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New master’s program launched to coach coaches

OSU coaches Tony Alfrod (left) and Zach Smith stand together before the Buckeyes game against Rutgers on Oct. 1. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU coaches Tony Alfrod (left) and Zach Smith stand together before the Buckeyes game against Rutgers on Oct. 1. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

Athletes are led by their captains, those captains are led by the assistant coaches, and the assistant coaches answer to the head coach. But who coaches the head coach?

Ohio State’s College of Human Ecology hopes to answer that question with its new program, master of sports coaching.

Unlike master’s degrees in sports administration — Buckeye football coach Urban Meyer’s degree — or sports management, the Master of Sports Coaching is specifically designed for students who are actively coaching a team.

“Coaching is teaching … There is a need to educate aspiring coaches on how to teach today’s youth.” — Gene Smith, Ohio State athletic director

“You’ll learn from Ohio State faculty who are experts and former coaches, as well as from current coaches in the Ohio State athletics department as they teach you what it takes to make critical decisions and maintain high ethical standards while you train and motivate youth and adult athletes to perform at their very best,” the program’s website reads.

Assignments are supposed to be implemented on the students’ teams in real time, said Phillip Ward, a professor teaching courses in the program this semester.

“It’s incredibly practical. It’s designed for coaches, it’s not theory-based,” said Ward, a former national-level gymnastics coach for Australia. “(The coursework) isn’t just based around strong academics and scholars, but we have coaches and we have industry contributing to the degree.”

The curriculum also includes courses on ethics, sports law and research, as well as a course on race, gender and culture in sports.

“If you think about what coaching is about, it’s about people,” Ward said. “This is often embedded as issues of who they are, and race and gender are critical features of who folks are.”

Ward said that he and a colleague were asked by OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith four years ago to start researching if a degree in sports coaching was possible, and they had not seen similar programs putting an emphasis on race or ethics.

“Everyone believes that the professionalism of coaches is important. Coaches hold an important place in society — they work with adults and children becoming adults.” Ward said. “Every now and again you see some conduct that is unbecoming, and we believe putting ethical conduct as a core to our degree is extremely important.”

Smith compared the coaching degree to an education degree.

“Coaching is teaching,” Smith said in an email. “There is a need to educate aspiring coaches on how to teach today’s youth.”

The degree, while specifically for coaches, is not limited to the ones who snag the high TV ratings or national championships. Ward encourages anyone from high-school coaches to Olympic coaches to look into it.

“We have gone to enormous trouble to make (the degree) rigorous, to not only find that there is a pressing need for coaches to be educated, but also that (the degree) would be what coaches need,” Ward said.

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