Forty-three states require high school coaches to have some sort of national certification based on a coaching education program before being hired. North Carolina is not among them.
Teachers, game officials, counselors, principals and bus drivers all are required to be certified, and most require continuing education credits; but virtually anyone can be hired to be a high school coach, whether they know anything about coaching or not.
North Carolina, Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only states that do not require coaches to have any certification.
“We hang a whistle around somebody’s neck and call them coach,” said Hoke County Schools Athletic Director Jim Brigman.
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But that is changing. Most states, and some systems in North Carolina, now require coaches to complete a national coaching education program in addition to having a background check before working with children.
At its December meeting, the board of directors of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, which regulates interscholastic athletics in North Carolina for public schools and for a few non-boarding parochial schools, considered requiring all non-faculty coaches to complete the National Federation of State High School Associations’ fundamentals of coaching class, but the recommendation was tabled.
The discussion is expected to be renewed Tuesday during the NCHSAA spring board meeting.
Completing the fundamentals course would be the first step in becoming a nationally certified interscholastic coach. Coaches also would need to complete a first aid course and a sport specific course – or a teaching sports skills course if a specific sport course isn’t available – to become nationally certified.
Dan Schuster, an education program specialist with the National Federation, said if coaches only learned one thing in the fundamentals course it would be worthwhile.
“If they learn the proper perspective of high school athletics, the program is effective,” Schuster said. “Coaches are teachers first. Athletes are students first. High school coaches should never forget that. The ones who know it, need to be reminded.”
Bobby Guthrie, the Wake County Schools senior administrator for athletics, said the majority of new coaches don’t have as much formal instruction in coaching as in the past.
“In the 1970s when I was in school, I took tons of coaching courses,” Guthrie said. “Today, we are getting coaches who have had few if any coaching classes. They are relying on their experiences from playing in high school and possibly college. That’s not enough.”
For example, interscholastic coaches have 14 duties related to negligence litigation. The duties include things like having written practice plans, providing safe playing conditions, warning students of potential dangers and providing proper instruction.
“If we don’t have a structured education program in place, I don’t know if our coaches will know these things,” said Guthrie.
Last December, the board’s focus started on training for non-faculty coaches – coaches who do not have a teaching certificate at that school – but the discussion evolved into training for all coaches. The costs of the courses also was discussed.
Mac Morris, a director of the N.C. Coaches Association, supports coaching education, but wonders if an NCHSAA-mandate is necessary.
“To me, it is a local issue,” Morris said. “I think each system should decide if certification is required and if so how the unit is going to provide the courses.
“I have a problem with the association requiring it.”
The coaching fundamentals class usually is taught with four hours of classroom instruction and an online component that takes five to six hours. The course costs $35. The first aid course, which is taught through the American Red Cross, is $45. The sports-specific courses are $50.
Morris, who is a former basketball coach at Greensboro Page, said many high school programs have volunteer coaches, people who help on a regular basis but aren’t paid.
“Are we going to tell these people that they have to make time to take the courses and pay $35 to $40 for each one?” he said. “How about a retired high school coach? Somebody who has coached 30, 35 years. Are we going to require them to take these courses? That just rubs me the wrong way.
“I am totally, 100 percent in favor of the local units and the schools requiring their coaches to be certified. I’m not sure that this is something the association needs to be doing, though.”
North Carolina has 74 nationally certified coaches, according to the National Federation, but that number is expected to increase exponentially during the next three years whether or not the NCHSAA makes certification a requirement. Individual systems are beginning to require certification. There are more than 7,000 high school coaches in the state.
A “little push”
In Hoke County, where Brigman is athletics director, high school and middle school coaches have one year to become nationally certified. If a coach doesn’t get national certification in the first year, the coach is on probation. The following year, noncertified coaches will not be allowed to coach.
“To us, national certification is just professional development,” Brigman said. “We want to make sure every one of our coaches is certified. We owe that to our children.”
The Hoke school board reimburses the coaches for the cost of the courses when the coach becomes nationally certified.
Wake County’s Guthrie, the first person in the country to earn national interscholastic coaching certification, has taught more than 350 Wake County coaches and athletic directors in the fundamentals course. He is encouraging Wake County athletic directors to promote the training to their staffs.
“I think the certification needs a little push, locally and nationally,” said Guthrie, who also is chairman of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s Coaches Education Committee.
“We have lots and lots of coaches who are very close to being nationally certified, but just haven’t finished up. Many of them already have their first aid certification and have taken most of the fundamentals course, but they need a push to finish up.”
Deran Coe, the Wake Forest-Rolesville athletic director, recently required all of his coaches to take the four-hour classroom portion of the fundamentals course. The coaches must complete the on-line component, which takes about five hours, to finish the course.
Guthrie said he was enthused by the discussions he saw among veteran coaches during the training at Wake Forest-Rolesville. “You’re talking about guys with 20 years of experience and they are learning new things,” Guthrie said. “That was exciting.”
More than 3,800 coaches in North Carolina have completed the National Federation’s online course on concussion management, and Guthrie sees that type of potential for the coaching fundamentals course and eventual national certification.