I've coached soccer since 1975. I've worked with youngsters from eight to 18. I've produced, at the club level, five outdoor and two indoor state championship teams, two New England champs and one Eastern U.S. runner-up. I've organized and chaperoned soccer trips in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
No athlete playing under my supervision has ever been seriously injured. When one of my players hit his head and began convulsing during a game, I pried open his jaw, made sure he didn't swallow his tongue and helped him resume normal breathing. But I'm not qualified to coach soccer at a junior high in many states in the U.S., because I'm not a certified teacher.
Now consider a 64-year-old woman who has taught typing in the same classroom for 42 years. She will retire next year. Her only association with athletics comes when the remote control on her television set gets jammed on ABC's Wide World of Sports. She could coach a high school football team, though. She's a certified teacher.
Every American has some law, regulation or agency that causes him to gnash his teeth in frustration. For many, it's the IRS; for some Californians, it's Proposition 13. For me, it's Connecticut Teacher Certification Regulation 10-145a-22, which states that all coaches of interscholastic and intramural teams must hold some type of valid certificate. This regulation seems almost an afterthought. It's tacked on in parentheses as the final sentence following a long list of qualifications in such subjects as math, science, history and English.
There are similar regulations in many other states, including such populous ones as Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. A number of states, among them California, Colorado and Florida, carried certification requirements on the books for decades, but in recent years have experimented with relaxing them somewhat. As one Florida official stated, "In some small schools we now have more teams than we have teachers."
According to Frank Morgan, director of the Norwalk (Conn.) Community College's coaching certification program, which is not recognized by the state, perhaps one-quarter of the coaches in Connecticut are not certified teachers—their school systems simply ignore the regulation. But my system, in Westport, Conn., has decided to uphold this rule, which seemingly flies in the face of practicality. While the birthrate plunges and large numbers of qualified teachers in many parts of the country are being let go, qualified coaches are becoming harder and harder to find.
There are several reasons for this. Inflation has caused many teachers to seek second jobs. Men and women who might normally coach are finding that the few hundred dollars they could earn coaching—which, over the course of a season, works out to only pennies an hour—pales in comparison to the money they are able to earn by painting houses, tending bar or working as sales clerks in clothing stores.
Not only is the pool of available coaches (i.e., certified teachers) diminishing, it's also getting older. Education is a great bastion of the "last hired, first fired" principle. New teachers—young, enthusiastic, unmarried—have often been the best coaches. Then when they marry, take on added personal responsibilities and move up the academic ladder, they hand the coaching reins over to fresh blood.
But there's no fresh blood in many school systems these days. The hotshots who were in their 20s a decade ago are still teaching, though now, in their 30s and still the youngest teachers, they are weighed down with matters more important to them than coaching. Coaches are not replenishing themselves.
And the boom in girls' sports, as well as the addition of new boys' teams, has created a greater demand for coaches. Some men who have coached boys in the past are now applying for positions with girls' teams because girls are supposedly easier to coach, the hours are not as long and the pay is the same. Some sports—soccer, lacrosse, hockey and gymnastics, for example—are not sports that everyone grew up with. They demand a special expertise, which cannot always be found simply by commandeering any old classroom teacher and making him or her a coach.
But my biggest frustration with regulation 10-145a-22 stems from the alleged reason for its existence: safety. A certified teacher is not necessarily an expert in first aid or sports medicine. A broken leg needs a lot quicker attention than a dangling participle.
When I was first informed I could not continue coaching at the junior high level, where I had coached without incident for several years, I called a friend—an English teacher who could no more coach a soccer team than I could fly to Jupiter.
"How would you like to coach the soccer team?" I asked.
"Are you kidding?" she said. "I'm not qualified to coach at all."
"Oh yes you are. You're more qualified than I am," I replied.
"I'd put a kid out there and he'd break his leg," she countered.
I doubt it. But if she did, the state of Connecticut might not care. The letter of the law would have been served.