In a perfect world, high school coaches would be certified teachers with specialized training in their craft.
So says the National Coaching Report, which was released in August by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The report recommended state high school athletics associations mandate completion of a coaching education course in order to serve on an interscholastic athletics staff.
“Ideally, that would be wonderful,” said Carlos Smith, athletics director for Richland School District 1. “In reality, though, we have a shortage of certified teachers that, in turn, means a shortage of certified coaches.”
The teaching shortage, a state and national trend, has required schools and districts to revisit expectations concerning coaches’ training and qualifications.
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“We make concessions, but we are still pretty stringent. We have to be realistic,” Smith said.
Based on the NASPE report, they are not stringent enough. South Carolina is one of 11 states that do not require coaches to complete an education program.
“Any coach that is going to work with athletes should have this kind of training first,” said Kimberly Bodey, an assistant professor at Indiana State University who compiled the state profiles for the report. “I don’t think it’s unrealistic to ask coaches to commit to some basic training.”
South Carolina administrators say mandating coaches be certified teachers and complete a training program would present obstacles to prospective coaches entering what already is a thin field. They say the state’s coaches receive adequate training by voluntarily attending clinics and by learning from their peers.
“You learn from everybody you work with — every coach that shows you something or shares a new idea with you,” said Shell Dula, Greenwood football coach and S.C. Athletics Coaches Association executive secretary. “That kind of practical learning is very important.”
Last year, 85,576 names comprised the rosters of South Carolina middle and high school teams, according to the NASPE report. The athletes were under the direction of about 4,000 coaches. The S.C. High School League, which sponsors 20 sports on the secondary school level, has little jurisdiction over coaches.
According to SCHSL commissioner Jerome Singleton, setting standards for the qualifications and training of coaches is the responsiblity of individual districts. The League’s constitution provides one stipulation: Varsity head coaches must be at least half-time employees of the school district.
The SCHSL recommends, but does not require, coaches complete a course developed by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Singleton could not provide the number of coaches who have completed the program.
The SCHSL, and other states’ organizations, must raise the bar for entry into such an important field, NASPE urges. NASPE believes a high school coach is responsible, in part, for the discipline, guidance, physical well-being and athletic and character development of a student-athlete.
Smith said being certified to teach is good preparation for coaching.
“We believe that means they have gone through courses that sensitize them to issues relating to dealing with children, and then we feel they have the potential to be good coaches because here in this district our motto is that coaching is teaching,” he said.
Bodey counters, “even if you are a good teacher, you still need training to be a coach.”
And NASPE believes it has the solution.
The nonprofit organization, which sets the standard for physical education nationwide, in 2006 published the National Standards for Sport Coaches, a 40-point statement that outlines the duties of a coach — from developing an athlete-centered coaching philosophy to creating a process for professional growth. The National Federation of High Schools’ course is based on those standards.
In its report, NASPE recommends the NFHS course, or another like it, be required for all coaches, including assistants. The NFHS course is available online, costs less than $100 and can be completed in fewer than eight hours.
Keith Richardson, a former football coach at Clinton High and former SCACA executive secretary, said the best coaches are often good teachers in the classroom, but they cannot be produced assembly-line style.
He stressed that coaches must be lifelong learners and noted strong participation in SCACA’s annual Coaches Clinic, a four-day, voluntary symposium for coaches of all sports.
Beyond that, Singleton said, each district has its own approach to making sure coaches are equipped to lead their student-athletes, and that is how it should remain.
“We have to respect the wisdom of the local school districts. They know their needs. They know what best works for them,” Singleton said.
In Richland 1, Smith each year organizes the Coaches Convocation, a daylong workshop on issues such as academic advising and the legal obligations of coaches.
Smith is pleased that Richland 1 is able to set its own definition of “qualified” in hiring coaches.
“We have a few coaches right now who are noncertified, nondistrict employees, and they are excellent coaches,” he said.
“They are naturals. They haven’t had all of that training, but they know how to inspire, they know how to communicate and ... they are open to learning.”
That indicates the state’s coaches would be receptive to stricter education requirements, Bodey said.
“I don’t think anybody would be upset about it,” she said. “Coaches are innately striving to be better for their athletes. All these programs are about is helping them be as good a coach as they want to become.”
Bodey believes coaches who complete an education program are better motivators, better planners and better communicators. They have better relationships with their athletes and parents. They have more of the tools needed to make children better athletes — and better people.
That’s why Smith, for one, requires his coaches to take the NFHS course.
“It won’t eliminate every problem, because coaches are still people and they’re still working with kids, but (it) helps them be successful,” Smith said. “Through sports, you can teach lifelong values and lessons, and these programs can help coaches do that.”
Reach Nelson at (803) 771-8419.