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Students embrace new coaching program

Nicole Michels | Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Every Notre Dame athlete is encouraged to ‘play like a champion today,’ a motto that aspiring coaches among Notre Dame’s student body are learning to pass on to local youth teams.

Notre Dame’s physical education department has devised a coaching certification program in order to give students the tools to coach youth sports teams effectively, said Stephen Bender, visiting associate specialist in the physical education department.

“This program allows Notre Dame students to become certified coaches,” Bender said. “This program offers a pretty solid base to help our students get their feet in the door.”

Notre Dame’s coaching certification program, supported by both its physical education department and the Institute for Educational Initiatives, certifies students through the American Sport Education Program, Bender said.

Certification requires two courses – “Social Foundations of Coaching” and “Principles of Coaching” – as well as an exam, Bender said.

“The social foundations class is more about ways to motivate people, while the principles class is about teaching coaches how to coach … and getting them to realize that there is a lot more to coaching than just going out onto the field,” Bender said.

The social foundations of coaching course teaches the essentials of the “Play Like a Champion Today” Educational Series, an initiative that instills positive coaching techniques in organizations around the United States, Associate Program Director Damian Kearney said.

“The research behind this philosophy was conducted by Professor Clark Power, who found that a high percentage of children were leaving sports, basically because it wasn’t fun anymore,” Kearney said. “The concept of youth sporting around the country had become so focused on winning and professionalization that the end had strayed from what ‘youth sports’ had been meant to be initially. We want kids to have fun, maintain good physical fitness and to make friends.”

The “Play Like a Champion Today” staff teaches clinics throughout the country, Kearney said. He said the undergraduate course is more academic.

“We read social psychologists who have written on ‘flow’ in sports and how the best performances come from athletes when they’re feeling an equal amount of challenge and fun – we get more into the science of how our philosophy came about,” Kearney said. “The end goal of the course would be for our students – if they go on to be coaches in communities – to know the reasons we get into coaching in the first place and to use these techniques to raise not only good athletes, but good people.”

Bender said he seeks to offer a coaching practicum that allows interested students to get hands on experience outside of the classroom.

“If students want to get into the coaching practicum – which is basically student teaching for a semester by getting hands on coaching experience – I go out and find positions for those girls and guys to coach for a whole season at local high schools,” Bender said. “I find coaches to take them under their wings while they coach – it’s an awesome experience.”

Junior Nick Conrad said the best part of his coaching experience was becoming a part of his team’s community.

“For me, I was fortunate enough to work at St. Joseph High School in South Bend, where I was welcomed into their family of players, coaches and staff,” Conrad said. “It was amazing how in four months I was able to become so invested in the school and football program. I still stay in touch with coaches and players and plan on volunteering again next year.”

Conrad said dealing with the interpersonal aspect of coaching proved to be the biggest obstacle.

“The most challenging experience of coaching is understanding your players,” Conrad said. “Understanding personalities and how to motivate is key. Since this was my first coaching job, it was also a challenge to recognize what drills and practice techniques were actually translating to field success and where I needed to focus my attention for practice plans.”

Bender said this practicum helps students to discern if they would like to pursue further coaching opportunities.

“The practicum solidifies their passion. They might be a little skeptical going out into the real world and seeing what coaching is all about, but everyone that we’ve placed has come back and said, ‘that was the greatest thing I’ve done at Notre Dame,'” Bender said.