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Deflections: B.A., B.S.


A coach I know used to bemoan his minimal postsecondary education. He genuinely felt almost intellectually inadequate in comparison with those coaches who actually believed their degrees meant a greater innate ability and higher coaching intelligence quotient.

Except the fellow was (remains) a singularly outstanding minor hockey coach who had the respect of all his players and their parents, not to mention other coaches, with some major championships to show for it. How sad that so many equated a university degree with coaching competence. I’ve never drawn a straight line between coaching skills and either playing experience or degrees. Nor have I seen a tendency that reflects how one or the other makes someone a more complete minor hockey coach. Which brings me to coaching assessments.

These days, I'm involved in the marking of High Performance coaching exams. About 80% of those who attended the seminar have completed their homework (20% have chosen not to hand in anything as yet). What we nine assessors have noticed is that neither a coach's profession nor education guarantees quality work. To be sure, the High Performance 1 written assignment is a demanding one, as is the field evaluation which follows. It should be. Those coaching our elite athletes should themselves be elite coaches with a hunger for self-improvement and an ability to both synthesize content and apply it to their athletes.

What we’re seeing is a trend that separates elite coaches from coaches of elite teams. The ones who’ve aced the assignment cross all stratas of education and work histories. They may not be able to write lovely prose in dissecting an inspirational book on coaching. But they’re able to properly connect the messages from readings to their own situations.

The same goes for the approach to creating yearly plans or practices around a topic like offensive team play principles. Indeed, an elite coach needs to be able to draw upon other sources, like drill books and the like. But more importantly, he/she has to know how to adapt and apply the information to the particular coaching situation. We’ve seen coaches - with rather hefty academic pedigrees - provide photocopies from manuals or clinics and then state these would be their practice plans. This even though the plans were for older, more experienced, even national level athletes. Would they have attempted this in university? So we’ve sent a few back to the drawing board, asking for original work that’s pertinent to their situation.

Others just don’t answer the question. For instance, some - again with degrees! - have answered one about mental training by stating they invite in an expert and leave it to them. That’s it, we wonder? Don’t they want to know what the expert is doing or saying? Don’t they need to follow up? Again, would they have taken such an approach for a postsecondary paper?

It’s been a bit surprising and even disappointing. In this sport, our so-called elite coaches still have a ways to go, no matter their personal education.

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