My thoughts are based on 20 years of experience as a competitive weight-lifting coach. I have coached at every level from local novice to the Olympic Games. I am certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Assn. and have attained Level 4 status (the second highest) as a coach with the United States Weightlifting Federation, the national governing body for the sport.
This summer I participated in a two-week NSCA study tour of the weight-lifting programs of Bulgaria and the U.S.S.R., the two leading weight-lifting nations in the world. I was not surprised to find that the emphasis in both nations was on the development of human resources at the coaching level as well as the athlete level. It is the cultural philosophy of sports in these European nations that differ most drastically from that of the United States.
They regard sports as a serious activity that should be taught and coached by educated professionals with strong educational backgrounds. The admission requirements to the coaching program at the Central Institute of Sport in Moscow are stringent. Only the brightest pupils are accepted into the program, and they are required to undergo a rigorous curriculum that is strongly based in the sciences before they are ever allowed to begin coaching at even the most basic levels. Physical education instructors must complete a similarly rigorous university curriculum.
Historically, the United States has taken a different path and a decision was made early in this century that universities and colleges must provide public entertainment in the form of sporting events. This meant that athletes had to become college students in order to provide this entertainment. Since no one has ever proved that their was a high correlation between athletic skills and the ability to succeed in academics, the colleges decided to use the physical education departments of our nation's institutions as repositories of academically marginal athletes. The end result has been the belief that coaching is an easy gig, that anyone can do it, at least at the entry levels.
The issue is further clouded by the American belief that there is always a "gadget" solution and that anything is acceptable as long as there is someone to sue after the damage is done.
Parents need to face the fact that some children are simply not genetically, psychologically or environmentally suited to participation in all sports.
Parents need to realize that sports are, or can be, a very serious undertaking that should be placed in the hands of a credentialed and certified professional.
Americans need to shift away from the philosophy that medicine deals with symptoms after they occur. This philosophy has nothing to do with sports proficiency nor injury prevention. The Times can do its readers the greatest service by encouraging them to demand more stringent standards for coaching personnel.