Illustrations by Vanda Kovacs

Illustrations by Vanda Kovacs

To be or not to be a trainer

A little journey to some “whys”, “whats” and “hows” one faces as a trainer in the European youth field

 by Marta Medlinska 



My mum once told me: “Stop thinking so much” but I have failed miserably. And among many questions this one was prominent throughout my more and less advanced training of trainers and other learning and training experiences I have had: “to be or not to be a trainer”. In the European youth field, I should specify. Not only in the sense whether to be one or not, but what it means and what it takes to be a trainer, in terms of competences, experience, style, context, networks etc., and who decides that? What gives the legitimacy to act as a trainer in a generic or a specific context? Do you feel like thinking along?

Once a trainer, always a trainer.

You are a trainer by becoming one.

Always trust a trainer, unless that’s yourself.


When are you a trainer?

In simple words, how do you know you are a trainer? You decided so? Someone (who?) told you? And what if you rather are seen as an instructor, a teacher or a leader?

Can you be a trainer in the youth field in Europe, or can you just take up that role, from time to time?

Can you call yourself a trainer only when you belong to a trainers’ pool or a guild?

Or when you get employed as a trainer and it says so on your contract?

Or when your self-assessment, or indeed peer-assessment, shows as “ticked” the relevant boxes of competences displayed to a satisfactory level? And who decides what those boxes and satisfactory levels are?

Are you reconfirmed in that role when evaluations of the participants of your training state that you did a good job?

In these fluid times, and with people often having many different roles evolving in time, these questions may not have as much relevance as when roles were somewhat more fixed, “once a trainer, always a trainer” type. Interestingly, the meaning of being a youth trainer was perhaps less strictly defined.


Have your motivations to be a trainer evolved too?

Why on earth would anyone want to be/act as a trainer?! Would the answers now differ from those 10 or 20 years ago? And do people answer differently in different moments of their lives? How about yourself?

Is it that you want to have a job and earn money?

Do you want to make the world a better place?

Is supporting people who want to learn what makes you motivated, or is it your way of stimulating your own personal development?

Did it come naturally as you grew into that role by attending youth work activities and/or training, or was that a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you seized?

Is it all these things at once?


What does it take to be a trainer?

There are things you need to do, to enjoy or to put up with as a trainer. Plenty. These are just a few examples – which are in your list?

Reading about new educational approaches and developmental theories?

Attending trainers’ gatherings for the purposes of networking and further competence development?

Having enough methods and tools in your toolbox to juggle with them, making your training programme dynamic?

Having the patience to explain you are not a sports coach?

Being ready to travel and meet intercultural groups of people who you might have never met and are likely to never meet again?

Getting up early and sleeping late to discuss in a team the programme and evolution of each and every participant in your group?


When you act as a trainer, your approach is to …

Finally, some of the “hows” defining the way you see your role and how others experience training and learning with you. Are you the type to …

… have fun with the participants, it’s part of the way youth work and non-formal education are effective!

… keep your private time and personal limits untouched, to show a good example and stay professional.

… develop and stick to clear outlines of what each activity looks like and what it is supposed to result in …

… or feel the group and go with the flow, having only the main goal (and objectives?) fixed?


Training by doing

And about my mum’s comment, with time I understood that what she meant was not that I think less, but that I act more. This is how I have found not only more questions, but most of my answers.

How about you? Tell us where you stand!


Many thanks to Gergő Kiss for improvising the trainer figure!

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