WASHINGTON, D.C.—Over 50 million children under the age of 18 participated in some organized sports programs each year. If a child playing in a sport is lucky, his or her coach has had some quality coaching education prior to assuming coaching responsibilities.
Information on the qualifications of the million or so coaches in the country is lacking, but thanks to the 2008 National Coaching Report, we know something about the tremendous diversity of coaching requirements and standards across the nation.
“American sport programs are dominated by volunteer, well-intended but largely unprepared amateur coaches,” says the report.
The 160-page National Coaching Report was released August 6—two days before the beginning of the Beijing Olympics—at a news conference at the National Press Club. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) published the annual report and sponsored the news conference.
“Parents across the country send their children to practices and events with the expectation that adult supervision will bring positive sport outcomes, maximum learning and skill development. Yet horror stories persists about dramatic increases in winning-obsessed parents, sport injuries, over-specialization of young athletes, and children quitting sports because they simply aren’t fun anymore,” said NASPE President Fran Cleland, professor of kinesiology, West Chester University, PA at the news conference.
At the news conference, Jon Butler could speak from his experiences at Pop Warner Little Scholars. Butler spent six years as a high school assistant football coach and one year coaching Catholic Youth Organization. He said that the old days of someone, with some athletic experience in their youth, coaching youth was now obviously out-of-date.
He gave the example of coaching 8 or 9 year-olds the “Liberty” position in cheerleading, where the youngster is held up by her teammates. He noted that cheerleading has become “tremendously more gymnastic and athletic.” To coach the children for this example requires that the coach know something about the fundamentals of coaching.
“There has to be a teaching progression. Think of the fear-factor, think of the risk-factor. There has to be a teaching progression involved,” said Butler.
Coaches have enormous influence on performance, likelihood of injury, and whether the child finds the sports experience positive or negative.
When a child’s first sports experience is negative, the odds are high that he or she won’t want to continue in sports activities. And the coach has a lot to do with determining whether that first experience was a positive one, according to the news conference speakers, who often spoke of preparing coaches to provide their charges “a quality sport experience.”
“I know that many Olympic positive athletic experiences were a result of the influence and impact of their coaches,” said Professor Cleland.
Currently, no federal law mandates that sports programs require coaching education or certification, according to the report. However, many individual coaches acquire professional development on a voluntary basis.
The National Federation of State High Scholl Associations (NFHS) says that only a few coaches received formal coaching education out of an estimated one million adult coaches in the United States. NFHS partnered with NAPSE to produce the 2008 National Coaching Report.
The report describes the state of coaching in the U.S., distinguishing between the coaching education and requirements in interscholastic and “youth sports.” About seven million children participate in school sports (interscholastic sports), and about 50 million engage in community sports (youth sports). The data for the interscholastic sports are based on self-reports provided by each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia do not require a teaching credential to coach in the public schools. In six states the teaching credential is recommended, and in 22 states, a teaching credential is required.
If not a credential requirement at least a coaching education requirement is the norm: 43 states have coaching education requirements. However, in some states the requirement only applies to particular positions such as head coach. Furthermore, 15 states exempt coaches who have a teaching credential, regardless of the subject area in which they teach, says the report. Exceptions are made in 17 states that require coaching education, such as retired teachers who meet other criteria.
Thus, “while a surprising high number of states require coaching education, only a few states do so without allowing “adjustments” [e.g., waivers, exemptions, substitutions] to the requirement,” says the report.
The report recommends that all coaches be required “to complete a quality coaching education program,” and that it be completed prior to working with athletes. Furthermore, while acknowledging that a teaching credential is helpful in coaching, it “should not replace appropriate coach education.”
The assessment of the youth sports is based on only 15 sports organizations, which agreed to participate. These included American Legion Baseball, American Youth Soccer Organization, City of El Paso Recreation Department, Jewish Community Center Association, Pony Baseball/Softball, Pop Warner Little Scholars, Special Olympics North America, Team-Up for Youth, United States Professional Tennis Association, United States Tennis Association, US Bowling Congress, and US Youth Soccer.
With such a small sample size out of 59 known organizations providing sport opportunities for youth outside of educational structures, it is not easy to summarize youth sports with aggregate statistics in a meaningful and reliable way. The authors wisely decided to minimize their overall conclusions of these highly diverse organizations, and instead provided individual profiles for the 15 participant youth sport organizations.
All 15 programs stated that coach education/training is required. This acts as an incentive for those who want to coach. The programs, however, rely primarily on voluntary compliance. Only one of the 15 programs mentioned possible punitive actions (e.g., local program fines) for failure to use certified coaches, says the report.
As a public service, the report is online at: www.naspeinfo.org/coachingreport. Hard copies can be obtained by calling 1-800-321-0789 for $24.