Gregg S. Heinzmann, Ed.M.
Director, Youth Sports Research Council
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
According to the National Youth Sports Safety Foundation, there are at least a dozen major coaching education providers active in the United States today. Given the wide variety of programs being marketed to recreational youth sports agencies, league administrators need to develop guidelines for determining which coaching education program is best for their community. The following topics could be used to help make that determination.
After reading all of the literature and listening to all of the plaudits about why one coaching education provider is better than another, the "bottom line" for most recreation administrators is, "how much is it going to cost?" While cost is clearly an important consideration, this does not mean that you should select the least expensive program. In addition, part of the challenge of making an informed choice is being able to focus on what you are buying: a quality education program. Certain coaching education providers, however, promote other "benefits" of being affiliated with their organization (e.g., rental car discounts, excess liability insurance, etc .). Moreover, while these marketing gimmicks give the appearance of "added value", they could also be compensating for shortcomings in their educational program. When striving to assess the value of a particular coaching education program, youth sports administrators need to be certain they are comparing "apples to apples".
In 1986, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to pass legislation which provides partial civil immunity protection to individuals who have attended a "safety orientation and training skills program" (N.J.S.A. 2A:62A 6). Rather than act as a prerequisite to coach, civil immunity laws have raised the "standard of care" for agencies which use volunteer youth sports coaches. To that extent, league administrators are well served to review the applicable state legislation/regulations which describe the minimum requirements for a coaching education program. In New Jersey, this includes: Medical, Legal, and First Aid Aspects of Coaching; Psychological Aspects of Coaching; Training and Conditioning of Athletes; and General Coaching Concepts (N.J.A.C. 5:52). In addition, the coaching program must be "at least a three hour duration [and] issue a certificate of participation."
One of the most important elements of a quality coaching education program is that it is designed specifically for adult learners. As a group, adults are very receptive to continuing education provided a number of conditions are met. First, it is critical to build upon the experience of the participant when delivering the program. Adults value the opportunity to reflect upon their past experiences in relation to what is being learned, and to express opposing ideas, opinions or feelings (Vericker, 1994). This requires that the curriculum allow for interaction and group discussion. In addition, because adults are not professional students, the course must be presented using a variety of teaching methods and with supporting reference materials, in order to maximize retention of information. Recreation administrators should seek providers which offer appropriate instruction and quality educational materials.
What happens if one of your volunteer coaches has missed the local clinic and needs to attend one nearby; or loses their certification card and needs a replacement; or gets sued and needs an affidavit attesting to their "certification" (i.e., attendance at a previous clinic)? These questions point to the importance of selecting a coacing education provider who can respond effectively to predictable concerns/needs which arise. In other words, does the organization have the proper staffing to handle your ongoing administrative needs? One way to answer this question is to ask other recreation agencies fora referral and then interview the provider about their administrative procedures.
These are just a few of the many issues which recreation administrators should consider in selecting their coaching education provider. The importance of each issue will be determined by the relative needs of each youth sports agency.
National Youth Sports Safety Foundation (1997). Coaching Education Programs. Needham, MA.
N.J. Administrative Code (5:52). Minimum Standards for Volunteer Coaches' Safety Orientation and Training Skills Programs. Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
N.J. Stat. Annot. (2A:62A 6).
Vericker, W.T. (1994). Conducting Successful Education Programs. Unpublished manuscript. NJSAE Meeting. June 24, 1994.
 Recently, an organization which had been providing "free" coaching clinics to recreational youth sports agencies in New Jersey ceased offering their services (i.e., TOPS). A number of volunteer coaches who had previously attended these clinics but who had never received their "certificate" were disappointed to learn that they would not be able to obtain verification of their attendance, and, thus, would most likely have to attend another coaches clinic to satisfy their leagues' requirements. While many recreational youth sports agencies struggle with being able to properly finance their activities, compromising on the coaches' education program is not the most cost effective solution.
 In terms of liability insurance, it would be prudent to ask for a copy of the policy in order to determine the exclusions and the ongoing costs to maintain coverage. Furthermore, if you're concerned about limiting your agency/volunteers' legal liability, then contact the Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Washington, D.C., at (202) 785 3891 for assistance with developing a comprehensive risk management program.
 Certain coaching education providers rely almost entirely on videotape instruction to deliver their program. While there are some benefits to standardizing the curriculum in this way, adult learners often resent not being able to influence the instructional process. In short, because their needs are not being met, they lose interest.
Since 1986, the Youth Sports Research Council has trained more than 250,000 volunteer coaches in New Jersey. For more information about the Rutgers S.A.F.E.T.Y. Clinic.