USATF's Response to AT&F Editorial, by Stephanie Hightower, note by Larry Eder

Dear readers,

On June 11, James Dunaway and I posted our Summer 2010 AT&F editorial, "Has USATF Declared War on U.S. Coaches?". The piece was sent posted on runblogrun.com, on our
websites, and distributed to our coaching digital network. 

I spoke with Stephanie Hightower, Jill M. Geer and Doug Logan over the weekend, at the adidas Grand Prix. I offered them the same distribution network from which, I distributed the original editorial for their response, if they choose to use the opportunity. Jill M. Geer, USATF Public Affairs Officer, sent a response signed by Stephanie Hightower, President of USA Track & Field. I have posted her response next, right after that, the original editorial and link, and finally, a short response from myself.

Regards,

Larry Eder

A. Letter of Response from Stephanie Hightower, President & Chair/USATF, (received via email, 3.30 PM CST, from Jill M. Geer:



                                                                                            
Dear Larry Eder,

On June 11, your publication released an editorial co-signed by James Dunaway and yourself entitled "Has USATF Declared War on U.S. Coaches?" The piece contained many factual errors and invalid assumptions. As Chair of USATF's Board of Directors and President of USATF, I wanted to respond.

 

The Coaches Registry is part of our commitment to implementing "best practices" that are on a par with the best-run sports in America. It was designed for very simple and important purposes:

 

1.      To provide an easily accessible system that will enable coaches in good standing to be publicly recognized as such.

2.      To provide a mechanism for athletes, their parents and others to know if a coach they are considering has met certain basic professional and ethical standards.

3.      To ensure that USATF benefits and privileges are going to individuals who do not pose a risk to the reputation of coaches, athletes, the sport and/or the organization. For USATF to distribute funds, credentials and team staff positions without any vetting process is at best ill-advised and at worst legally risky.

The two key elements of the Coaches registry are having coaches undergo a criminal background check and agreeing to abide by a Code of Conduct that states, among other basic points, that a coach shall not advocate the use of performance-enhancing drugs, have inappropriate contact with athletes, or exploit a conflict of interest to financially benefit from an athlete.

 

USA Track & Field's Coaches Registry is a directive of USATF's Board of Directors - not CEO Doug Logan - that has been in the works for more than three years. The first call came at the 2006 USATF Annual Meeting when the Coaches Advisory Committee - comprised entirely of coaches who also are members and in some cases officers of the USTFCCCA - called on USATF to come up with a system that would keep coaches in good standing from being lumped in with the "bad actors". Specifically, the role of coaches in the lives of athletes had become a national focus in the wake of Justin Gatlin's positive drug test, and the sanctioning of coaches such as Remy Korchemny and Trevor Graham by USADA was another blow.

 

One of the reasons for hiring a Director of Coaching was to give American coaches the voice in the organization that they often felt they lacked. With proper staffing in place, our Board of Directors issued a directive to the National Office to devise a "certification" plan for coaches.

 

In recent months, USATF has sent emails to USTFCCCA officers asking for their opinion on the Code of Conduct and the Registry as a whole. We also have had numerous telephone discussions and in-person conversations with them.

 

We realize that having more than five weeks for coaches to register, prior to our Outdoor National Championships, would have been ideal. But recent events have provided a Call to Action. One NGB, whose vetting system had previously been more substantive than ours, has come under intense media scrutiny and faces litigation for not doing more to keep pedophiles from their athletes. As a result, the U.S. Olympic Committee has made clear it will be instituting minimal standards to NGBs for "athlete protection." Rather than playing defense, USATF sought to do the right thing proactively by developing a system our coaches have asked for since 2006.

 

Of course there are those who don't like the system, but we have received feedback from scores of prominent coaches saying this is long overdue.

 

In the end, this is not "us against them." This is everybody doing what is best for athletes, coaches and our sport.  It is our intent to work together with coaches in a positive and productive way to make sure we are serving them as well as our athletes.

 

Is this blackmail?  Not by any stretch. But transparency and accountability for our sport ... absolutely!

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie Hightower

USATF President and Chair

                                             

B. Original editorial, written for American Track & Field, Summer, volume 17, number 2, posted on Runblogrun.com, June 11, 2010: 

(Please note: The intro, noted in italics, was part of piece, as it was posted on runblogrun.com on June 11, 2010):

The Exit column is the editorial column in American Track & Field. Since 1989, when we started American Athletics, and in 1994, when we renamed the magazine, American Track & Field, we have tried to support what we see as the backbone of our sport: the 30,000 high school, college and club track & cross country coaches in this country. Forty-six weeks a year, these coaches spend an average of two hours, fifteen minutes a day, six days a week, with their 1.6 million athletes, teaching them how to run, jump and throw.

