Ongoing research indicates that the number of teacher-coaches continues to decline nationwide. School districts are under increasing pressure to hire teachers based in large part on how well they prepare students for the academic performance tests required by state and federal governments. Often, the question as to what other skill sets they could bring to the student body is not asked. It becomes luck of the draw as to whether or not the faculty members in a school are willing and able to fill athletic and activity positions.
Teacher-coaches are a key element of promoting learning and citizenship within the student body. They are more likely to understand the philosophy and mission of an education-based interscholastic athletic program. Also, when coaches are in the building it means that they are available to help guide and counsel their athletes through issues and problems that arise.
The question becomes what can be done to attract teachers into coaching interscholastic athletics? First and foremost, the board of education, superintendent and principal must be educated as to the value of an education-based athletic program. Without their support, the opportunities to attract teachers into coaching will be limited at best.
Once the support of administrators and the board is obtained, the athletic administrator and head coaches can take a number of different strategies to recruit and motivate teachers to coach. The first step is the most obvious – increase coaching stipends. Better pay is always a good starting point. Unfortunately, this often becomes relatively unimportant when teacher associations negotiate salaries and/or school districts have limited revenue.
Next, athletic administrators should look for opportunities to share with teachers the value of education-based interscholastic athletics. By promoting learning and better citizenship, teacher-coaches can improve school climate and better relationships with students in and out of the classroom. Better school climate and improved relationships, in turn, means better academic performance. Students want their teachers to care as much about them as people as they care about their test results.
Savvy school administrators want teachers who are involved in extracurricular activities. In order to encourage teacher involvement, administrators might:
• add their voice and lobby for improved supplemental coaching stipends;
• reduce or eliminate, where possible, duties such as hall and cafeteria duty as an incentive to coach;
• schedule prep periods at the end of the school day that would allow a more seamless transition from the classroom to the practice session or game;
• develop procedures and protocols to use in order to help protect coaches from misguided and unreasonable parents and alumni;
• put winning and losing into perspective while expecting best efforts from everyone in the program;
• use the education-based interscholastic athletic program to promote student leadership development, sportsmanship and community service, attracting teachers who understand coaching is more than winning and losing;
• develop innovative methods to be used during the interview and hiring process to identify teacher candidates who are willing and able to coach;
• involve established and respected head coaches in the identification and recruitment process of existing faculty members to serve as assistant and junior varsity coaches;
• identify former coaches who were disenchanted by the demands of coaching – paperwork, limited budgets, out-of-season tasks, demanding parents, long hours for low pay – and convince them that they will be better supported;
• identify and appeal to teachers on the faculty who have impeccable integrity, a passion for teaching, a desire to work with students beyond the academic day and who care about the total development of the students and let them know they are viewed in that way by the administration;
• use every possible forum to publicly praise and thank coaches for the great effort that they bring and contribute to the education-based athletic program.
While the task of recruiting more teachers into coaching position at the high school level is challenging, we are fortunate in this country to have academics and athletics/activities together in the school setting. Most countries around the world do not offer or fund interscholastic athletics and activities as part of a student’s educational opportunities. Athletics and performing arts are often the purview of a club system or program and/or another governmental body such as the ministry of sport or the ministry of culture. As such, the club programs and/or government ministries often have different missions and goals than an education-based athletic program.
Students from families with limited resources in these other nations do not get the benefit of an education-based interscholastic athletic program led by their teachers. Instead, they must advance through the ranks of a club system that is focused on developing national or Olympic team members. Only the top talent advances, limiting the number of participants and the benefits of participation. Winning becomes the focus of the athletes, coaches and athletic administrators. Winning becomes the paramount goal.
In the search for capable coaches among teachers in your school, emphasize that winning games is not the ultimate objective. Winning, while a measure of success, is not the only or ultimate measure of success in an education-based interscholastic program. Too often, when the talent pool is limited and recruiting is prohibited, coaches are unfairly criticized for the won-loss record of their team. Providing an atmosphere where students are learning and growing as measures of success significantly increases the likelihood for attracting teacher-coaches.
Michael Williams is the director of athletics for the Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Area School District and was the former coordinator of athletics for Howard County Public Schools in Maryland. Williams is the vice-chair of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Leadership Training Course (LTC) 707 and co-chair of LTC 799.