A Crisis

Patrick McHugh sent me the following article from the Chicago Sun Times. This situation is not unique to Chicago or Illinois, it is a national crisis, we need trained coaches who are teachers. I see this all the time where I live in Florida. Often the main qualification is that you are willing to put in the time, nothing more. You are considered extremely qualified if you participated in the sport at any level. In future posts I will offer some solutions, but just as in training there are no quick fixes. Before you read the article I will leave you with a question – Why do you think basketball fundamentals have eroded? Answer - because there are few coaches who know how to teach them. This is true in every sport.

The hurdle hurting track

Lack of coaches has caused sport to idle in Illinois

BY TAYLOR BELL – Chicago Sun Times March 29, 2008

Remember when Chicago Public League sprinters, middle-distance runners, jumpers and relay teams used to be dominant factors in the state track and field meet?

Remember when Illinois competitors frequently recorded some of the fastest times in the nation?

Remember Craig Virgin, Dave Ayoub, Bill Bahnfleth, Larry Kelley, Gail Olson, Leroy Jackson, Dave Butz, Howard Jones, Willie Thomas, Bob McGee, Tom Graves, Adam Harris and Reggie Torian?

Remember when Illinois products made the U.S. Olympic team?

Remember Ralph Metcalfe, Jim Golliday, Ira Murchison, Don Laz, Bob Richards, Willie May, Mike Conley, Greg Foster, Rick Wohlhuter, Jim Spivey, Jan Johnson and Sunder Nix?

The Public League has virtually become noncompetitive in the state meet. It hasn't produced a team champion since 1974 and has produced only two individual champions since 1987.

''So many top athletes in football and basketball are starting to specialize. They don't come out for track as they used to in the spring,'' said Leo's Ed Adams, who coached four state championship teams. ''All of them think they will be the next Michael Jordan and have to practice year-round. Football coaches say they have to get bigger and stronger, so they have to lift weights year-round.''

But Adams, who has been coaching for 30 years, and others cite another problem that has crippled high school track and field in Illinois: a coaching crisis, a lack of qualified coaches in the schools.

''We are in an era where really good coaches have retired,'' Adams said. ''Because they aren't paid very well for working from January to May, no one wants to coach track and field. Schools must find coaches outside the school. It takes years for a young coach to be able to teach so many events ... sprints, hurdles, jumps.''

Adams said he doesn't fault young athletes for wanting to specialize in one sport.

''Kids see three teams in the state basketball finals, and they want to do that. But the school has to get kids involved in more than one activity,'' he said.

Wheaton Warrenville South's Ken Helberg, who has coached for 26 years and produced two state-championship teams, reminds that prospective athletes today have many more choices than they did in the 1960s and 1970s.

''Any new sport that has been added recently has been added in the spring,'' Helberg said. ''Our school is typical of a lot of schools: Only a certain percentage of kids will participate in sports. When you add more sports in one season, like boys volleyball, and the pool of athletes isn't growing, then you dilute the talent in the school.''

Skip Stolley, who coached outstanding cross-country and track-and-field teams at Thornridge in the 1970s and 1980s, said it isn't accurate to say there are no more great programs or great athletes giving great performances in Illinois.

''There are, however, far fewer of them, and the depth of qualify is far less than it was in the '70s and '80s,'' Stolley said. ''The reason for the decline is not year-round basketball programs. Quite simply, it is because track and field is a coach-driven sport.''

Stolley, who left Thornridge to coach at Indiana State and now runs an elite track club in Santa Monica, Calif., that has produced nine qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic trials, points out that two-thirds of Illinois high school track-and-field coaches are walk-ons -- non-faculty coaches who come to the campus at the end of the school day to coach.

''The need for walk-on coaches was created by the elimination of physical education as a high school graduation requirement,'' Stolley said. ''The elimination of a physical-education curricula is indefensible and an embarrassment to public school education.

''We have the first generation of high school students who are less fit than their parents. Obesity is a national epidemic, 63 percent of Americans are overweight, and childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled in the past two decades.''

Stolley said when he coached at Proviso West, Thornwood and Thornridge, the physical-education staffs numbered 18 to 20, and almost every one coached at least one sport. Since physical education became an elective, the staffs at schools with enrollments of 2,000 to 2,500 have shrunk to three or four teachers, which almost always includes the football and basketball coaches.

''So today, high school athletics is carried on the backs of walk-on coaches in almost all sports other than football and boys basketball,'' Stolley said. ''This is not to say there are not some great non-faculty coaches in sports like track and field. There are. But being a walk-on coach makes recruiting and promoting your program in the hallways and classrooms almost impossible.''

The coaching crisis in track and field isn't limited to Illinois, Stolley said. It's a time-intensive, poorly paying part-time job that has a burnout/dropout rate of almost 30 percent a year, higher than ever before. In fact, most schools have a new track coach every three years.

''You can't effectively coach a sport with five events that are each profoundly different from one another -- sprints, hurdles, distances, jumps and throws -- without a staff of coaches,'' he said. ''Most schools simply don't have enough track coaches. The football and basketball coach isn't expected to coach every player -- freshman, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity -- in their school. They have lower-level coaches who do that. And you won't find them pulling out the bleachers or waxing the floor or lining the field.

''But all the facility preparation [setting up pits, standards, hurdles and marking landing sectors], plus recruiting and training officials and volunteers, is considered part of the job description for coaching track and field.

''That is not how you build a program and develop great teams and great athletes.''


At 4/7/08, 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Florida, all you need is a high school degree to coach at high school level.


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