Involving students in athletic programs has never been more important. Not only do sports bring a sense of teamwork and strengthen work ethic in participants, but

these activities also lead to improvements in physical, mental, and emotional health.

Despite these clear benefits, school athletic programs have seen decreased participation and interest in recent years. According to a survey by the Aspen Institute and Utah State University, nearly 3 in 10 students who were athletes pre-pandemic are no longer interested in playing organized sports.

There is plenty of speculation around what caused this shift. Hyper-competitive youth leagues, digital distractions, and sky-rocketing costs to participate are named as key contributors to this issue.

So what will it take to reinvigorate these programs for young athletes? For those within Butler’s College of Education, the answer is clear—to have strong and successful sport programs, there must be a knowledgeable and dedicated coach leading the way.

The College of Education is addressing this head on, and its recently-revamped Sport Coaching minor is a significant part of this. Available to all Butler students, this program focuses on providing future educators with the knowledge they need to properly lead athletic programs.

“Anybody can be a coach, but not everyone can be a good coach,” Associate Professor Lisa Farley notes. “We’re trying to help our students develop strong coaching skills so that they can impact people for a lifetime.”

This minor, created six years ago by Farley, Associate Professor Mindy Welch ’79, and faculty members Art Furman and Amy (Vonderheide) Bultinck ’99, MS ’17, was completely revised two years ago with input from Assistant Professor Fritz Ettl. The 21 credit-hour Sport Coaching minor now focuses on helping students develop crucial coaching and teaching skills and values, and it also has a significant emphasis on hands-on learning.

“Students need to have really meaningful experiences, so we wanted them to go through this minor being athlete- and youth-facing,” Ettl says. “They need to have real opportunities to coach, so the experiential part was extremely important to incorporate.”

Students who pursue this minor also have the opportunity to go global and put their skills to use around the world. The recently-added Global Sport Coaching course provides students with several opportunities to broaden their knowledge of coaching in different environments, such as attending the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin this summer. With plans to expand and offer new experiences abroad in the future, students in this minor will have several ways to apply their coursework in a real-world context.

No matter where in the world students end up, one thing is always certain. “The best coaches are the ones that create the best overall experiences for athletes,” Ettl says. Rather than focusing solely on performance and winning, the minor emphasizes the importance of life lessons and skills that coaches can bring to young athletes.

The Sport Coaching minor is a concentration within the College of Education’s Youth and Community Development major. With a curriculum that is focused on creating well-informed and forward-thinking educators, this major prepares students for any setting they may find themselves in, whether that be on a sports field, inside a classroom, or in a non-traditional learning environment.

“Students have said that they love the educational model that we have [in this major],” Farley says. “In their future career, they won’t always need a teaching license. Several of the students in this program have gone on to do exactly what they wanted to do after graduating, whether that’s attending graduate school, coaching, or getting a job in a non-traditional setting.”

There are endless possibilities for students who graduate from this program, and there are several unique career paths to explore. “The Youth and Community Development major gives them the option to do so,” Farley says. “The sky is the limit.”