The “Human Training Stables” of Victorian America: Cultural Differences in Sports Coaching

By Dave Day

During the latter stages of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, the trajectory of organized sports followed significantly different paths in North America, Europe and Great Britain. Nowhere was this more evident that in the field of professional coaching where the American model of full-time coaches in the Universities and Athletics Clubs contrasted with the ever-increasing preference for amateur coaches in many British sports. While the American model was adopted enthusiastically in many European countries, especially in the years surrounding the development of the Olympic Games, there was considerable resistance to this approach in Britain, even after the debacle of the Stockholm Olympics, an event that highlighted the rapid decline in competitiveness of Britain’s elite sportsmen and women. This paper contrasts the characteristics of coaching practice and philosophy that typified American and British approaches during the immediate pre- and post-First World War period and explores some of the arguments offered in Britain against the adoption of specialized American coaching methods, arguments that often reflected a broader cultural resistance to the notion of ‘Americanization’. The paper also highlights the enthusiastic reception afforded to some American coaches around Europe and how this impacted on international sporting performance, especially at mega-sporting events such as the Olympics, which increasingly became a yardstick for national supremacy.


  • coaching
  • America
  • Britain
  • professional
  • americanization
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