Last month I closed my monthly article with this question: How can we educate more coaches? A number of you responded that mandated coaching education was the best if not the only solution.
Among that chorus was retired West Potomac High School Athletic Director and current Virginia High School League (VHSL) Coaching Education Committee co-chair, Jeff Dietze. Through the work of the committee and Jeff’s collaboration with other key leaders in the state, the VHSL Executive Committee approved a coach education mandate by a vote of 21 to 3 on May 7. The mandate requires "all" coaches take the VHSL education component. Additionally, the mandate requires all first-time coaches and non-faculty coaches to complete the classroom courses on Coaching Principles and Sport First-Aid or the VHSL Basic Coaches Education Course delivered online. Such broad educational mandates for coaches are unique, as state high school athletic associations typically require only non-faculty coaches to be educated/certified. Jeff and the VHSL believed that it was imperative to mandate the education and certification program in order to establish a standard that would apply to all of Virginia’s high school coaches. His rationale? "Remember, this is about our student athletes," he said. "This is about helping prepare our coaches to be better equipped to function as coaches in an increasingly demanding environment. We owe it to the student athletes and their communities to provide the best possible experience. The difference between a mandate and a recommendation is the difference between having 100% of our coaches educated and I would guess less than 25% if the coaches had a choice. Finally, while the mandate requires compliance within a three year period, this is so important that many school divisions plan to achieve full compliance within a year."
Youth sport organizations which rely almost exclusively on volunteers to coach also face the challenge of how to educate more coaches. In 2007 Babe Ruth League, Inc. (BRL) began requiring coaching education despite concerns raised that this would deter potential coaching volunteers. BRL president/CEO Steven Tellefsen explained how his organization arrived at the mandate. First, BRL surveyed more than 6,000 league administrators, asking them to choose between these two options:
____ We are in favor of BRL requiring all managers and coaches to complete an approved coach’s certification program.
____ We are not in favor of BRL requiring all managers and coaches to complete an approved coach’s certification program.
Survey results showed that the majority of administrators supported a mandate and the BRL Board formally passed it. But the challenge was in implementing it. BRL effectively introduced the plan and the rationale for it, gaining support through the ranks by successfully communicating the approach that would be taken and offering an online simulation of the course. Last week Steven expressed his pleasure with the initiative, stating, "We are extremely happy with the success of the online certification program. That is a great credit to our managers and coaches who completed the certification program, as well as the coaches in the process of registering for the course. We have enhanced the lives of over 1,000,000 baseball and softball players by providing education to our managers and coaches since 2007. It is an outstanding course that has produced outstanding results."
The Virginia High School League and Babe Ruth Baseball League are two of many success stories concerning mandated coaching education. In each case, a strong leader or leaders built support for the mandate through all levels of the organization. So, even though a Board made the mandates official, the real "buy-in" among administrators and coaches was achieved through open communication and collaboration among all ranks, making the mandate procedure a formality. Other organizations with a history of requiring coach education include USA Hockey and the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has a 38-year tradition of certifying soccer coaches. Both of these organizations employ levels as a way of stimulating an educational progression. At the scholastic level, each state high school association has defined parameters that at a minimum require non-faculty be educated/certified.
Yet, despite such successes, many administrators and organizations take the position that mandated coaching education can be more of a problem than a solution. They claim that "forcing" coaches to take a course simply presents one more obstacle to filling their coaching positions, and that coaches who are required to be certified get less out of the experience than if they chose to take the course on their own. Perhaps that is so.
But isn’t it also possible, as in the previously cited VHSL and BRL examples and many more like them, that mandated coaching education can be highly successful when effectively planned, communicated, and implemented? Yes. And all it takes is the conviction and efforts of leaders like Jeff and Steven to make it happen, and the tools that ASEP provides to make the educational process simple and rewarding.
So my answer as to how we can educate more coaches is this: Together, and with a sense of purpose that prevails over obstacles we might encounter. The opportunity is here, and the need remains that important. I hope you agree.
I welcome you to contact me at JamesS@hkusa.com and share your thoughts. All feedback will be appreciated, but I would be particularly interested in your view of the mandating issue and your experiences concerning it.