USA Track & Field Coaching Education – An Overview (Part Three)

This is Part Three of the original article that appeared in the IAAF Technical Journal that was published under the title “Coaches Education – a perspective,” New Studies In Athletics, Vol. 6 # 4,1991, pp. 7-11

Can you teach someone to coach? Coaching is definitely an art. It is a feel for saying and doing the right thing at the right time. I question if this can be taught. On the other hand the technical aspects can be taught and coaching skills can be improved in this manner. Communication skills, leadership skills, and psychological skills all can be enhanced through education. All of this is dependent on the desire of the coach to want to be better. Just because a coach attends a course and passes a test is no guarantee of that individual’s ability to coach. This is another reason that the focus should be on education rather certification.

Is there a different approach? Yes there are as many approaches as there are countries that have programs. The key is does that system meet the needs of the athletics coaching community in that country. I feel that a slower more methodical approach would have beneficial to our program. I think it is necessary to have a paid professional staff to institute a national level program. More time should have been taken to assess the needs of the coaches at all levels of the sport. Also more time should have been spent on exploring methods to bring the information to those who need it the most.

As in many other countries the geographical size of the country posed many problems. The foremost problem was one of basic logistics of assigning instructors and scheduling schools in the correct areas. There were also regional differences that should have been considered when designing a program for a country the size of the United States. In certain areas the club programs are stronger and have more influence than the interscholastic programs. Curriculum adjustments to account for this would have been helpful. The fact that the program had minimum funding did not make the process any easier. Fortunately due to attendance fees the program was able to support itself at a very minimal level. This continues to be problem. Basically the size and level of the program should be determined by the funding. This may not necessarily be the ideal but it will allow for a level of excellence rather than a watered down program.

Coaching education must be an integral part of the total national development program. The career of the coach transcends the career of the elite international class athlete. One good coach produces a ripple effect. That coach will produce many good athletes, but along the way there will be many athletes who will go into coaching. It is trite to say, but coach’s begat coaches. Coaches are the foundation of a system. A small investment in coaching education is a true long-term investment in quality development of a national program.

Realities of the modern coaching dictate that the coach cannot keep up with the volume of information necessary to stay current in all areas due to the information and knowledge explosion. In the US the coach must be a generalist out of necessity. This is especially true for those coaches working at the beginning stages of the development process. As the athlete rises through the system the coach must become increasingly more specialized to meet the changing needs of the athlete. At no stage of the total coaching process should the athlete be limited in his or her development by a deficiency on the part of the coach. This requires that as the athlete achieves the elite level of performance that the coach becomes the leader of a team of experts with one goal in mind, to make the athlete better. This requires task identification – What does a coach have to do relative to the development level of the athletes he is working with. What can be done to make the job easier and the coach more efficient in performance?

This logically leads to the areas of evaluation and accountability. Is the material that is being taught being understood and used? Is the coaching education program actually changing coaching behavior and improving the standard of coaching? What are they actually learning in the program? Is the theory being transferred into practice? Are the teaching and learning models that are being used valid? All of these questions demand answers to insure that coaching education is viable. A program that produces coaches that are not effective is not of value to the national system. A measure of the success of coaches going through the program is how many athletes they have involved in their programs. What have they done to promote the sport in their respective area, such as hosting competitions, clinics, or workshops? In summary the coach has to be the center or focus of the development process for that process to have any long-term success.

All nations, regardless of development level, could profit from the new IAAF program. The international scope of the program lends a perspective unavailable to any individual nation. The development of a standardized international curriculum leading to an IAAF Diploma is a positive step. Nations can build upon it to suit their individual needs using the IAAF program as a standard. The coach is an essential spoke in the wheel of development regardless of the development level of the country. The role of the coach relative to underdeveloped, emerging, and developed countries differs but the knowledge base necessary for success is the same in all situations.

The development of the TAC Coaching Education program has been a tremendous experience for all those involved. We have all gained a better insight into the coaching process. Hopefully this brief overview of the experience will prove beneficial to others beginning their own program.

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