There is a strong movement in the United States to improve youth sport. Non-profit organizations such as the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), Right to Play, Changing the Game, Proactive Coaching, and many others are promoting a positive culture change in sport through coach development, parent education, and youth sport guidelines. This movement also extends to professional sport organizations: Major League Baseball (MLB) created the RBI program or Reviving Baseball Inner City to increase “…young people’s interest and participation in baseball and softball by re-introducing, reviving and rebuilding America’s pastime in underserved communities” (MLB Community, 2017).
Additionally, several sport governing bodies have created programs designed to grow the game and create opportunities for young people. USA Football for example, operates FUNdamentals Clinics to introduce young athletes to the basic skills of the sport. This collective effort by sport organizations is based on a grassroots mindset that focuses on the participation and developmental aspect of youth sports (Good Governance…, 2013)
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a USA Basketball Youth Development Coaching Academy as an attendee and speaker. The Coaching Academy is a clinic for basketball coaches, where a line-up of speakers share insight on a variety of topics related to teaching the game, connecting with athletes, and dealing with off-court issues. Attendees also have the opportunity to become licensed USA Basketball coaches.
Created as a division of USA Basketball in 2013, the Youth Development Division is charged with developing young people and coaches to grow the game of basketball. The Coaching Academy is only one part of the Youth Development Division’s mission. They host regional youth camps, youth clinics, a national youth tournament, and an open court program (USA Basketball, 2017). All events follow best practices for a positive and healthy youth sport experience, as outlined by the Youth Basketball Guidelines (NBA, 2017). Recognizing the significance of the coach in growing and developing youth through sport, USA Basketball offers organizational accreditation, coach licensing, and multiple coach academies (USA Basketball, 2017).
The retention rate for high school coaches is reportedly declining. After the 2015 high school football season, 116 of the 601 head football coaching positions in Southern California were open, and in Florida 129 of 560 high schools were looking for a new football coach (Rohrbach, 2016). Administrators often feel forced to select, evaluate, and retain or remove coaches based on external pressures (i.e. a losing season, unhappy parents, etc.). Sadly, this urgency to produce winning programs coupled with dwindling administrative support, is putting coaches in a constant survival mode.
To endure this win-at-all cost mentality, coaches first need a short-term action plan. Reassuring parents that all is well, convincing athletes that your strategies and tactics are working, and minimizing any conflicts your athletic director might face with parents and athletes are ongoing demands. But it’s not easy to handle day-to-day and often unanticipated non-game issues and still coach effectively. For an increasing number of coaches, the stress experienced proves to be unsustainable. So for coaches to “stay in the game” and enjoy extended careers, a recommended strategy is to adopt a long-term action plan. This involves three key elements: 1) become a life-long learner, 2) implement deliberate practice techniques, and 3) pursue coaching mastery.
The complicated life of sports’ coaches is well documented in biographies and the media. Additionally, it plays out every day across America, on college campuses, in high school athletics, and in the club sport system. Coaches who dedicate themselves to leading a team and developing student-athletes are repeatedly forced to walk a fine line between family and work commitments. To balance this dynamic, coaches frequently integrate family life into team functions. Children will attend practice sessions, teams come to the coach’s house for pre-game meals, and family members are recruited to assist with fundraising events such as off-season sport camps or tournaments.
(photo courtesy of Dan Pambianco)
Done successfully, student-athletes and coaching staffs become extended families, creating a support system for all those involved. Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s daughter described her family’s involvement in the Blue Devil basketball program as follows:
Expertise in coaching can be achieved by acquiring specific knowledge related to a particular sport (Côté & Gilbert, 2009). To be an effective coach, one must match his or her expertise within the context of the learning environment, focusing on learner outcomes (Boardley, Kavussanu, & Ring, 2008). Coaches that have achieved this level of effectiveness are often referred to as master teachers. Key characteristics have been demonstrated by master teachers in the context of sport coaching, such as the ability to teach the learner, to provide tactical instruction, and a desire to pursue personal mastery (Gallimore, Gilbert, & Nater, 2014).
During the 2016 National Coaching Conference in Seattle, WA, a panel of five experts in their respected fields shared insight on pursuing mastery as a coach. Based on their role on the panel (educator, ethicist, athletic administrator, researcher, and coach), each panel member shared 1) strategies for coaches to grow personally and professionally, 2) self-assessment methods to evaluate their progress in pursuing mastery, and 3) insight on what coaches can do to maintain a level of expertise?
The panel members included Dr. Steve Jefferies (Educator), Dr. Sharon Stoll (Ethicist), Erin O’Connell (Athletic Administrator), Dr. Wade Gilbert (Researcher), and Swen Nater (Coach). Dr. Pete Van Mullem (Lewis-Clark State College) and Sean Dahlin (Ohio State University) facilitated the panel session.
Recent news of a cover-up at Baylor University where campus leadership failed to act legally and ethically to sexual assault allegations recently dominated media headlines. The situation at Baylor is an unfortunate reminder of misguided leadership at Penn State where institutional leaders (i.e. coaches, athletic directors, and administrators) failed to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual misconduct by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
What happened at Penn State was beyond shocking, but the Baylor saga suggests a similarly troubling dark reality of an environment often shaped by athletics within educational institutions: An environment built on intense loyalty to protect the interests of athletic programs. Penn State is just one example where institutional leaders struggled to make ethical decisions amidst the lure of achieving athletic success on the field. Educational leaders at Florida State University, the University of Montana, and the University of Oregon have in recent years chosen to remain loyal to their athletic programs in the pursuit of victory.
This challenge is not unique to the NCAA Division I level of competition. Institutions competing at lower levels of athletics are also greatly influenced by what occurs in the athletic department. For example, at Belmont Abby College, administrators added college football to increase student enrollment. The commonality at all levels is the pursuit of financial gain, where winning brings more money either through television contracts, donations, ticket sales, merchandise sales, or increased enrollment (i.e. tuition dollars).