Dear Athletic Administrators
Dear Athletic Administrators, this post is for you. I’ve been in and around the world of organized athletics long enough to have experienced firsthand how important this topic is. I recently had the opportunity to speak on this issue to a room full of Athletic Directors and I wanted to elaborate on my thoughts here.
I strongly believe that great leaders take care of their people. That concept is rooted in my definition of leadership and how I choose to live in the world. One of the first questions I ask any leader is, “how do you take care of your people?” When we take care of our people our people will do anything for us. This includes staying in a coaching position when other offers may prove tempting.
The coaching profession is tireless and the rate of turnover at all levels is noticeable. The hours, minimal pay, time away from family, the pressure to win, entitlement issues, and parental involvement are all factors we hear as coaches choose to leave the profession or as they choose to pursue a coaching opportunity at another institution. Athletic administrators need to be intentional about how they take care of their coaches. When you take care of your coaches they can take care of your student-athletes.
Retaining good coaches is a key to success. When we keep good coaches in our system everyone wins:
- Student-athletes develop healthy long term relationships: I absolutely believe that a coach has the opportunity to be the single most significant influence in a young person’s life. When we retain good coaches we allow student-athletes to develop healthy relationships with their coaches. This provides student-athletes with the opportunity to learn how to address and navigate conflict successfully. If a student-athlete has a new coach every year they never transition out of the “honeymoon” phase to address real life issues. When you have the same coach for three or four years that relationship is “real”. By experiencing healthy relationships with a coaching staff student-athletes develop the skills necessary to be successful in the real world.
- Programs establish team culture: With every new coach, a new team culture is set in motion. While I do believe that coaches need to assess and adjust the team culture each year, keeping a coaching staff in place allows team culture to take root. When this happens student-athletes know what to expect from their coach and what is expected from them as student-athletes. When there is a pattern of new coaches every couple of years the team culture is never fully established.
- Programs establish a style of play: When a program has the same coaching staff for many years student-athletes are able to anticipate what skills will be expected of them when they enter the program. This allows future players to focus on the skills needed to be able to contribute to the team. When a new coach is hired the previous system of play, or style of play, might become a thing of the past. This can be a difficult transition for players who are accustomed to a certain style of play. The retention of a coaching staff also allows time to focus on skill development. When a new coaching staff takes over much of their time is spent teaching new tactics and skill development becomes a secondary point of focus.
- Expectations are known: When a coaching staff returns for another season expectations in term of fitness, style of play, leadership, and culture are known. This reduces tension and makes a team less susceptible to drama and parental interference. Parents tend to become hyper-vigilant when they feel like they don’t know what is going on or that their child is being treated unfairly. By utilizing the same coaching staff each you are able to provide clearer expectations and reduce unwanted tension and interference.
The reality is, everyone wins when you keep good coaches in your program. Letting a good coach walk away from a program might seem like a simple fix, but the truth is the process can be very difficult and very painful. It isn’t easy for a new coach who needs to learn the culture and expectations of a different athletic department. It isn’t easy for student-athletes who need to develop relationships with the new staff, understand new team culture, learn a new system and style of play, and adjust to new expectations all in a stressful competitive environment. And it isn’t easy for parents to watch their kids struggle with this transition.
For those who believe this is “the real world” and we need to teach kids to adjust quickly, I would challenge you to think about your own stress level if you had a new boss every year … did that just make your blood pressure rise 😉
Athletic Administrators, please, take care of your coaches, they are your people. Give them a gift card after a tough loss. Ask about their family. Celebrate engagements, weddings, pregnancies, and adoptions. Help them to find the funding for professional development. Give them free gear – coaches love free gear! Let their families into home games for free. Ask, “how can I help?” Share with them the good you see in their program. Nominate them for awards. Write handwritten thank you notes for no reason other than to say thank you. Listen, just listen. Think outside the box to help solve problems. Express your support for coaches to take time off to recharge and get to know them as people.
When you take care of your coaches they can take care of your student-athletes.
* A big thanks to Jen Brooks for helping with this list!