As a coach who coached coaches for 35 years, Eric Broom is linked to some of Canada's most influential and prestigious sport leaders.
Since the 1970s and the creation of the National Coaches Certification Program, more than 10,000 coaches and sports professionals in this country can thank the England-born Vancouverite for his work at all levels of sport from grassroots children's leagues to high-performance elite competition.
Broom, who turns 82 on Christmas Day, was honoured with the Geoff Gowan Award, a distinction he received this fall from the Coaching Association of Canada for his lifetime contribution to coaching development. "He's one of the founding fathers of the certification program," said Gord May, executive director of the Coaches Association of B.C. and the person who nominated Broom.
"He's been teaching coaches how to coach almost since the day the national certification program was developed. He's educated thousands of coaches."
Because he keeps meticulous records, Broom is confident in his claim he's certified-not merely trained,, but qualified-10,045 coaches under the NCCP guidelines he helped develop since 1975. One million coaches have been certified in nearly three decades and Broom has coached more than anyone else.
The Coaching Association of Canada doesn't maintain conclusive data but a spokeswoman said his tally is significant. "We feel very confident in the number he's given."
Broom, who has two daughters and whose late wife was deeply involved in provincial field hockey, began his training in England where he studied teaching and physical education. He taught gym class at Spading Grammar School for three years before becoming a regional officer with what is now Sport England, the country's national sport association that operates independently of government and is funded through a lottery. (And also a model he believes would work here.)
His influence on athletes began immediately. As the school's track and field coach, he observed an ambitious 13year-old driven to compete and to win although he'd chosen sprinting, a discipline that wasn't best suited to his natural abilities. "He hadn't quite got enough basic speed to make the top and he wanted to make the top," remembered Broom. "So I introduced him to hurdles."
After he left the grammar school, Broom travelled monthly from London to work with the young athlete, Stuart Storey, who went on to win the national amateur meet as a U-17 and then U-19 hurdler. He represented Great Britain at the 1968 Summer Olympics and held the British record in the 200-metre hurdles. He is now a BBC sports commentator.
An influential coach is a powerful catalyst. Broom has played such a role in thousands of lives.
"A good coach can help the athlete to achieve their potential in any particular sport. A coach in any sport, a good coach, influences that person as a person. They can make them a better person," he said.
"So many people think that coaches work with athletes' bodies-they do- but even more important than that is that they're working with their brain, with their mind. Unless the coach can influence the athlete's mind, the coach isn't going to be able to influence them."
In 1964, Broom moved to Vancouver and joined the School of Human Kinetics at the University of B.C. At a time when many academics were in a basement lab researching the biomechanics and physiology of the human body, Broom began to study other organisms-the national institutions, associations and organizations that administer a country's sports programs. For his PhD at the University of Illinois, he compared England and Canada's sports systems. During his career, he travelled to more than 25 countries to study everything from coach training and transportation to buildings and funding. He led multiple delegations to study the best attributes and understand what mistakes to avoid. For three years in the early 1980s, he was appointed provincial deputy minister of sport.
He has seen improvements in Canada, namely the number of homegrown coaches who train and stay here to work. He certifies elite, high-performance international coaches who are recruited to work in Canada.
In 40 years of research, Broom has been impressed and amazed. In every case, he picked up details to improve coaching and sport development in Canada. "The best, unquestionably, was East Germany," said Broom.
"There is no doubt in my mind about that. When I say that to people, they say, 'Oh, but East Germany was on drugs.' Yes, they were. But are you saying Canada and Britain and Germany and the States were not on drugs, of course they were on drugs. I don't advocate drugs but one of the things East Germany did was they produced the best coaches in the world. They had degrees: bachelor's, master's and PhDs in coaching. When the wall came down, they had 10,000 degree-level coaches and they said their need was 20,000."
An impressive total, even for the man who has coached more coaches than anyone else in Canada.