( A United States Collegiate Taekwondo perspective by Philip Herring; President USCT)
April 5, 2016– Why should Taekwondo care about NCAA? What will NCAA do for Taekwondo? And what difference will it make anyway? Super easy answers but they need a lot of explanation… so easy just not straight forward.
It has long been known that NCAA recognition puts a sport on the national stage and brings enormous benefits and resources though university varsity sport assistance, sponsorships and tournament attendance. But maybe even more importantly it supports the athlete development pipeline. Without a healthy athlete development pipeline collegiate sports have little chance of thriving.
In its current club sport status Taekwondo has done surprisingly well, growing to over 100 competitive teams in 4 leagues, plus several independent teams, nationwide. However, if you look at how many athletes start out in Taekwondo and move through the ranks and then how many disappear between middle school and high school; and then how many more drop out between high school and college it is astonishing….
But what does a middle school kid have to do with NCAA athletics?? Just everything…. We lose 85% – 90% of all Taekwondo athletes between middle school and high school. Can you imagine what this does to a sport? Across the United States we, as a sport, and in unison, lose a major portion of the talent pool to other sports that are available in high school. Why? Because the kids want to be active on campus, they want to be involved in the social aspect of high school Sports, they want to earn a varsity letter and they want to see a path forward to pursue their sport into college.
So we come full circle… No college resources = no high school recruits = no high school sports = no transition of middle school students to high school sport = no high school recruits for colleges and on and so on….
The question and the argument become circular and it becomes nearly impossible to answer and address one without addressing the other. It is important to have a strong collegiate league supported by University resources and the public exposure brought by NCAA status however, it is required by NCAA for there to be a high school development pipeline to feed collegiate programs. Check, got it. You have to put the cart before the horse. But it just does not seem reasonable to be able to stand up both programs at once and yet it also does not seem reasonable to stand them up independently.
That is where the beauty and the strength of our sport shines. Taekwondo is community based. It is grown and held together by a national network of independent school owner operators that are invested both emotionally and financially in the health of the community, the students and the sport. Their business models are in great part built off of young children coming into a taekwondo program as young as 5 years old and moving up through the ranks until they lose everyone at 12 years old… but… what if they did not have to… what if they had a way to mitigate their terrible financial drop off of their most loyal students at that 12 year old mark. And what if they could not only keep as many as ½ of those students they used to lose but also introduce new students to taekwondo who had never been touched by the sport before?! All of a sudden we would have the makings of a financial model that would support the development of a high school league!
By educating the school systems and local high schools we have not only found them to be receptive but excited about establishing
Taekwondo programs in the schools. We are able to equate the benefits to the school and community to the school ROTC programs which are held in very high regard.
We have found that by volunteering a Jr. Master or instructor two to three days a week, a taekwondo school can not only retain a significant number of those students they used to lose it also gains a marketing vehicle into the high schools that, generally, forbid marketing of any kind. And a development pipeline is born. In addition, in many cases, we have found that the county will pay a portion of the instructor costs through after school activity coach salary. By integrating the high school system under one roof a number of resources will be made available to coaches, athletes, parents and prospective colleges / universities alike.
This community Taekwondo School based approach will allow the sport to very quickly take hold at the grass roots level in many locations simultaneously.
USCT has already standardized many of the processes, forms, systems, operations and provides the tools these local leagues need to stand up and begin working with schools and state athletic commissions. In addition, education resources are provided to ensure local coaches are up to speed on NCAA rules and regulations as they affect their students to ensure they do not inadvertently violate rules that may cost their student athletes eligibility or worse. This also provides the high school athletes the opportunity to learn about collegiate programs while they are still in high school. Something has been almost impossible until now. With the new systems that are coming on line and with the proposed partnerships with USAT and operating agreement with AAU students and coaches will have the opportunity to investigate schools form across the country and determine which have the right combination of academics and level of support provided to their competitive taekwondo teams by searching a data base.
Now… back to our original question: Why does acceptance by the NCAA matter? When you begin to look at all the benefits to local taekwondo schools, local kids, families, communities, high schools, the opportunities provided to student athletes and to collegiate programs and eventually to our Olympic pipeline the reasons are clear and compelling already. However, when you also consider that an NCAA program will, through a combination of NCAA requirements and simple good business practices, enable our sport to consolidate resources, work together for the common good of the community and the kids it becomes a no brainer.
In addition, when a sport gains NCAA status there are specific resources Universities automatically agree to commit to the sport in terms of scholarships, funding, travel, coaches, uniforms, and other such infrastructure that has only been a dream of many teams. In addition to elevating the capability of the individual school programs this allows us to develop a much more active and competitive Olympic movement in the USA without kids sacrificing higher education to pursue their Olympic Dreams. This is what obtaining NCAA status for our sport has the potential to bring to us, our communities, to our children and to their futures.
Realistically; is there a phenomenal amount of work to do? YES, Absolutely. Do we need local taekwondo school owners to step up and help with the programs to be successful? Yes, but doing so will help them to be more successful too! Are there benchmarks that State Athletic Associations expect us to hit prior to allowing a High School league to operate in some areas, yes, but we have compelling proposal and presentation that has not been turned down by any jurisdiction yet? Do we still have a way to go with NCAA? Yes, and there are still, unfortunately, those in the community that have the old outdated attitude that if they can’t control it they will try destroy it for others but they are slowly losing ground and the forces of common sense and a common effort for the entire taekwondo community are going to prevail in the end!
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