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Evaluating Coaches Within Education-based Athletics

By Bruce Brown, CMAA, CIC on October 09, 2018 hst Print

When hiring coaches, administrators will typically outline general expectations and may even provide a preview of the post-season evaluation form that has been routinely used. The challenge, however, in using a standard form can be the difficulty in which the document accurately assesses the direction, growth and leadership of the coach within the respective sport program.

Providing an assessment process for coaches at all levels of the school’s athletic program – including middle school coaches, and assistant and head coaches – should connect directly with the purpose and objectives of the athletic program.

In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek draws the parallel that a clear understanding of the reason behind providing assessment and evaluation of school-based coaches and their sport program is critical for the growth and development of all stakeholders within that sport.

The process of assessment is to provide appropriate feedback. This is no different than what schools would expect in other areas of their operations, such as for individuals responsible for academic instruction, transportation, public relations and fiscal accountability. They are provided with direction, suggestions and action plans to grow and improve. The same approach should be used with athletic coaches.

One of the key elements for successful evaluations of coaches is the creation of an appropriate culture that emphasizes growth as opposed to one designed to provide a basis for termination. The desired objective should be a continuous cycle of feedback and recommendations to ensure improvement. Evaluations should ultimately lead to what is best for the student-athletes.

As the athletic administrator, there are two critical questions that must be addressed regarding the evaluation processes. First, is the athletic director willing to serve as “the coach of coaches”? This has nothing to do with knowledge or expertise regarding the sport. It is more about the intentional plan to mentor and partner with the school’s coaches, which leads them toward personal and professional growth.

The other question for athletic directors is a rhetorical and critical one: How successful would the athletic programs be if you only assessed progress ONE time each year? The archaic approach to assessing coaches was often to provide a simple pat on the back for a winning season and if parental complaints were minimal. When a coach received a “see me” note in his or her mailbox, that was usually the cue that an evaluation was forthcoming.

Two important elements of this assessment design mean having a long-range vision for a coach’s improvement and a periodic schedule of feedback or assessment. It should clearly be explained to the coach that with this process feedback, adjustments and corrections are expected to take place throughout the year.

The Long-Range Plan

When a coach is hired to lead a team, he or she should be expected to develop a master plan and a direction for the program. The starting point should be the questions, “Where is the team or program NOW” and “What is the desired level during the next one to three years”?

Some of the answers for these questions may come from the interviews with the coach. However, the athletic administrator and the coach should formalize a definite plan that creates a clear path of the anticipated direction for personal and program growth.

  • Critical elements of the three-year long-range plan would be:
  • The Mission Statement: This document guides the actions of the coach and the participants as well as provides a pathway for all decisions. It is the framework from which strategies are formulated.
  • The Program Description: This brief program “history” addresses “where is the program NOW” and sets the stage for its direction.
  • The Student Profile: This is an assessment of returning students in all levels that the coach has oversight. The coach should be cognizant of skill and retention levels throughout the program.
  • Program Assets and Challenges: The coach should be able to communicate primary obstacles, strengths and challenges of both personnel and facilities in plotting program direction.
  • Academics: The coach should have strategies to address academic and/or eligibility concerns along with promoting academic success of student-athletes.
  • Timeline and Athletic Department Support: This is an area where both the coach and the athletic administrator identify the specific areas of support necessary from the athletic department.

The Assessment Cycle

The most important aspect of evaluating coaches is that the athletic administrator should create a climate in which conversations between both parties are encouraged throughout the school year. Certainly, pivotal issues need to be addressed during the season and should not wait until the end-of-season evaluation. If a prolonged conversation isn’t workable, the concern should be included in the end-of-season session.

It is important for an athletic administrator to be visible in order to set the tone for a culture of growth. Showing up at practices and contests only after concerns or issues have surfaced should be avoided. Instead, the athletic director should be accessible, walk around and observe practice sessions and events every day. This increases general awareness and demonstrates a level of engagement with coaches and the teams.

The assessment tool should incorporate both a review of the long-range plan and feedback on the progress made. The review should also indicate how well the coach is meeting education-based outcomes in coaching performance with students. To accomplish this part, the National Standards for Sport Coaches, published by SHAPE (Society of Health and Physical Education) provides parameters from which to evaluate coaching success and effectiveness. The National Standards for Sport Coaches is broken down into eight educational domains:

  • Philosophy and Ethics: Focus is upon an athlete-centered coaching philosophy along with the expectation that positive values and life-skills are being taught and modeled.
  • Safety and Injury Prevention: Facility and student safety measures are being followed. Protective equipment, environmental considerations, injury prevention and response along with appropriate psychological care for injuries are being addressed.
  • Physical Conditioning: The design and teaching of proper training techniques are deployed.
  • Growth and Development: Demonstration of appropriate teaching based upon age and maturation levels of students is observable.
  • Teaching and Communication: Establishment of a positive learning environment along with appropriate instructional strategies are deployed. Motivational and communication skills are assessed in this domain.
  • Sport Skills and Tactics: Knowledge and transfer of information and tactics that are applicable to the skill and maturation level of participants is evident.
  • Organization and Administration: The coach demonstrates his or her role as the key communicator of program goals and policies as well as facilitation of compliance measures within school and state association rules.
  • Evaluation: The coach has effective and timely assessment protocols in place for students and the program as a whole.

Establishing an assessment process that promotes and supports coach growth as well as appraising student and program outcomes with education-based objectives is a model for success.