Certified or Certifiable?

This weekend saw the beginning of the Ontario Junior playdowns with the zone competitions running across the province.  Somewhere in the group of men’s and women’s teams are a pair of teams that will represent Ontario at the Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Liverpool, NS January 18 -26, 2014.  If it seems early for this (being November and all) it isn’t.  The Junior curling season starts and ends earlier than the standard club season because a lot of levels of play have to be stuffed into the calendar.

This season the OCA rules committee decided that coaches at all levels of junior men’s and women’s competitions up to provincials must be Competition Coach Certified.  This has a very specific meaning within the NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program) and without making it complicated, it means the coach must have been trained as a Competition Coach, completed an online Making Ethical Decisions test and have been evaluated by a certified Evaluator.  It’s not a short process and the goal of the program is to make sure those coaches who are coaching at playdowns have been trained in the methods promoted by the CCA and are proficient at applying those methods.  It applies a rigor to the coaching art.

The OCA rules committee also has determined that all coaches coaching at Bantam boys and girls competitions (at all levels) must ALSO be Competition Coach Certified.  Now, there is always some confusion around what the OCA does, the CCA’s involvement and who the NCCP is so let me try to de-mystify this.  First, the NCCP is administered in Ottawa for all sports in Canada who receive federal funding.  They set the guidelines and advise sports bodies on what they believe are best practices with respect to coaching in general.  The NCCP also sets up the general format for coaching certification and training.  That format for coaching certification is surprisingly similar across sports in Canada because it all comes from the NCCP.   Sport bodies pay close attention to this and apply it to their sports because if they don’t, they don’t get to keep their federal funding!  The CCA (Canadian Curling Association) is responsible for applying the guidelines set out by the NCCP to our sport across Canada.  They take the best practices as outlined to us by the NCCP and make it work for curling.  They develop the detailed information that will be taught at the various levels and streams of coaching for our sport.  This is a monumental undertaking that literally takes years of dedicated work by some of our sports best minds. It’s not simply a book thrown together.  They also plan out and develop how the technical material will be delivered to new coaches or developing coaches.  The CCA literally writes the curling book for us coaches here in Canada.

Finally the provincial body, in our case the OCA (Ontario Curling Association) puts that work into practice by administering the coaching courses and conducting the evaluations.  This takes a great deal of co-operation between a number of layers of bureaucracy and in Canada, it’s been done very well.  We lead the world in our technical understanding and broadcast of coaching education in the sport of curling.

Nice info Sean but, so what?  I mean you start with playdowns then ramble into NCCP, the question really is, have you finally lost it completely?  No.  I actually haven’t.  I provided the background on the coaching course development and application so that I could talk to this point.  The OCA has another responsibility besides application of the CCA coaching material.  A separate branch of the OCA (specifically the rules committee) determines how the varying levels of coaching education will be applied within the OCA run competitions, commonly known as “playdowns”.  This year, after years of discussion, the OCA finally made it law that coaches have to be Competition Coach Certified to enter into OCA playdowns.   As an OCA Learning Facilitator, OCA Evaluator and “about town” curling coach, I have heard 1000 different opinions on this decision, most of them unfavourable.  I have listened patiently to those complaints and usually have kept my own thoughts on this to myself.  Now, for the first time world wide, I am unveiling my opinions on this volatile subject.

The most frequent complaint I hear is that it will push kids out of the sport if certified coaches are required.  Let’s be clear here, certified coaches are ONLY required at OCA playdowns.  There are dozens of spiels, both recreational and competitive that do not require any level of coaching certification at all. Nothing is impeding kids from playing in those and trust me, curlers can be quite busy playing in competitive spiels.  Playdowns are not fun spiels.  They lead to provincial and national titles and if you’re entering them, there is some part of you that is aiming to that.  If you are even semi-serious about pursuing this, why would you not want a certified coach?

The next most frequent complaint I hear is “but they’re just kids, why do you need such rigor for the kids?”  My reply is this; when are kids learning the most about the fundamentals of the sport?  I’ll tell you from experience, it’s not when they’re 18.  It’s when they’re starting out, which is anywhere from age 6 to 13.  THAT is when they need the most knowledgeable coaches working with them to help them improve.  And yes, that means I believe that the CCA program is the best path to the development of knowledgeable coaches.

You can argue perhaps that maybe Competition Coach certification is a big step as your first foray into the coaching world.  Yup.  I would argue that if you aren’t serious about coaching, you shouldn’t bother.   I’m passionate about this point.

The only issue I have with any of the NCCP lead, CCA developed, OCA applied coaching system is that we are starting to see people new to the sport entering the coaching stream as prospective Competition Coaches.  Previously, there was a pre-requisite before new coaches could attain this level but again, without making it overly complicated, now there isn’t.  I would personally like to see some mechanism in place that ensured prospective Competition Coaches were at least familiar with the sport before being allowed to take the course.  This is, however, a minor point because the evaluation process is designed to ensure that “new” Competition Coaches aren’t CERTIFIED until they prove they know their stuff.  That aspect of the program is a checkpoint that “tests” coaches, specifically around their knowledge and ability to apply the knowledge.

Yes, this post was a rant and it’s mostly born from the virtual flood of complaints I’ve endured lately.  I don’t necessarily see myself as a conformist and I had a LOT of questions about the “new” coaching system when it was first introduced to me but I had very smart curling people explain it to me and I have come to embrace it as the best path we currently have.  Sure, someday it will all change and hopefully for the best but for now, I see more upsides than downsides.

Good coaching to you all.


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