barz is dedicated to coach education and believes that a good coach never stops learning. It’s a theory she puts into practice on the regular as she continues her own journey to be better.

A graduate from Queen’s University School of Physical Education and current PhD candidate, Barz is a World Rugby Trainer, working with coaches throughout Canada and beyond. Of growing and fostering good coach education, she has said coach education is simply imperative. Without challenge, we do not change.”

Most in the rugby community know Beth as a former player, rugby coach at the community and university levels, and highly respected member of the Canadian rugby family. Many have attended coaching courses facilitated by Barz on behalf of Rugby Canada or World Rugby. Yet many don't know there’s even more to Beth Barz.

Currently, Barz is a Learning Facilitator and Mentor Coach for the Advanced Coach Diploma Program at the Canadian Sport Institutes in Ontario and Calgary as well as Trainer for Rugby Canada and World Rugby. She's also a multi-sport Master Coach Developer and Evaluator; having completed those certifications in the past few years.

That’s a lot.

Beth is indeed passionate about giving others the tools they need to be the best coach they can be.

But that’s also not all. No, Barz is apparently not busy enough with the many hats she wears; she teaches high school part time, is assistant coach to the men at the Royal Military College, works closely with Rugby Ontario and Rugby Canada, and leads workshops year-round for coaches throughout Canada as a COACH+ Advisor and Coach Developer. Currently, she's working with Surf Canada and the PGA of Canada.

And to top it off, she’s working part-time on her PhD in multi sport Coach Development.

Her PhD's focus is the “actions and behaviours of coach developers and how they can affect coaches positively.” Barz explains that the inevitable goal is drawing the correlation between coach developers and the athlete and seeing how successful coach developers are in helping to create the most successful athlete by giving the coaches of the teams the best tools possible.

On a very basic level, you’d think that was a given, that impactful coach development reaches the individual athlete. Yet, there is not a lot of data on how Coach Developers might positively influence coaches who might positively influence athletes. That’s why Barz is focussing on that aspect, to see the trickle down effect, to inevitably create the ultimate winning formula.

If this sounds like the person you want to be leading the coaching seminar you’re attending, you’d be fortunate to see her standing at the front of the room.

It's the perfect storm: Barz’s first love is teaching. A very close second is sports.

She enjoys working with high-level coaches who are passionate about their chosen sport, not simply because their level of devotion is inspiring. Beth also finds in these situations that she’s still learning, which fuels her thirst to continue to evolve as both a coach and a mentor.

She enjoys her work with a variety of college and university coaches and teams. It’s an interesting perspective working with coaches across all sports, applying coaching principles that extend to swimming to volleyball and everything in between. “Coaches often feel like they are on an island,” Barz explains.

Coaching is 24/7 and a supportive community and peers to talk to is needed. Part of what Barz does is help them foster that community support. “If we had a community around us or trusted folks to have those conversations with, growth could be exponential,” she offers.

As the recipient of the 2022 National NCCP Coach Developer Award, Barz was the natural choice given how many coaches she’s worked with and how revered she is. It is affirming and gives her the energy she needs to continue to pursue the many irons she has in the proverbial fire.

When asked ‘what’s next?’ Barz explains that she’s slowly evolving from her full-time teaching role to being more coach-development focussed. It’s been a slow process but feels natural for the educator. She’s working both with teams and one on one with individuals, further enriching her desire to give each coach the best possible tools to be successful.

Next level meets next level.

In the last couple of years, there has been an increased focus on developing women coaches, empowering female leaders and helping women find and strengthen their role in sports leadership. Coach developers being a rare breed as it is, even more rare is being a female developer. I asked Beth if this ever presented a barrier to her, as she’s often standing at the front of a room full of men. “I think there are some folks who struggle to take coaching advice from anyone at all, because they think they’ve got it all figured out. So I don’t think coming in as a female makes any difference there,” Barz says.

“It is funny though,” she continues, “as I am pursuing my PhD, sometimes people introduce me from more of an academic perspective rather than sporting, which I find really interesting.” On a scale from practitioner to researcher, Barz explains, she will always weigh heavily on the practitioner side of things. So it’s interesting how she is initially perceived. An opinion I'm certain that lasts about five minutes.

Barz herself was taught how to coach by men. “I was just so enamoured that I found this thing called ‘coaching courses’ which meant that I could do coaching that it never stopped me from doing it. But looking back on it now, it wasn’t always easy to be the only female in the room.” Often the approach is different – people-centred versus technical-centred – occasionally presenting a challenge.

It's empowering now for women coaches to have a woman teach them. Younger female coaches often comment that it’s refreshing to them to have a woman at the front of the room. “They’ll come away with the idea they can do it as well, that ‘See It Be It’ kind of mentality,” she says. “At the same time, I don’t think it would have stopped the women I am working with if there were only men leading these courses. These women are so driven and have seen other female coaches that they won't let anything get in their way! They are so brave and courageous!”

With there still being a prevalence of men coaching women’s teams, it is great to see women stepping into the senior coaching roles, and Barz is seeing more female presence all the time in the room.

While Beth Barz never seemed to pay much attention to men who didn’t believe she should be there, she also says she has been lucky to not encounter much opposition as she’s risen in the coaching ranks. Still, she does credit a few key individuals with helping to champion her, such as Kevin Jones, Sean Dunleavy, Sean McDonaugh, John Long, Colette McAuley, and Natascha Wesch. As for Jones, she shares that he was always there to ‘kick her butt’ with a view to the future (then buy her a pint).

“The interesting thing about coach development right now is that it is branching into beyond just taking courses,” Barz explains. While in order to be a coach there are a list of courses that must be taken, more and more people are finding there are elements of coaching they WANT to learn. They welcome the opportunity to find themselves in a room with like-minded individuals brainstorming and feeding off one another. There is a lot of “what did you do in this situation?” and not being afraid to accept new ideas. Barz explains: “You had a checklist in the 90s of six things you had to do as coach. Now you have a list of 36 things. It’s changed so much. I’ve been working with a lot of coaches who right now are a bit terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing.” Trying to navigate that space has been challenging for coaches, and courses certainly help to empower them.

Watching the evolution of coaching has been rewarding to Beth Barz.

There are many wonderful coaches out there and she loves to see them all thrive. “Seeing them say they learned this little ‘bit’ in a course that they then want to go on and delve deeper into it, or learn improve upon something they’re already great at” is a lot of fun for Barz. To help them grow and be the best, most well-rounded coach they can be is why she devotes so many hours to helping coaching evolve.

Sport is better for Beth Barz wanting to further the impact of coach development.

Sport is better for Beth Barz spending every waking hour wondering how to empower coaches to help athletes feel held up, respected, and taught in the best way possible.

Sport is better for Beth Barz caring about the impact on not only the coach but the individual athlete as well. It’s all a formula for winning teams, increased participation, and enriching sporting cultures.

And lucky us in the Canadian rugby community – Beth Barz is first and foremost one of ours.

For more, visit the COACH+ website:

Karen L. Gasbarino, February, 2023

Rugby Hive Editor

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