Coach and Athletic Director
Protecting Your Coaches
By Dr. David Hoch
Athletic directors wear many different hats. Probably the most important of them is for the protection of their coaches.
Protection from what? From the meddlesome and irrational parents who are always plotting to get rid of the evil coaches who have cut their kid from the squad or refused to give them enough playing time.
The AD must step in immediately. He cannot allow his coaches to be demeaned. He must always serve as a buffer or shield for his coaches.
Probably the greatest exodus of teachers occurs in their first three years when they feel overwhelmed, not-supported, and besieged by obnoxious parents whom the teachers can no longer endure. Given a choice between liberty or death by abuse, they choose freedom.
Coaches should not be judged on the basis of their record. Both winning and losing are contingent upon the available talent, injuries, the schedule, and any number of other factors. It is totally wrong to think that the coach alone is responsible for whether a team wins.
In our setting, we look at the following factors when considering the effectiveness of our coaches:
- Did the athletes have a good, enjoyable experience?
- Did the players learn and improve throughout the season?
- Did the individuals and team represent the school in an exemplary fashion?
If you can say yes to these three criteria, you have had a successful season. Wins and championships take care of themselves and will occur if and when everything else falls into place.
As an AD, what can you do to fend off misguided parents? Obviously, a number of initiatives center around educational efforts.
1. In pre-season meetings, explain and establish the parameter listed above. Make it clear that coaches are not going to be fired based upon wins and losses. All coaches will undergo an annual evaluation based upon meeting their responsibilities, providing sound instruction, and enhancing the educational mission of the athletic program.
2. Create supportive materials, documents that spell out your athletic program’s philosophy and what you want and value in coaches.
3. Keep your principal or superintendent informed. Communicate and educate them with respect to your program’s philosophy, approach, and goals. Their support and your sound working relationship with them will help protect your coaching staff.
4. Meet with your booster club prior to the start of each school year to review their mission and primary goals. Emphasize that these will never include vested interests or agendas such as promoting the candidacy of anyone for a vacant coaching position or to push for the removal of a coach.
These misguided efforts are totally outside the purview of the organization and will not be tolerated.
5. Stand behind your coaches, or better yet, stand in front of your coaches and act as a shield. Of course, I have an advantage over many athletic directors throughout the country. With a few years before retirement, I am totally secure – financially and mentally – and can afford to take a firm position since I can literally walk away tomorrow. But your coaches deserve your understanding and support.
Of course, the protection of your coaches should not only exist when a coach is threatened by the removal from his position. Coaches also need our protection from other parental interference and complaints. For example, parents often attack coaches with concerns about:
- Playing time.
- Starting games.
- Serving as a captain of a team.
- Winning a letter.
What can you do as an athletic director to help protect your coaches from misguided parents? Try some of the following:
1. Set the parameters for your parents on how, when and what topics can be discussed with coaches. For example, approaching a coach immediately after the conclusion of a contest is simply the wrong time and unacceptable.
These guidelines should be outlined and presented at your pre-season parents meetings and included in your various documents.
2. Join parent-coach meetings, which have the potential to be adversarial and explosive. You should be there to ensure that the coach is treated professionally, with civility and not placed in an unfair position.
3. Prep your coaches before they sit down with an irrational parent.
Help them understand what to expect, how to handle themselves so that the meeting goes as positively as possible and then comes to some agreeable conclusion.
Your experience and guidance is invaluable to not only new, young coaches, but also those who may be going through this unpleasant situation for the first-time.
However, before extending blanket and blind protection for all of your coaches, it is also important to understand all of the facts and issues that may be involved with any problem. There certainly may also be occasions when one of your coaches could have done something improperly and you need to know this before extending protection.
If this is the case, you will need to counsel your coach. Outline a course of action so that this problem does not re-occur and what steps have to be taken to correct it.
Since coaches are under contract as professional employees, you don’t have to provide the parents with the specific steps that were taken with your coaches. Your reassurance that it has or will be handled should end the discussion.
There is no doubt that many of our coaches have become huge, easy targets to a small segment of our parents. Our coaches need and deserve protection and you are the person to provide it.