Providing training for coaches is one of the 14 legal duties of athletic directors as detailed in the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s (NIAAA) Leadership Training Course 504. Mentoring is one aspect of this responsibility, and it is a common approach of guidance and instruction in which a new, inexperienced coach is paired with someone with extensive experience. In addition, it is also important for mentors to embrace the education-based concept in order to appropriately prepare the mentee to be a successful leader for student-athletes.
To be much more effective than simply pairing a mentee with a mentor, however, an athletic administrator should organize and direct this instructional effort. This would mean that an athletic director needs to plan what exactly should be covered in this program. In addition, an administrator also should determine which experienced coaches are most suitable to serve as mentors. This is essential because one’s length of experience does not necessarily translate into being a supportive, helpful individual to work with – and guide – new coaches.
Even though the coach mentee-mentor approach is typical and can be very successful, one should also consider using specialists to help with specific duties and aspects that may be totally new to inexperienced coaches. For example, if a student in a class is struggling a little and does not understand something, the student may see the teacher after school for a little tutoring. Having a coach work with a specialist is a similar concept. It involves individual instruction for a specialized skill, task or aspect of coaching.
While there is nothing wrong with utilizing coaches on staff with specific skills, one should also be creative and consider mentors who may not even be a coach. Utilize individuals who have unique abilities and knowledge that can benefit the new, inexperienced coaches. The goal of an athletic administrator should simply be all about providing the best possible help and counseling. A cadre of potential mentors would include teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, secretaries, bookkeepers, custodians, the school nurse or anyone who can provide the necessary guidance and instruction.
A well-thought-out mentoring program should cover numerous topics and components. The following are a few examples of tasks or aspects for which a specialist could be involved.
These documents list the various segments and the order and structure of what is going to be done in a practice session. Since coaching involves teaching, practice plans are the same as lesson plans for teachers. Therefore, an exceptional, master teacher could be a great mentor and it could also be useful to utilize an extremely skilled coach. The added advantage of using a skilled coach would be that a newbie can review the construction of the plan and then observe the practice session the following day to see how it is put into practice. This is an invaluable experience!
Organizational skills and record-keeping.
While responsibilities such as issuing uniforms and equipment, taking inventory, completing eligibility reports are not exciting tasks, they are essential. Quite often, new coaches have no clue how to handle these aspects and this where a front office secretary, school bookkeeper or an experienced coach can be a valuable resource.
Hydration and Nutrition.
Chances are fairly good that an individual who is new to coaching may not know much, if anything, about the importance of what athletes should eat or drink before, during or after competition. As a matter of fact, one could also include the value and necessity of sleep in this grouping. When looking for answers and help, coaches should consider the Family Consumer Science teacher, the school nurse, a health teacher or the person who is in charge of the school’s food service efforts. These staff members have the expertise to help educate inexperienced coaches.
Dealing with misguided, overbearing parents.
With these individuals, it takes patience, composure and a positive, professional approach to communication. Someone such as a guidance counselor, a coach with well-developed techniques and a teacher with extensive experience with teacher-parent conferences are good sources.
Giving back to the community should be an integral part of education-based activities. To help new coaches to understand its role and importance, identify a coach on your staff who excels in this area. Another possibility would be to utilize a teacher or even a retired teacher who guided and led student service initiatives. Anyone who can help new coaches to identify projects which give back to the community should be involved.
Since raising additional money to cover costs is increasingly important, many inexperienced coaches may need some guidance. It is important to cover the process of selecting and planning the fund-raiser and particularly how to involve student- athletes. In addition, record-keeping, depositing the money for accountability and following district procedures are also vital. To help with this aspect, the school bookkeeper, a coach with a propensity for fund-raising or a teacher with extensive experience would be good special mentors.
Selecting a team captain is more than surveying one’s squad and appointing two or three seniors to serve in this capacity. And beyond the position of a captain, others on a team can and should fill leadership roles. Establishing opportunities for young people to develop this skill may be a foreign concept for some new coaches and one that may need some guidance.
Coaches who have taken the NFHS Captains course on the NFHS Learning Center, and teachers who have served as advisors to the student government or the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) organization would be a good source for mentors. And the advisor to the National Honor Society may also be a resource, since one of the four pillars of this organization is leadership.
While these examples of tasks or aspects associated with coaching are not intended to be an all-inclusive list, they do serve as a starting point. Being creative and perhaps thinking outside the box is important in an effort to identify specialists who can serve as mentors. There are individuals in your building who can be of immense help due to their unique skills and knowledge; all you have to do is be aware and reach out to them. And your coaches will be the beneficiary.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 700 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as four textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Blueprint for Better Coaching. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.