According to the latest sports participation survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), there are almost eight million participants – boys and girls – in high school sports. In addition to the parents, the most significant individuals in the lives of these student-athletes during their three or four years in high school – in many cases – are their high school coaches.
While an exact number is difficult to determine, it is estimated that there are about 750,000 coaches at the high school level and another 250,000 at the junior high/middle school level. Many of these individuals are also teachers and have an education-based background for their coaching position. However, a growing number of these approximately one million coaches are non-school coaches who have been hired because of their expertise or background in a particular sport.
Although helping individuals to become more proficient in their sport and leading the team to state titles are the “headline-grabbing” aspects of high school coaching, providing teachable moments for student-athletes to learn valuable lessons for practical lifelong situations in the work environment – teamwork, sportsmanship, winning and losing, hard work – is perhaps more important given that less than one percent of high school athletes will play at the college or professional levels.
Over the past eight years, the NFHS has played a significant role in providing professional development opportunities for high school coaches through its Coach Education Program – offering online courses for coaches that assist them as they work with their student-athletes and continuing with the original goal from 2007 of “changing the culture” in high school coaching.
As the program begins its ninth year through its online presence at www.nfhslearn.com, the NFHS has launched the second level of its National Coach Certification Program – the Certified Interscholastic Coach (CIC). This is a follow-up to the first level of certification – Accredited Interscholastic Coach (AIC) – and serves as an additional professional credential for coaches or individuals who aspire to coach at the high school level.
Individuals must obtain AIC certification to be eligible for the CIC program, and the latest figures indicate that more than 14,000 individuals have obtained AIC certification since the program was started in 2009.
Dan Schuster, who has worked with the NFHS Coach Education Program since 2008 and who is in his first year as NFHS director of coach education, continues to work with state high school associations in an effort to have more coaches receive certification and raise the bar of professionalism in the coaching profession.
“The CIC is the latest step in our ongoing roadmap of professional development for coaches,” Schuster said.
“Our goal is to help coaches become lifelong learners – we want them to come back to our site each year and take another course. When it comes to learning, we believe that is a lifelong process.”
Two states – Arkansas and Massachusetts – require new coaches to become AIC certified through the NFHS, and Schuster indicated that several other states are considering this requirement as well. AIC certification requires coaches to complete the two core courses – “Fundamentals of Coaching” and “First Aid, Health and Safety for Coaches” – along with the “Concussion in Sports” course and a sport-specific course of choice.
More than 35 states require new coaches to complete the Fundamentals, First Aid and Concussion courses. While there has been great response to these three courses, the addition of a sport-specific course to complete the AIC certification has been slower to develop.
“The sport-specific course requirement is an important piece of the puzzle because playing the sport is not the same as coaching the sport,” Schuster said. “These courses provide the techniques for teaching the proper skills of the sport.
“Our goal is for coaches to develop a mindset of ongoing professional development. Certainly, the Fundamentals, First Aid and Concussion courses are essential courses to take prior to having contact with students,” Schuster said. “Some veteran coaches who were required to take some courses came kicking and screaming at first; however, taking the two core courses allows these individuals to focus on why they got into coaching in the first place.
“With the turnover rate in the high school coaching profession about 20-25 percent annually, educating new coaches is an ongoing process, and all four courses in the AIC certification are essential for these individuals as they begin their career.”
Since the ultimate goal of coaches in the high school education-based system should be to prepare student-athletes for life after high school, Schuster said training not only is helpful but necessary.
“Coaching is a profession, and training certainly is required in any type of profession,” Schuster said. “In this case, training is essential because new coaches are working with and attempting to influence young high school students. The most successful people – whether they are coaches, lawyers, electricians or accountants – are those who regularly continue their quest to learn more.”
In addition to the four AIC courses, the CIC program requires the completion of seven additional courses: “Creating a Safe and Respectful Environment,” “Engaging Effectively with Parents,” “Sportsmanship,” “Strength and Conditioning,” “Teaching and Modeling Behavior,” and two courses of choice. Three of these courses – safe environment, parents and sportsmanship – are available at no cost.
“As the committee (NFHS Coaches Education Committee) was considering the required courses for CIC, it wanted to address some of the key areas that all coaches face,” Schuster said. “Dealing with parents, sportsmanship, hazing and bullying are issues that coaches face every day. We believe these courses will help new and veteran coaches be better prepared to handle situations as they arise.”
Regarding the additional two courses of choice for the CIC certification, Schuster noted that two of the remaining courses are free and should have widespread interest among coaches – “Sports Nutrition” and “Heat Illness Prevention.”
Overall, there are 35 courses offered online at www.nfhs-learn.com through the NFHS Coach Education Program. In addition to the two core courses mentioned previously, there are 16 sport-specific courses and 17 elective courses, including 14 that are free.
Schuster indicated that about 400 individuals had completed CIC requirements to date, but he is hopeful that those numbers climb dramatically as coaches have the need to address some of the aforementioned issues.
“Certified Interscholastic Coaches separate themselves as individuals who value professional development and want to improve to create a better experience for participating students,” Schuster said. “Providing quality ongoing professional development for coaches is the core mission of the NFHS Coach Education Program.”
Bruce Howard is NFHS director of publications and communications and editor of High School Today.