USA Swimming‘s Board of Directors meeting notes from November included a section on “Coach Education and Accreditation,” and added a timeline for the organization launching a new coach education program. Given that the American Swimming Coaches Association handles coaching accreditation, SwimSwam caught up with USA Swimming Managing Director of Sports Development Joel Shinofield to find out what’s going on.
SwimSwam: Is this program the same as what ASCA already does, and what does it mean for ASCA?
Shinofield: I don’t think it will be the same. Quite honestly, we’ve been open in our discussions with [ASCA CEO] Steve Roush. He’s just recently taken over ASCA as well as, people at ASCA prior. We actually think this is an opportunity to grow ASCA membership. So we invest in the mainline education about coaching people, and the best practices that have been set forth not only in our own country, but across the globe in terms of educating and coaching people, children, et cetera, implementing that program — similar to, I think 35, and or at least 32 NGBs who have already implemented their own coach education. So we would just be following in that pattern. But quite honestly, you know, there are 5,000 domestic members of ASCA. We have 21,000 domestic coach members in USA Swimming. So if we rely solely on ASCA for coach education, we are missing the boat on a tremendous opportunity to create better resources for all of our coaches.
The way that we think that this will help ASCA, is that we also look at an opportunity to encourage coaches to continue their education, to find other resources and to incentivize that continuing education in developing your professional abilities as a coach. And so we would like to partner with ASCA, and others, on creating those opportunities. And so we think that the opportunity for ASCA to truly grow their membership — they can invest in courses that really fit at different stages of the coach’s career and plug those in and we think that we can help bring more coaches to their doorstep as they produce relevant material.
SwimSwam: Do you envision the education program as being for early-career coaches, or more established ones?
Shinofield: We actually view it as, as has a multi-point educational platform that’s going to create relevant content for whatever stage of your career that you were in. Before you get on deck, some requirements there, once you’re on deck and you’re early in your coaching career, a requirement for some education there. Some relevant requirements fo if you’re coaching age group versus if you’re a senior level coach. And then also some opportunities for some education for head coaches that will revolve more on the skills required there. Especially some of the things that we feel like right now, as a whole overall organization that we could improve upon, in terms of community engagement opportunities to really grow our programs, create new opportunities for new facilities, things along those lines. And then, an opportunity for some education beyond that for our coaches who are coaching our National Team-level athletes. It would be in partnership with our National Team staff.
SwimSwam: What led USA Swimming to decide there was a need for more educational programs?
Shinofield: I think the first one is the step that I mentioned earlier: that we can’t rely on external entities when we have a significant amount of coaches that are not a member of that organization. We want to make sure that all of our coaches have opportunities to access really high-level and high-quality education about coaching. I think the other thing that we truly recognize is that the people who deliver the experience to athletes and families in this country are our coaches. So the more resources that we can provide for clubs and coaches going forward, the better that experience is going to be for athletes. We’ll have more people getting that experience that we all love, that we all cherish, that we know is extremely valuable. And the longer that a child, and then adults, stay in the sport, we know they gained so much more from it. So if we can keep them engaged and keep that experience a positive one, then we think we’re going to have many more people involved. And that’s a plus.
SwimSwam: Will SafeSport be a part of the program?
Shinofield: Absolutely. One of the things that we’ll weave through the entire platform are the cultural critical elements and obviously SafeSport is one of those things. And once again, SafeSport in a way that is relevant to coaches at the level that they’re at, as well.The more we can do it in a way that is relevant and fits into a coaching experience, and the way that they are coaching, in the way that they view their careers, the better and more effective we’ll be with that.
SwimSwam: What will the requirements for coaches look like going forward?
Shinofield: So there’ll be a base level that will be required of everybody, and then there’ll be opportunities, once again, based on what you do as a coach. So if you’re coaching part-time, you know, three hours a week and you just want a little more education to improve that aspect, there’ll be some relevant education for you that won’t be as time consuming, but also you’re not looking at coaching as a full-time position. Then for those coaches that are really are looking at coaching as their profession, some more opportunity there. We don’t have, at this point, specific requirements in full design. But once again, we’re not going to require somebody who’s coaching three hours a week to do 50 hours of education, beyond what we already required. We’re not going to make it onerous. We just want to make it helpful and relevant.
We think that the education that we’re going to provide, people are going to want to take advantage of. And we’ve done some pretty intense work to get to where we are right now. We interviewed — and these were comprehensive 90 -minute, two-hour interviews — over 70 coaches. And then you had the USOPC put together the results for us. But just to interview them about their learning styles, how they learn, what they feel, what they would’ve liked to learn as a young coach, as an advanced career coach… what they feel like their assistant coaches are lacking in terms of formal knowledge, what they would like to be able to provide for their assistant coaches.
And then the coaches that we selected for that process were identified by their peers as being successful coaches. We didn’t use a metric that was based on certain number of athletes on a national team, et cetera. What we do is look for peer coaches who thought that these were successful people for a variety of reasons. And those coaches represent different regions of the country, different size dclub, different types of clubs. Those that were coach-owned, board-run, YMCA-based; coaches of different genders, race, et cetera. So we brought together a pretty disparate group to give us feedback there. Anf then we have since assembled smaller groups to give us feedback on ideas. So we are, I think, being very deliberate in getting feedback from coaches about what they feel like they need, we’re not building this from scratch.
SwimSwam: Will USA Swimming‘s education program be comparable cost-wise to other coaching certification processes out there?
Shinofield: We don’t have a cost structure yet and we’re not necessarily calling it a “certification process” at this point. What we are hoping to do is keep the cost down — we have a nominal fee right now for our two online courses. We would hope to keep these courses in line with that, at least at the introductory levels and especially the coaches who are not pursuing this on a professional level. Coaches who are looking at this more as coaching as a profession, then there’s some more significant coursework and some opportunity that we can provide, and more resources, then maybe a little bit more cost. But we have to defray the cost by offering this to other entities, whether that be high school coaches who are not members of USA Swimming, and beyond.
One thing we’ve seen with other NGBs who’ve offered this type of education is the numbers of people who take it, seems to be higher than actual coaches that they had registered within their sports. So some parents decide they want to take it just to become more familiar with the sport even though they’re not actually going to coach. And so we’d have to charge, non-members a different fee than our members, and our members would have a much lower fee.
SwimSwam: What will the program be online, like ASCA’s is?
I’m hesitant to say anything is similar to what anybody else does, because we’re definitely creating something new. There will be online components, but there will be some blended components as well. And there will also be some opportunity for collaborative work, creating some communities of practice among coaches, things along those lines depending on the level we’re at.
We’re relying on some significant research that’s out there. One of the things that we find in our own building is that many of us are very familiar with coaching or teaching children, but we don’t have a lot of experience with coaching and teaching adults in adult learning settings. So we’ve worked with a former dan at Western Governors University — which was the largest public online one until Purdue made their purchase — to work with curriculum mapping for adults so that we would go through a pathway that made sense for adults.
This interview was edited lightly for length and clarity.