UAB program aims to prepare coaches working with student athletes

Online coaching program is designed to help their players succeed on and off the field

Back when Samuel Cauffman was a graduate student, before he became an instructor in the kinesiology department of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Education, he saw a need — a need to prepare coaches so they could help scholar-athletes succeed both in academics and athletics.

“A lot of times we have these great coaches,” Cauffman says, “but they’re oftentimes not given all the resources to help students be successful as both students and athletes.”

So Cauffman and some colleagues, including Lisa Kerr, set out to change that.

Beginning this fall, UAB will offer an online program leading to certification in coaching the intercollegiate scholar athlete. The online program will include four courses plus a seminar and a coaching internship. It’s designed for current coaches and for those hoping to enter the coaching field.

Certification is needed, Cauffman says, because intercollegiate coaching has particular challenges.

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Samuel Cauffman developed a new online program to help coaches be successful in helping students on and off the field.

“You’re not just coaching athletes,” he says. Instead, coaches work with college students “who have so much on their plate…. a lot of different things they have to do or complete or maintain to still be eligible to play and also be successful with their degrees and on the field or court.”

The certification program aims “to help coaches know how to best help their players in all aspects of being an athlete and a student.”

To develop the program, Cauffman and his group looked at standards in coaching as outlined by SHAPE, the Society of Health and Physical Educators. They also worked with athletic departments and their academic advisors.

The curriculum covers a number of areas, Cauffman says.

“First of all, we’re looking at leadership competencies that build relationships and teamwork with the student-athletes as well as administrators, within the whole realm of being in college and trying to create an emotionally and physically safe and inclusive environment,” he says.

The athlete side of student-athlete is also a priority — particularly information about exercise and nutrition.

The program is just now beginning to see applicants — the deadline for the first class was in August — but Cauffman eventually expects coaches with a range of experience, though those with less experience are more likely to take the classes.

“Most likely, it will be a lot of newer coaches, people wanting to get into it, because a lot of the ones that have already been in the field have kind of had to learn all of this already on their own,” he says.

The certificate will be offered to undergraduate or graduate students majoring in exercise science or related fields (nutrition, biomedical science, biology, community health and health education) or used as part of the Graduate School’s master of interdisciplinary graduate studies program.

In addition, participants can come from other institutions.

“They just have to have completed a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution,” he says.

Current coaches are welcome in the program, as well, according to Cauffman.

“We’re trying to get individuals who are interested in coaching and ideally coaching at the collegiate level,” he says. “But even coaches working with younger athletes, this is still going to be beneficial information for them.”

The program is designed for participants to take one or two classes a semester, with weekly online assignments to be completed, plus the seminar and internship.

“You can do the seminar and coaching internship together or separately,” Cauffman says. “The idea with the internship is to give them that actual real-world experience, and the seminar will fill in the gaps of areas that are not taught in the classes.”

Developing the program took about a year, with approval needed from the graduate school at UAB, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and the University of Alabama board of trustees.

Though it’s just getting started, Cauffman already thinks the need for the program will see it grow.

“It’s really needed everywhere, just because with working with athletes that are in college as well, there’s so much of a demand on the coaches to know so much,” he says. “Here in Alabama, with our love of sports, our love of football, this would be something that would be really beneficial to the coaches and athletes.”

Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama and works from the Birmingham office.

This article appears in the September 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

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