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Push To Draft Coaching Standards Gets Off the Mark

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A range of educational and athletic organizations will meet this week, for what is believed to be the first time ever, to begin drafting standards for coaches.

Led by the National Association for Sport & Physical Education, the group that is convening in Gulf Shores, Ala., includes representatives from the National Federation of High School Associations, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and the U.S. Olympics Committee.

Their goal for the summit is to reach a national consensus on what coaches of nonprofessional athletes should know and be able to do.

The concept of drafting standards for coaches has been germinating for several years. Some groups, in fact, have adopted their own criteria for members.

But organizers believe the summit marks the most comprehensive attempt to date.

"We think because of things that are going on in the world in general this might be a particularly good time to generate momentum on this whole effort,'' said Judith C. Young, the executive director of NASPE.

She cited as specific catalysts the efforts to set and upgrade standards for educators, students, and academic disciplines, as well as recent incidents of unsportsmanlike or unsafe behavior.

"All of those things we think can be addressed by looking at the basic unit, which is the coach,'' Ms. Young said.

Who Needs Standards

There is a widespread belief among the summit participants, as well as some coaches' groups, that standards for coaches are needed.

Few Americans have not witnessed, either personally or on the television screen, behavior such as coaches yelling obscenities or berating their players at a Little League or high school game, or a college coach throwing a chair across a basketball court.

"We require licenses for barbers, teachers, lawyers, etc., but none for coaches, whose clients are potentially at greater risk than any of the clients of these other professionals,'' Ms. Young said. "These standards efforts can help reduce injuries, improve skills, and provide greater satisfaction for athletes.''

Donald R. Prokes, the president-elect of the National High School Athletic Coaches Association, said there has been great improvement in coaching since he began his career 25 years ago. But, he said, there is a long way to go.

"We have coaches in this country right now that if you asked them what C.P.R. is, they wouldn't know,'' Mr. Prokes said.

His organization began setting standards and certifying coaches several years ago. Of the group's 65,000 members, however, only about 200 have gone through the testing, according to Mr. Prokes.

Coaches have told him they did not need to be certified. "Their certification comes on Friday night when the 'W' goes up on the board. People who talk like that need standards more than anybody.''

From Novice to Elite

As envisioned, the standards will cover the range of coaches from beginners to the elite ranks and from the coaches of youngsters playing in community leagues to those who work with Olympic athletes.

At this point, only the coaches of professional athletes and teams would not fall under what will likely be voluntary standards.

Summit participants will discuss standards that fall into eight broad domains, such as health and safety, growth development, social and psychological aspects, professional preparation, and pedagogy. And in about a year, they hope to be ready to hold a conference that would bring in other groups that would be affected by the standards, such as school boards, teachers' unions, community recreation groups, and parent-teacher associations.

Fred C. Engh, the president of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, cautioned that a strong code of ethics will be necessary to buttress such standards.

"That's why we have the win-at-all-cost coaches, why we have the horror stories about the vicarious parent living their sport frustration through their child, the wonderful volunteer who gets caught up in trying to emulate the pros,'' said Mr. Engh, a member of the summit-planning committee.

"That problem,'' he said, "has existed since the day they issued uniforms that looked like major-league uniforms and turned what was meant to be play into competition.''

While organizers are optimistic about the endeavor, they acknowledge the obstacles and the controversy that are likely to lie ahead.

For example, to meet the standards, coaches likely would need additional training and some--particularly unpaid volunteers or those who earn small stipends--might not be motivated enough given the lack of compensation. There is also the question of whether veteran coaches would quit rather than conform to new guidelines.

Said Ms. Young: "We're not trying to come in and sell this to people as it is right now. We want to have input, we want to have people work with the material, understand it.''

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