James Dunaway, our Executive Editor, has used the Exit column as an opportunity to both educate and advocate. James is my mentor, editor and friend. He and I have been terribly concerned with the way the Coaching Registry has been implemented. We see it as an example of a much larger issue: try as they might, does U.S.A.T.F. understand the needs of coaches? We are not so sure.

Please read the following column, signed by both James and myself. We are releasing this at the same time the magazine is mailing, we believe it is that important. Please send your responses to runblogrun@gmail.com.


HAS USATF DECLARED WAR ON U.S. COACHES?

 

First came the appointment of a USATF "Director of Coaching." Who knew we needed one?

 

Then came the gutting of the Coaches Education program -- a program created and run entirely by coaches without any help from USATF for most of its 25 years - a program which educated more than 20,000 American high school and college coaches - a program which visibly raised the level of U.S. track and field coaching, and U.S. performances - in short, the most successful initiative in USATF's history.

 

Earlier this year, most of the distinguished coaches who led Coaching Ed for the past decade suddenly resigned because of changes which were being made in Indianapolis. Said USATF, "We'll get new coach-instructors who will be just as good." We're still waiting to be told who they are.

 

Now comes USATF's Coaches Registry, which more than one well-known coach has called, "Blackmail." That's not our word, but it was spoken by coaches known and respected in our sport.  

 

Blackmail, because if you don't sign up, you can't get a coach accreditation for USATF Championships. Which means you can't get into the practice and warmup areas to work with your athletes in the important days and hours before they compete. No matter how good a coach you are.

 

One well-known coach, a former Olympic medalist and world champion, said, "I don't like it at all, but I signed up because my athletes need me and expect me to be there."

 

There are several other important "privileges" not available to non-registered coaches, but the issue of greatest concern is the coach accreditation for the Championships.

 

Sam Seemes, who leads the U.S. Track and Cross-Country Coaches of America, reports that most of the comments he has received about Coaches Registry were unfavorable. The day after USATF announced the program, Seemes and USTFCCCA president Curtis Frye sent a message to members which included the following:


"USTFCCCA Members should know that the USTFCCCA neither supports the Coaches Registry program, nor did we develop the program. We are disappointed that USATF implied in their press release that the USTFCCCA was supportive of the Coaches Registry program they have established.  Furthermore, we disagree with the statement that the USATF Coaches Registry 'will identify and acknowledge the coaches who represent the profession's highest standards.' "


USATF CEO Doug Logan said, "No group is more important to the development of our athletes than coaches." He certainly has a strange way of showing it. One wonders why USTFCCA wasn't informed of Coaches Registry before it was announced, and why USTFCCA wasn't asked to participate in developing a program specifically involving its membership?


Just as bad was USATF's timing. Here is a new program, affecting the professional lives and status of more than 30,000 coaches, and USATF announces it at the most important time of the year, when coaches at every level are deeply involved in championship-level competition, and USATF gives them five weeks to decide. That may be legal, but it is certainly not fair to the coaches.

 

In politics, that's called an ultimatum. And it is usually followed by a war.


James Dunaway/Executive Editor and Larry Eder/Group Publisher

American Track & Field, www.american-trackandfield.com


C. Response to Stephanie Hightower (from Larry Eder):

I thank Stephanie Hightower for stating her organization's position in such eloquent terms. Unfortunately, in my mind, the fact remains that the five week time period given for coaches to register comprises the five most important weeks in a high school, college or elite club coaches season in North America. They are already putting 28 hours of work into a 24 hour day. My concern lies in the fact that, somehow, this was not seen as an issue. For me, this is the issue: no one in a position of power appreciated how this Call to Action would impact the majority of coaches. 


We at runblogrun.com and AT&F welcome USATF's concern over the need for a Coaches' Registry. However, one of USATF's challenges is to convince many of the coaches who support this sport, to change their opinion of an organization that has been, in the past, less than understanding of the needs of the coaching community. To some of the coaches
who have spoken to RBR, the implementation of the Coaching Registry shows little consideration for coaches' actual work loads. Perhaps, in the enthusiasm to develop a worthwhile program, no one in the discussions realized how challenging the time period was for coaches. 

In that light, we encourage coaches to reach out to Stephanie Hightower (president@usatf.org), to express their opinion regarding the Coaching Registry and other
subjects dear to the coaching community. True to her word, Ms. Hightower responded, and we will take her at her word. She wants an organization with transparency and accountability, and she needs information to do that. We will endeavor to provide Ms. Hightower and her team with information on the needs of the coach. We thank her for her response. 

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