Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dr. Jennifer Beller working to create WSU center for assisting rural coaches


By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*


Coaches in rural America face the same demands as big city coaches. They’re supposed to build winning programs, develop athletes of great physical ability and moral character, and minimize the possibility of injury and other potential harm. However, rural coaches seldom have access to the same resources as their counterparts in urban areas.


That’s why Dr. Jennifer Beller of now is working with professionals at Washington State University and the Center for ETHICS* at the University of Idaho to develop a multi-disciplinary program of outreach consultation, leadership training and coaching education. “We have a mission to develop a center for rural coaching education,” Beller said.


As a parent of a child in a rural school, Beller believes such a program can be of immediate benefit to athletes, families and coaches in small-town American. “When our kids get into junior high and high school, we know our sons want to play football, but we worry about the techniques they use,” Beller said. “As a rural parent, I have very real concerns about how my own son would be coached.”


One of the major components will be an online program, filled with techniques based in sound research, to assist coaches of youth and high school programs. Beller expects the center will offer continuing education credits for teachers and coaches at a reasonable cost, hopefully $50 to $74 per credit.


“The nature of sport is incredibly wonderful. There are amazing things it does to us as people and human beings,” she said. “But when something does go wrong, it can be a bad situation both physically and psychologically.”


One problem coaches sometimes face is gearing their training program to the age and development of their athletes. “You have to look at young people differently,” Beller said. Using baseball as an example, she noted that young players may be asked to learn many different pitches as well as increase their pitching speed -- even though their muscles and bone growth plates are not fully developed. “So some kids end up with lifelong injuries and can’t play at higher levels because they are constantly injured.”


Improving coaches’ knowledge of technique and physiological capacities can provide them fresh options to help prevent injury.


Similarly, the center hopes to help rural coaches address the growing concerns about concussions in football. “We know that concussions are a major issue, in part because we don’t necessarily teach young players good techniques for protecting the head, neck and upper body,” Beller said.


The people working with Beller to develop the center include athletic trainers Carol Zweifel and Kimberly Robertello, playground design and safety expert Larry Bruya, physical therapists at Moscow Mountain Sport and Physical Therapy, and the Center for ETHICS*.


They hope to create interactive online modules to help coaches recognize and treat athletic injuries, as well as learn about nutrition, motivation, strength training, diet supplements, fitness and conditioning, and building community involvement in athletic programs. Beller has identified schools in rural Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon as a target for the program, but an Internet based program has the potential to reach an even wider audience.


Purdue’s National Rural Education Center and WSU’s Rural Education Center already provide general services to rural schools, but neither focuses on providing coaching education. “There’s nothing I can find out there that focuses on coaching education in particular with rural schools,” Beller said.


Here’s what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll has to say about the idea.


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