The coaching profession has taken a beating this year.
It seems like the only headlines that the mentors of sport are making are frightening testaments to the crimes that a small minority commit when they find themselves in control of what happens to their charges on the field of play.
Witness the abhorrent abuses perpetrated by former junior hockey coach Graham James. A similar story of shame was foisted on Penn State University by Jerry Sandusky, and his negligent boss, the late Joe Paterno.
The latest outrage has seen three NFL coaches banned because they were encouraging bounty hunting on star players and tampering with the health and well being of highly paid athletes.
These are dark days for anybody who is proud to call him or herself a coach.
But it shouldn't be that way.
For each of these outriders there are literally tens of thousands of great coaches out there who give tremendously of themselves and expect very little in return. The bottom line is that we, as North Americans, and Canadians in particular, undervalue those who have a leadership role as educators in our sporting system.
I'm not referring to the highly paid bench bosses in professional sport but rather to the coaches of young people in countless minor clubs and the eminently qualified trainers who are ensuring that the Canadian high performance sports system succeeds.
"Factually speaking the majority of coaches in Canada are volunteers with an enormous expectation that they will conduct themselves ethically, responsibly and competently," says Wayne Parro, the executive director of Coaches of Canada.
His organization advocates for the betterment of the coaching profession in this country. Simply said, he's tired of the majority of coaches in Canada getting little or no pay and credit for what they do.
"Athletes and coaches are the core principals of the sport system," Parro contends. "We rightfully idolize the athletes, but the coaches are always in the background."
This is the truth.
Coaches rarely mentioned
While Own the Podium has continued to succeed and Canadian athletes find themselves in the winner's circle more frequently in both winter and summer sport, the coaches who do much of the groundwork are rarely mentioned when it comes time to dole out the accolades.
And so while Devon Kershaw, Alex Harvey and Len Valjas have had breakout seasons in World Cup cross country skiing, coach Justin Wadsworth remains largely anonymous. Kershaw himself is quick to credit Wadsworth with much of the success he's enjoyed.
"Justin has developed a much more professional approach to what we do," Kershaw said from the World Cup final in Sweden. "Our program has blossomed under his guidance."
The same could be said of swim coaches Randy Bennett and Tom Johnson, who have nurtured Ryan Cochrane and Brent Hayden, respectively, into stars in one of the deepest and most competitive sports in the world.
A disturbing side effect of the indiscretions committed by coaches like Graham James, Jerry Sandusky and Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints, is that we all begin to wonder who is it that we're entrusting with our young people's well being? Are we handing them over to coaches with a hidden agenda who are unprepared to deal with them responsibly and humanely?
"Like any profession there are bad apples. I would like to believe that generally people understand this notion and while we are appalled by their actions, they are isolated cases," Parro said.
"We are starting to do a better job of promoting the value that coaches bring to society and how the majority enrich the lives of their athletes. I think if we could find a way to promote this more often, we will keep good people in coaching longer."
Amen to that.
Good coaches are about more than winning games and races. They also shoulder the responsibility of instilling good values in the athletes who are influenced by them. Like it or not, that's the way it is.
"Coaches play an enormous role in the development of youth," Parro stresses.
"There have been studies indicating that when youth are asked about the most important influences in their lives, coaches always rank high on the list regardless of the level of sport in which they participated. We believe that sport has the power to keep youth focused on positive activity and to keep them out of trouble. Coaches are the key implementers of programming that fulfills this prophecy."
If that's the case, it's up to Canadians to pay attention to what coaches do and to honestly value their successes on a daily basis.
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