Smith College’s two-year master’s program in Exercise and Sport Studies (ESS) has earned the highest ranking from a national accreditation board—one of only two programs nationwide to achieve that level.
In reaccrediting Smith at a Level 5, the National Council for Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE) lauded the college as a leader in coaching education, noting that its approach “will serve as a benchmark for all other coaching education providers.”
The nonprofit NCACE is an arm of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, established in 2000 by sports leaders across the United States. It endorses comprehensive standards for sports practitioners, including volunteer, interscholastic, collegiate and elite coaches.
James Johnson, Smith professor of exercise and sport studies, said the newest NCACE ranking is “quite an honor.”
“When we were last accredited, we were rated as the highest coaching education program in the country, and we have been able to stay on top,” he said.
Johnson cited cooperation between Smith’s athletic department and ESS faculty as the key reason for the program’s success. “Most coaches are not willing to spend their time training other coaches,” he said. “The Smith coaches work hard to mentor our graduate students.”
NCACE first accredited Smith’s ESS program 10 years ago, ranking it a Level 4, the first college in the United States to achieve that level. Scoring a Level 5 this time around—a distinction shared only with Western Michigan University’s coaching program—is further confirmation Smith’s approach has paid off, Johnson said.
“The primary reason we’re where we are today is because of the decision we made over 30 years ago to do one thing and do it really well,” he said. “Everything we do in the coaching program is oriented toward coaching. As a result, our graduates constitute a significant percentage of Division III coaches.”
Since the mid-1980s, Smith’s ESS program has been developing a graduate program to prepare coaches for women’s intercollegiate teams. Its curriculum blends theory courses in exercise and sport studies with hands-on coaching experience. Students in the ESS graduate program work as assistant coaches while they attend Smith.
By design, the master’s program is small, with only 18 to 20 candidates in residence, so students can work closely with faculty and coaches, Johnson said. The ESS department has also developed a human performance laboratory, featuring equipment for exercise physiology, biomechanics and motor learning—all of which contribute to the unique ways the program teaches the science and art of coaching.
According to NCACE’s guidelines for accreditation, a Level 5 ranking “represents standards for programs preparing coaches who more likely work with elite athletes on a year-round basis, including a high level of competition and content that emphasizes advanced training, conditioning, techniques and tactics.”
Johnson said Smith will apply to NCACE to renew its accreditation again in seven years.