Mandatory Ongoing Certification for Club Coaches?

Club volleyball coaches significantly impact the volleyball futures of thousands of aspiring athletes. Like most professional endeavors, the quality of coaching depends on the training and preparation the coach receives. If a coach is prepared for success, the results will usually be positive.

I read a recently concluded study with compelling conclusions about the effectiveness of mentorship programs in the business world. Researchers followed two groups of newly hired sales agents at a company that markets telephone, internet, and television services. In the study, the agents were divided into groups. In the first group, half of the sales agents were assigned mentors, and half were not. In the second group, new hires could choose whether they wanted a mentor. However, in this second group, only half of those requesting a mentor were provided with a mentor.

The study results indicated that the mentored employees generated 19% more daily revenue during the first two months than those who neither requested nor received mentoring. Their outperformance persisted over the six months of the study. Those who asked for but did not receive mentors performed as well as those who received mentoring. The study’s authors said this suggests that those who asked for a mentor had the ambition and skills to succeed regardless of whether they received mentorship. The results also suggested the weakest performers, those who would have likely benefited most from mentorship, were the least likely to ask for assistance.

The takeaway, says W. Brad Johnson, professor of psychology in the department of leadership, ethics, and law at the U.S. Naval Academy, is that managers should expect all employees to participate in mentorship programs. Being exposed to educational opportunities should not be an option but a prerequisite for continued employment.

Given the conclusions of the above study that those who would benefit most from certification or mentoring do not make such a request, is it time for a mandated certification or mentoring program for coaches? Most professional fields (teaching, law, medicine, etc.) require consistent recertification to continue to practice. For example, in Ohio, all attorneys, full-time and part-time, must complete twenty-four hours of Continued Legal Education (CLE) classes every two years. To maintain a teaching license in Ohio, a teacher must complete six semester hours of coursework related to classroom teaching or area of licensure; or 18 continuing education units (CEUs) (180 contact hours) or other equivalent activities related to classroom teaching.

The emphasis on continuous improvement in any profession is reasonable and should be a prerequisite if a profession is to be taken seriously. Club coaches are teachers. The only difference is their classroom is a gymnasium. The renewal of teaching licenses in public schools is dependant upon continuous professional development. There is no expectation that the standards for a club volleyball coach and a public school teacher be the same. However, it is appropriate that standards exist.

Young athletes deserve a quality experience and the opportunity to improve their skills. In USAV volleyball, before a coach can begin to work with athletes, they must pass a Safe-Sport and an Impact course. Beyond those activities, coaches have no required training or mentoring activities. I did look at the 2018 Impact manual. The manual contained excellent information about legal responsibilities for the coach or drill design, but I couldn’t find how to pass, set, or hit. There is no other required coach education program for coaches in a USAV club program. I also have taken the AAU mandatory education class that has excellent information developed by the Positive Coaching Alliance, but not how to pass, set, or hit.

A coach will be much more confident and effective when working with their athletes if they are experts in all aspects of the sport. That’s not to say there are currently no available opportunities to develop coaching expertise. As the above study suggested, the people who need mentoring do not ask for it.

I would suggest that a required and ongoing coaching certification program be part of the education process for all club coaches. The content can be the usual generic clinic content. A different approach might be to focus the information on specific areas in which the coach desires expertise. Suppose a coach wants to learn about setter development. In that case, there should be a course in setter training—the same for middle hitting, defensive moves, visual cues, serving strategies, system development, statistics, etc.

Who develops this program? I don’t care who offers these learning opportunities. I only know there is a need. My hope is one of the national organizations will step up to fill this void. If we can improve the quality of coaching, by default, the level of play will improve, along with the quality of experience for the athlete.