Effective Leadership in Coaching and the Deterioration of Scholastic Athletics


More and more we are seeing athletes move away from the scholastic setting into the club setting. In some cases now it is away from the scholastic setting and into the professional ranks. Several instances in this track and field season have me questioning whether we have the correct leadership in place at the scholastic levels. I have no doubt the non-profit multi-million dollar scholastic sport federations and their state high school associations are corrupt, negligent, or complacent in some of these matters trying to wield their power and influence.

However, I believe the problem starts at the coaching associations which haven’t tried to wield their power at the teacher unions, scholastic federations, and state high school associations. Most state’s now have coaches who don’t have to be certified educators, this I don’t believe is a problem as nearly all club coaches are not certified educators. I believe today’s coaches who are long time educators have arcane rules which no longer fit the dynamics of today’s scholastic societies. When the coach is forced to enforce his arcane rules is when the trouble escalates if the coach lets the enforcement period slide. Effectively a lack of enforcement creates a discipline problem when your rules don’t fit the structure they once did. Some of these coach/educators claim these rules are in place to ensure accountability and responsibility like attending practice or getting to practice on time. Last time I checked those two items are not as high on my list as family, grades, and medical circumstances which is prioritizing. The accountability and responsibility of the scholastic athlete does fall within making a practice or making it on time, being accountable and responsible is telling a coach why and when they have to miss practice before the practice they are supposed to miss.

The most important aspect of effective coaching leadership in a scholastic environment is showing the athlete I care for them and teach them as much as possible. You cannot make someone accountable and responsible unless you teach them to prioritize first. Maybe you are different and think the team comes before everything else, that’s fine, but you need to make that clear by removing people who conflict with that approach on the very first offense, very first team/parent meeting, or else your system of discipline and enforcement will create bigger problems. It’s best if you rid yourself of all conflicts beforehand.

So why is this a big problem and causing a demise in scholastic activities? Well the tough guy scholastic coaches are losing kids to club teams who are more flexible but still have tough guy coaches but the parents have to make a huge financial commitment to that club team. Then they make another huge commitment to traveling for the club both financially and time wise so their child can participate in as many sports as possible. I can tell you firsthand if I tried to be the tough guy at the last scholastic coaching job I held I wouldn’t have had 1/3 of the participants I had. More importantly if you take the route of inflexibility you are missing out on teaching the most important leadership lesson of all, judgment.

Today’s children have more choices and participation opportunities than ever before. If scholastic coaches force children and parents to choose before they are ready to give up an activity. This forces the child and parent to seek alternative means which could mean less participation for scholastic teams. I realize participation at the scholastic level is up, but it is not increasing at the same rate of club participation rate which is higher.
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Daniel Andrews
Daniel is an Assistant Cross Country and Track & Field coach at Millikin University, A partner at Illinois Top Times, and runs his own technology business. He majored in Physical Education at Illinois State University and has taken Masters level courses in Biomechanics and Biology. He is in his 11th season coaching track and field, having coached in each event group for multiple seasons at the high school, jr. high, and club levels before taking his current position at Millikin.