Jan 25

Training Young Athletes – The Need for Coaching Certification

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Many people would argue that the purpose of sports is to strive for records and win championships. Have you ever wondered in the least how many thousands of children we sacrifice along the way so that a few can make it to the top? How many children, who love sports, are dropping out too early and how many are we eliminating with our approach to sports? How many are discouraged because we have prejudged them to be too small, too short, too weak, too slow? Many good athletes are scarred by injuries or burnt out psychologically by the time they reach the adolescent stage – a time where sport involvement is crucial. How many were or are unable to meet the demands of their coach, their parents, their own obsession? How many are rejected and made feel ashamed of having limited athletic prowess?

I share another personal experience with you. My son was in “that too short” category at the age of 15. He always wanted to be a professional basketball player but was ridiculed for his dreams. He played basketball as well as volleyball in school – although he was removed as a setter in important matches because he lacked the height at the net to intimidate the opposition.  He could accept that reasoning but he also had the best vertical jump and that was never given any consideration. He was an All-Provincial Champ in gymnastics on floor and parallel bars and an All-Provincial catcher in baseball. But he still was too small! He got a scholarship in tennis to an USA College and in the end played Beach Volleyball successfully in the AVP World Tour circuit – a game he taught himself as a fun pursuit while playing for his ASU fraternity in the intramural league. His coaches always ignored his overall athleticism and any future potential he might have had. My persistent role was to encourage him to carry on – albeit with a ‘bleeding soul.’  By the way, he finished his growth at the age of 21 and is now 6’6” in height…AND he could have played Pro-Ball!

Well known Sport psychologist Tom Tutko (1972) does not oppose sports or competition per se or striving to win as an experience for children (‘Winning is everything and all the other American myths’, 1976) and notes that such involvement can provide excitement and helps to probe each child’s capacity and personal limitation. He states, however, …“It’s how we’re competing that’s wrong.” Some German sport philosophers have declared sports as “an act of murder or assassination” (Caysa, 1996; Bartnik & Heusel, 1999). UHHH! Here are some of the reasons: a) Many elite or professional athletes have to deal with injuries in their ‘after’ sports life (think about the increasing rate of concussions), some have fallen to alcoholism, some have committed suicide; b) the high percentage of sport drop-out by the age of 12-13 years. A Michigan based study of 2700 boys and 3100 girls who dropped out of sports revealed that…“Losing interest; not having fun; coach was a poor teacher”…ranked as the top reasons (of 11 reasons). The same groups stated …“they would get re-involved if…“practices were more fun; I could play more; coaches understood players better; coaches were better teachers…” (Ewing & Seefeldt, 1988, cited in Schloder and McGuire, 1998, pp. 49-50).

Why do you think ‘kids sports’ have regulations now that every child must play at least ‘X’ minutes? “Every kid can win and every kid needs to embrace his/her potential” according to Tutko (1972); Orlick, (1975, 1998) and Martens (1987, 1997). Children should never be pre-judged on size, talent or mental outlook. Every child deserves a chance to develop his/her potential. In fact, every child has the “Right” to be taught the necessary skills to reach such potential (Athletes Bill of Rights, cited in Schloder & McGuire, 1998, pp. 26-27). We therefore want to encourage you to create a sports environment where each child is empowered to pursue and maximize his/her potential and follow the dream. “You have to reach for the stars – otherwise you may always regret that you never did.” I encourage my athletes to have their dream but also provide a reality “check.”

North America has many more people than all of Europe combined. So, theoretically Americans and Canadians should have the best talent pool for athletes. Why not? First, we still lack qualified professionally trained coaches in community and school sport in the USA whereas Canada has had a mandatory National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) since 1974-75. In the USA, we still have a common hesitation to establish such certification and continued coaching education because it is seen as anti-democratic and infringing on individual rights. So, why are untrained parents, volunteers, or just about anybody permitted to coach – because “it’s not a big thing. Hey, I can coach – what’s the big deal?” Third, there is our ‘quick fix’ attitude versus a systematic approach. We try to specialize our young athletes far too early and subsequently burn them out too early. In addition we are always so impressed with whatever someone else does or another country does or did and we like to imitate those programs or even import the coaches.

Has anybody ever reflected that given countries have certain social structures, which do not work in North America? For example, the success of the former East Germans was driven by a unique social-political agenda – but we always compared ourselves to their achievements. East German “success in sports guaranteed” many privileges and options at the expense of personal freedom of speech and it took a toll on personal health or even life or the health of former female athletes’ children – as we now find out through recent court actions.  Is that what we envy?

On the other hand, European coaches in schools, community clubs, at the elite level or in professional sports have to be trained physical educators or coaches with licenses from a Sport Academy. Germany’s famed soccer player, Franz Beckenbauer, was assigned as the manager of the National Team not its Coach because he lacked the proper license. In North America, however, he would have been welcome to coach because of his reputation alone. We seem to forget or ignore the fact that one’s success in sports as an athlete does not guarantee one’s success as coach nor does sport participation alone make for an outstanding coach. Let’s consider for example all the former athletes, who turned to coaching careers and also get (got) frequently fired. That is not to say that there are some exceptions.

Coaching is a profession or at least one should approach like one. Successful coaching is not learned by pure ‘osmosis or hanging out in sports.’ It is an educational and ongoing pursuit.  Isn’t it amazing that we need a license for just about everything we do in life – but not for coaching children? Does it tell us something about the values we place on the lives of our children? Someone famous once stated: “Tell me about your children and I will tell you about the future of your country.” We like to affirm that.

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