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

A couple of weeks ago when going through some old computer files I came across an article I wrote on the USA Track & Field (Then known as TAC) Coaching Education program. This weekend I will be going to the USOTC in Chula Vista for some planning meetings on the coaching education program. As I have gotten back involved over the last eighteen months I have become increasingly aware of how few people know the history and origins of the program. The programs started with a meeting at the 1981 TAC Convention in Reno. A group of us felt that we needed to start a coaching education program. An ad hoc sub-committee of the men’s and women’s development committees was formed. I was chair of the committee; the other members were Joe Vigil, Gary Winckler and Al Baeta. We were charged with coming back with a specific proposal to be presented at the next convention. I presented the proposal and it was accepted after much vocal opposition from a group of coaches who viewed it as a threat to their power within the organization. I became the first Chairman of the program and the other members and organizers’ were Gary Winckler and Joe Vigil. The budget we were allocated was $3,000! Somehow we were able to pull it off. We trained out first group of instructors in December of 1983. At that time we also defined and refined the Level I curriculum. The first schools were offered in January of 1984. The first Level II School was offered in December 1986. Today it represents one of the most successful programs within USA Track & Field. It certainly has its faults and it’s strengths. I have chosen to get back involved in an advisory capacity to help move the program forward in a positive direction and to hold to the ideals of the founders of the program. To give a complete overview here is the article that appeared in the IAAF Technical Journal it was published under the title “Coaches Education – a perspective,” New Studies In Athletics, Vol. 6 # 4,1991, pp. 7-11:

I am writing this from the perspective of my experience with the development of the TAC coaching education program in the United States.  The US was one of the last major athletics nations to adopt a coaching education program in 1984. I will draw comparisons and conclusions for the development of coaching education in athletics throughout the world.  This should not be interpreted as an attempt to portray the TAC program as a model for others to follow.  Instead it is an attempt to share on our experience to help others to develop their own programs. There are common problems and solutions that transcend language, political ideology, religious beliefs and the athletic developmental level of the country.  We must focus on these commonalities in order to improve the quality of coaching worldwide.

Historical Perspective

The TAC program evolved out of a perceived need of a small group of coaches and the encouragement of national coaching coordinator, Berny Wagner, in Dec 1980. For many years the US had a relatively unchallenged position of leadership in the international arena.  This domination was the result of several factors: The educational system in the US provided coaches and facilities for the development of athletes. There was and continues to be a large, healthy talent pool. The country was not devastated by war and famine. There were educated coaches from the beginning of an athlete’s career. There was excellent competition at all development levels.  There were excellent facilities that were accessible to all. 

It is my opinion that the role coaching played in this success has never received due credit. This is especially true for the coaches at the beginning levels. The system was and continues to be a transport system where the athletes were passed from coach to coach as they progressed through their athletic career. This never allowed the club coaches, junior high and high school coaches to receive the recognition they deserved for identifying and nurturing these youngsters. Ultimately the coach who was associated with them at the apex of their career received the credit. Nonetheless the beginning coaches usually were teachers or recreation leaders who had paid positions and continued with their jobs of getting the youth off to a good start by providing direction and competitive experience.

By the early 1970’s this supremacy was being challenged by many nations of the world. Events that the US had previously dominated were now closely contested. This all began to change as educational funding was reduced.  Mandatory daily physical education was gradually eliminated until today only one state has mandatory daily physical education at all levels. Physical education that had formerly provided a core of youngsters who had a basic fitness level and sound fundamental movement skill was taken away.

In addition there was a trend to specialization and early tracking in sports other than track and field, which cut down on participation. This also had the effect of reducing the number of coaches involved.  Formerly the football or basketball coaches who had assisted and coached several events in track now did not help because they were busy running their off season programs. The net result was to shift greater responsibility onto fewer coaches. This also coincided with a period when a number of experienced coaches became eligible to retire which further reduced the pool of available coaches.

The growth of girls and women’s programs added another dimension.  Their inclusion in the scholastic and collegiate program was a positive step, but the net effect was to put more pressure on an already declining number of qualified coaches. Conflict arose between club and school coaches in sharing athletes.  All this served to weaken the talent pool of qualified coached available especially at the beginning levels.

The ultimate solution, especially for the schools desperate for coaches, was the so-called “walk on” coach or “rent-a-coach”, a non-faculty member who was interested and willing They were usually given a small stipend. There was no assurance that they had any qualifications to coach aside from their interest in doing so.

It was this background that lead to the formation of the TAC Coaching Education program. The goal was to provide beginning coaches with a basic body of knowledge in the sport sciences and the actual events. This would provide the background for them to effectively coach beginning athletes at the junior high school and high school level. 

From the formation of an ad hoc committee to explore the concept to the first Level I school it took three years. This was done entirely by volunteers with limited funding. The committee examined certification programs from many different nations. The final program borrowed the best aspects of many programs and synthesized them into one applicable to the situation in the US.

Developing a cadre of trained instructors is the key to any program. Qualified, motivated, and committed instructors are essential to the success of the program. This proved especially difficult because the people originally chosen were already extensively involved in many aspects of coaching and administration and they would be volunteering their time for this program. Instructors were chosen for their proven excellence in teaching the fundamentals of track and field, organizational ability, and geographic distribution.  The latter was necessary in order to insure that the program was truly national in scope. The second generation of instructors has come from coaches who have been through the Level I course. This has proven to be very helpful, especially in consistency of presentation. More emphasis must be placed on the training of instructors in order to maintain a high standard.

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