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Smith's Coaching Education Program Earns Top Rank

This spring, Smith's two-year master's program in exercise and sports studies became the first coaching education program in the United States to be accredited at Level IV by the National Council for Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE). The accreditation at Level IV (appropriate for preparing collegiate coaches) makes Smith unique in offering the only program at this level in the country.

Coach Adrienne Shibles '96 confers with her team. Photo courtesy Swarthmore College.

The nonprofit NCACE is an entity of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, established in 2000 by sports leaders across the United States. In a letter to Smith, NCACE executive director Judith C. Young wrote: "Smith College has shown that it is a leader among leaders. Your coaching education program will serve as a prototype for other organizations seeking to promote excellence in the preparation of coaches. This, in turn, will play a major role in ensuring positive, healthy, and enjoyable sport experiences for all athletes."

The news spread fast and was welcomed among exercise and sport studies (ESS) graduates. "I had heard that Smith had been awarded the Level IV, which is fantastic," Kristen Martini '95 and ESS '97 wrote in an e-mail. "ESS graduates have always gotten great jobs and good placements, but as the coaching world becomes more competitive, this gives Smith grads an extra boost. Even in the few years since I've been away from Smith, the faculty and staff have continued to add great new aspects to the program."

For members of the ESS department, the accreditation confirmed what they have always known. "We have assessed the climate correctly and instituted the appropriate course work and field experience," said Don Siegel, ESS professor and director of the graduate program. "Accreditation confirms for faculty that our work over the years in developing the program was worth the time and effort. I think it would be fair to say that with regard to coaching education, Smith is the place to go in the U.S. if a student wishes to pursue graduate work in coaching!"

Ironically, in an era when more women than ever are participating in college athletics, recent studies have shown that the percentage of women who are head coaches of women's intercollegiate teams was at an all-time low in 2002.

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. By design, the master's program is small, with only 14 to 18 candidates in residence, so students can work closely with faculty and coaches. The ESS department has 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.

Jim Johnson, director of the human performance lab and ESS professor, is proud that nearly all the ESS graduate students in the past three years have gone on to full-time teaching and coaching positions. "Go to NEWMAC (New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference) championship games and look around. Our graduates are the coaches of those teams."

ESS graduates don't limit their job searches to the East Coast. Kristen Martini's first job was at Pomona-Pitzer colleges in southern California as a coach of soccer and softball. "The Smith degree helped me get that job in several major ways -- the most important of which was adding a softball assistantship my last year at Smith so I could increase my softball background."

Adrienne Shibles, a 1996 graduate of the Smith program, is a tenured assistant professor of physical education and the head coach for women's basketball at Swarthmore College. It is a job she "absolutely loves," and one she had landed even before her graduation.

"I had an amazing experience at Smith. The ESS program was unique in that it offered me the opportunity to get practical experience while getting my master's," Shibles said after hearing the accreditation news. "ESS students receive valuable mentoring from both the coaches and the ESS faculty while they are gaining this practical and theoretical knowledge. Smith has a rich tradition in women's athletics, which provides ESS students with access to a rich network of support. I have also received amazing support from my ESS classmates, all of whom got jobs upon graduation." -- JME

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