By Ken Reed

Max Cobb, chair of the NGB Council for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), believes it’s time that America’s youth sports coaches be required to complete base-level training. Cobb said:

“From my perspective, and I’m speaking for myself and not as a representative of any larger organization, the next step forward is to require a baseline level of education for all youth-serving coaches, and to work with our partners – parks and rec, school systems and others – to make that a requirement for their coaches to be involved.”

The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 gave the USOPC and NGBs (National Governing Bodies) the authority to coordinate amateur sports development in this country, from the youth level to the elite Olympic level. However, the USOPC and NGBs have focused almost exclusively on developing an elite sports system designed to produce Olympic athletes.

The Sports Act calls for the promotion of broad-based sports participation. The spirit of the Act is that no child athlete should be left behind (no athlete of any age for that matter). Nevertheless, the reality is that broad-based participation is an afterthought for the USOPC and NGBs. That needs to change.

Beyond the elite level, the rest of amateur sports in this country, most notably youth sports, has been left with a hodgepodge of organizational and developmental guidelines. The result is that in most instances, youth sports coaches in this country don’t have to have any education or training at all in order to work with young people. Too often, if a youth sports coach shows up with a whistle and a clipboard they are considered qualified. This despite the fact they often spend 10+ hours a week with young athletes who are in a critical stage of development physically, mentally and emotionally.

There are way too many cases of overbearing parents and drill sergeant-like coaches who ruin the youth sports experience for young people. Too many adults in positions of power and influence in the area of youth sports are driven by win-at-all-costs (WAAC) and/or profit-at-all-costs (PAAC) mentalities. We need to flip the entire youth sports culture around and put the needs of kids first. The starting point needs to be answering the question, ‘What’s best for the kid?’

In addition to sport knowledge, youth coaches need to have knowledge about effective teaching methodologies and child development approaches, as well as safety and injury prevention measures.

The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that all coaches be required to complete coach education training commensurate with the level of competition prior to working with athletes. Specifically, they recommend:

* Developing an infrastructure to track and record the number of coaches who have completed coaching education programs

* Developing recruitment and selection procedures that identify persons with high moral character and integrity for coaching positions

* Providing and utilizing positive incentives to encourage completion of coaching education requirements

Currently, our governmental institutions give all kinds of economic advantages to pro sports entities, including anti-trust exemptions at the national level, and tax subsidies and sweetheart leases for stadiums at the state and local levels. Moreover, highly commercialized big-time college sports departments operate with a tax-exempt status bestowed by our government.

From a policy perspective, it’s time we turned this around and put more emphasis on developing positive youth sports experiences (for all children, not just the athletically-inclined) in this country. Mandatory youth sports coaching training should be step one.

Cobb admits a national youth sports coaching program will be tough to implement because many youth sports organizations aren’t connected to NGBs. But he thinks the USOPC and NGBs can still get it done.

“People want leadership. They want to hear what the standards are. A lot of volunteer coaches out there just want to know how to do the right thing.”

Young athletes deserve it.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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