As part of the Annual Meeting’s new moderated forums, US Equestrian’s Director of Sport Programs, Will Connell, made a proposal that the organization should develop a registration process for coaches. And, Connell posited, such a registry—with requirements as well as benefits for participating coaches—would not only improve equestrianism and make it safer for equestrians, but also enhance the nation’s international competitiveness.
“If we want to get more people into the sport and then to stay in the sport, then we should be having programs to develop trainers and coaches,” Connell told his audience. “And if we want to be competitive on the international circuit, it’s a no-brainer: we’ve got to have the best coaches in the world.”
Connell noted that coach certification programs vary throughout the United States by breed and discipline. “We have affiliates that have got trainer certification and affiliates that don’t,” he said, pointing to US Equestrian affiliates like the United States Hunter Jumper Association and United States Dressage Federation, among others, as organizations that do have coach certification programs.
“But we have nothing that’s central to the federation,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.
“Across the federation, we are at least 10 years behind other nations in the international disciplines when it comes to coach development,” he added.
Connell advocates a “carrot and stick” approach that would require that coaches fulfill certain obligations, including SafeSport training, in order to be added to the registry, but also offers benefits in return.
Requirements, Connell said, could include concussion and basic first-aid training; undergo background checks; and SafeSport training.
“What else should we be asking of our coaches?” he asked. “Should we be helping them to understand long-term athlete development and the principle of developing athletes in any discipline, from when they first start to enjoy equestrian sport, whether it’s riding, driving, or vaulting? Should we require all coaches or trainers to understand the higher levels of the sport? Or is the main thing we want to be able to achieve is that when we say a trainer or coach is certified, when parents drop their kids off, they know those kids are going to be safe—not just under SafeSport, but because that coach has a basic technical understanding of what they’re providing?”
As for the “carrot” side of the equation, Connell suggested that those on the coach’s register could, for example, receive recognition for their extra training.
“We should be able to help them, maybe with insurance perks or with business assistance or with signposting as to how a career path can progress: you start as a basic coach and move forward to master coach,” Connell said. “How should we as federation, and should we as a federation, be helping them? From my point of view, if we want to up the standard of coaching and training in this country, then it’s a carrot and stick. We have to be able to help these people be seen as professionals but also demand a level of training and certification.
“This has to link with what each affiliate is already doing,” he added. “We’re not trying to replace what USHJA or the United States Eventing Association are already doing but to link in with them, create something across the federation, and link in with other sports. And once we have a healthy register, we can start to implement formalized levels, whether that’s master coach or head coach or head trainer.”
Connell went on to discuss details of his proposal for moving forward with creating such a registry, as well as challenges the project would face. But the need, he believes, is there.
“I’m going to keep pushing for the register, because I believe it’s absolutely something we’re missing in the federation as a whole,” he said.
About the Speaker: Will Connell
Will Connell is US Equestrian’s Director of Sport Programs, a position he has held since 2014. He administers all aspects of sport programming across the eight international disciplines, nine national disciplines, and 11 breeds recognized by US Equestrian. Prior to joining US Equestrian, Connell was the British Equestrian Federation’s Performance Director. He also was chef d’equipe for the British Young Rider Eventing Team from 1997 to 2001, has served as a British Eventing Steward, and was deputy director of Olympia, the London International Horse Show. Connell served for 17 years in the British Army’s Royal Horse Artillery and was Commanding Officer of the King’s Troop RHA.