Each year tens of thousands of adults begin working as youth and interscholastic coaches, often beginning with a lot of sport knowledge, but not as much experience with the off-the-field issues that come with the job. This is understandable, of course, as is often the case with many life endeavors where we only come to know things as we learn through an experience. With coaches, I find that most go into the role as coach with great intentions, and are equally well-prepared when it comes to teaching kids how to learn and develop specific skills applied to their sport. Where rookie coaches stumble, however, usually has to do with preparing and responding to the other issues that accompany the job, from helping parents understand team expectations to working collaboratively with other school coaches on issues like sport specialization/sampling.
Today’s interscholastic coach
A lot has changed in recent years when it comes to interscholastic coaching, particularly as this applies to the growing number of duties and responsibilities assigned to coaches. In addition to knowing the X’s and O’s of the sport, today’s coach must complete mandatory education and first aid training, mentor and guide kids off-the-field, and stay up on contemporary issues and trends that impact kids. Long gone are the days where the coach was only responsible for daily practices that usually lasted only a few hours, replaced by today’s coach prototype that requires a deeper knowledge of coaching, greater time commitments related to the job, and more responsibility related to safely guiding student athletes away from dangerous life choices and decisions.
While it is impossible to perfectly plan for every issue an interscholastic coach will face during his or her career, there are 5 common issues I hear coaches talk to me about regularly in my office.
Common coach challenges
- Upset & disgruntled parents. While most sport parents are helpful and supportive, coaches should always prepare for other parents who may become frustrated at the coach’s philosophy and decision-making (especially as this applies to playing time). For this reason it makes sense to develop patience, communication, and conflict resolution skills.
- Student athletes who lose their focus and attention. Remember, when coaching kids just about anything can sway their attention and steal their focus from sports. Relationship break ups, difficult classes, and problems at home are just a few quick examples of issues kids regularly experience, prompting coaches to help the kids they coach beyond just sports.
- Student athletes who violate school policies/rules (or worse). Maintaining minimum GPA’s, adhering to drug and alcohol policies, and steering clear of violations outside of school are all common challenges for both kids and coaches. While some of these situations may only require a quick coach-player chat, other problems could result in suspensions, expulsions, or worse.
- Conflicts with other school coaches. Many kids specialize in one sport today, and in some cases these kids are persuaded to do so by a coach. When kids decide to specialize, it can frustrate other coaches who will no longer coach the kid, sometimes leading to philosophical disputes between coaches.
- Scheduling conflicts. Kids are busy today, arguably busier than any other time. Some kids juggle their team responsibilities with challenging academic requirements, school activities and commitments, social interests, and sometimes even another sport team they play on concurrently. Additionally, some kids see tutors, nutritionists, sport psychologists, and strength/speed coaches — quite a lot to juggle when you remember that there’s only 24 hours in a day.
Being an interscholastic coach can be one of the greatest experiences in life, especially when working with motivated kids and cooperative parents. Unfortunately, things don’t always go perfectly, and oftentimes coaches find themselves in situations that they had not originally thought of or planned for as part of the job. The good news is that like most things in life, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” when it comes to maximizing the coaching experience, and forward-thinking coaches can offset otherwise would-be problems through proper preparation.