­This is somewhat old news, but welcome all the same. John Thomas over at the USYS Blog recently highlighted a new policy in Kentucky related to the licensing of coaches:

Mandating anything in soccer is tough enough. As one of the national staff coaches for US Youth Soccer, it’s hard educating coaches that have been coaching for over 20 years. The issues most of the time are- why do they need education when they have been winning all the time, but winning and player development can be two different things. My hat goes off to Kentucky Youth Soccer for putting education of the player’s first and mandating education. Here is what Kentucky Youth Soccer has done.

On September 1, 2007 Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Board of Directors implemented a minimum coaching policy for those working with select soccer players. Currently there are no minimum coaching standards for recreational coaches but Kentucky Youth Soccer Association Board of Directors recognizes and fully supports coaching education for all levels and would like to emphasize that there is no substitute for an educated coach. Coaches will have until September 1, 2009 to meet these requirements.

This is a big decision for a state level association to make. But it’s the right one. Here in NC a number of leagues require licenses for coaches of higher level teams. I actually wish Kentucky had considered some type of stronger encouragement, perhaps just shy of a mandate, for recreational coaches – they often need the education the most.

So what does Kentucky require?

Here is the full policy. If you’re a DOC, you need a ‘C’ or ‘D’ license depending if your full time, part time, or a volunteer. You also need the USSF National Youth License. This is a great move, since DOCs have a lot of power in leagues over how coaches are recruited, retained, educated, and conduct themselves. My only concern with this is cost. The NYL course is $550. That’s a LOT of money to ask a volunteer to cough up, though it says ‘and/or’ so a ‘D’ license may be enough, which is only $105. At least in NC. I know many clubs will subsidize some part of a coaching class (which Kentucky strongly encourages), but smaller leagues often struggle to do so. Another concern is timing. While I would hope that any part or full time DOC (i.e. they’re being paid) has at least a ‘D’ license already, getting a ‘C’ license and a National Youth License takes a lot of time. I’d hate to see a qualified DOC barred from their position because they couldn’t get the license in time given the mandatory waiting periods. (they have two years)

As for coaches, their requirements are in line with a lot of league level mandates I’ve seen. Our league instituted a license mandate this past year that is pretty close to what Kentucky is requiring, though we did not mandate assistants yet – but that is likely coming. Select/Travel team head coaches need an ‘E’ license for U9-U12 and a ‘D’ license for U13-U19. Select/Travel assistant coaches need a Youth Module for U9-U12 and an ‘E’ license for U13-U19. This is not out of the question. I’m glad to see the assistant mandate, though I fear that might cause some assistants to not bother and drop out. Many teams have an informal hierarchy with a ‘1st Asst’, ‘2nd Asst’ and so on. Often the 2nd and 3rd assistants are mostly there to help with practices, etc., taking direct instructions from the head coach. So I wonder if they should have considered requiring one assistant be licensed and just strongly encouraging the rest to do so. I’d say time will tell on that note.

The one thing they did not do is require anything for Recreational Coaches. I think this is a mistake, but I can understand why they didn’t. Rec coaches are volunteers across the board and the trade off is driving coaches away who won’t take the 6 hour youth course, so less kids get a chance to play. The flip side is, I’ve seen uneducated Rec coaches drive kids away from soccer even with the best of intentions. Our league mandated that Rec head coaches take the youth module within one year of starting to coach AND the league pays for it. We also work to bring the classes in locally if we can.

Which brings me to the major sticking point in all this – logistics. I think this mandate is ABSOLUTELY the right thing to do, even for longtime coaches. But the logistical aspect of all this seems to be glossed over a bit. Here is what Kentucky noted towards the end of their policy:

The 24 month phase-in period will allow those individuals in need of attending a coaching education course plenty of time to do so. During the phase-in, Kentucky Youth Soccer will be providing additional coaching education opportunities in and around the state of Kentucky. We are going to try our best to provide each District with ample course selections in time periods which are typically slow for coaching.

Although the prime responsibility does fall upon the state association we also rely on the members to set up courses to help coaches within their own and neighboring clubs. To encourage clubs and associations to do this Kentucky Youth Soccer Association will provide the members with the appropriate marketing materials.

Clubs will also be strongly encouraged to reimburse or pay for their coaches to obtain the appropriate certification.

Kentucky Youth Soccer will continue to work with US Soccer Federation to host a National Youth & “C” License.

The first logistical concern is timing. While the 24 month phase in is excellent, they also require any coach to get certified within six months of starting with a team. They should have allowed for 12 months, simply because everyone is busy and the number of courses offered can be small. I will give them kudos for a fairly full calendar. Also, I worry that the mandated waiting periods for the letter licenses may push some close to or over the two year deadline, especially if they happen to fail once. I think there should be a waiting period waiver for experienced coaches. Maybe reducing the 1 year D to C period to six months if they show adequate experience.

Another problem is course availability. Kentucky clearly has worked hard to setup a decent course calendar, with 7 Youth Module, 7 E, and 3 D courses setup. Our calendar is a bit more sparse, though in all fairness we just hired a new state DOC and he’s working hard to setup new course (we’re working to get Youth I and II here in February) What goes unmentioned here, however, is the participation minimums. At least here in NC, a number of courses get canceled when they don’t get enough people to register. I’ve wanted to get my ‘D’ license this year and two of the courses I had hoped to attend have been canceled due to lack of participation (I think 15 is the minimum). The third I can’t make due to other commitments. Even looking at Kentucky’s calendar, most of the listed courses need 5-15 people still before they’ll be held. I understand the need to get enough money to pay the instructors. But if you mandate licensing, you should consider relaxing the minimum participation requirement for the higher level licenses so coaches who really want to get them can.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. It looks like Kentucky actually pays for any member coach to take the Youth module. That’s fantastic. However, for smaller clubs, it may be a financial strain to get most of the select coaches licensed if they aren’t already. Perhaps Kentucky should consider subsidizing part of the costs for leagues below a certain size, at least in these two years. In the grand scheme of things it would probably be a small budget amount, but could go a long way. I also think that they could offer to pay for one coach from each league every, say, 2-3 years to get their NYL for free. That’s an expensive but very useful course, but I doubt most clubs will pay the $550 for non DOCs to take this course. But having more select coaches with their NYL would be a very good thing. So anything Kentucky could do to encourage this, the better.

That said – there is one thing I give Kentucky HUGE kudos for: “All courses are open to any and all coaches in Kentucky” Here in NC, you can only take coaching courses if your league is a member of the NCYSA. I know that’s a strong enticement for getting clubs to join, but it’s about the kids – let the YMCA and church league coaches take the courses.

So all in all I think this is a great initiative by the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association. More states should follow suit and if your state doesn’t have a mandate, you should consider one for your league. I definitely think leagues should do more to entice recreational coaches to take the Youth Modules as they are VERY good and lack of coaching education at the youngest levels have much more of an impact on soccer in the US than the certification of travel team coaches. Finally, the state and national associations should work to ensure there are a decent number of classes available year round within a reasonable driving distance and to hold them even if low participation means taking a small loss on the courses. The more coaches we can certify the better.