Effective Leadership in Coaching and the Deterioration of Scholastic Athletics

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    Daniel Andrews on #15676

    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 sp

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    Mike Young
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    Mike Young on #82499

    Nice first blog post. What are your thoughts on being a tough guy, losing some kids as a result in the short term, but gaining the respect and a return to participation levels in the future when (if?) the increased discipline leads to more success. Everyone wants to be on a successful team right?

    ELITETRACK Founder

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    Daniel Andrews on #82505

    Nice first blog post. What are your thoughts on being a tough guy, losing some kids as a result in the short term, but gaining the respect and a return to participation levels in the future when (if?) the increased discipline leads to more success. Everyone wants to be on a successful team right?

    Mike:

    First off, thanks for allowing me to blog this post. I think there is a lot more to this subject and I tried to condense it down without making direct accusations towards any coaches. I also believe there are several other tangents this topic can take off on.

    I don’t think there is a place for the tough guy without good judgment. If you are going to be tough, you have to be fair to the athlete, because they cannot make the call on what doctor appointments, funerals, vacations, and other family activities they have to go to and the coach doesn’t either because it’s the parents decisions. Secondly, not every athlete is as smart as the others and may require them to miss all or portions of practice to receive academic help. Now if all these cause the athlete to miss 2 or 3 practices a week I would still allow them to compete in 1 or maybe 2 events depending on their willingness to make up and do workouts on their own. Which doesn’t take a whole lot of insight to know if the athlete did these workouts, altered them, or didn’t do anything at all. I can also deal with athletes missing practice for other scholastic activities. The more active the athlete is in the school the better off the school and athlete are.

    I really think the best scholastic coaches who have created great programs in last 10-15 years don’t put team before family or academics. They still must be firm and enforce policy. There are coaches who are tough guys but they developed their programs 20 or 30 years ago when there weren’t as many opportunities and can still be successful because their program is a part of the school mystique and culture. The biggest problem maybe a near majority or majority of coaches don’t enforce policy effectively which results in a breakdown in discipline and order in the team. If a coach doesn’t enforce his policies effectively and immediately he’s opening himself up for trouble. This is probably the most common error I see in leadership at the coaching level. Squash the problems before they get out of hand.

    Right now I see more and more kids moving scholastic athletics because of the inflexibility of the structure, be it coaches, officials, associations, etc… to clubs because it allows the kid who still hasn’t decided what he likes the best the options to do the most possible activities.

    This scenario only fits the scholastic level and not the collegiate or professional level. However, how many freshmen are shell shocked coming out of high school without being able to prioritize effectively? I would say its a high percentage, I am not saying we should create Montessori like training environments to combat this, because we’d end up right we are. However, with the athlete able to control so little in decision making we can teach them more by forcing them to make decisions which don’t affect participation by being accountable and responsible for what they are doing and the decisions they can make.

    I can see a problem in team sports where movement with other team members is vital to success and missing practices, but that is another tangent.

    Nick Newman
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    Nick Newman on #82507

    Very nice Daniel!

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    ex400 on #82508

    All very well stated, Daniel. As a HS girls’ coach I face all that you do. The girls on our team tend to be very high achievers off the track, in academics, music, etc. In most cases, those activities are more significant to their futures than is track. We have no girls who will get into college based on track, much less get a scholarship, but many of them can aspire to Stanford, Yale, etc. based on academics and other talents. So we are flexible, as we must be. Our basic attitude is that we are fine with their scheduling conflicts as long as they let us know (rather than just not showing up), make good efforts when they are with us and don’t cause trouble. As a high school coach we certainly do not “own” the kids like a college coach with scholarship athletes. This week, our only good pole vaulter is going to miss two meets because she is representing the school at some big academic competition out of state [somewhat frustrating]. We will also miss an important sprinter because her family is going to Hawaii on vacation [much more frustrating]. There is a lot we cannot control, so we just carry on doing the best we can.

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    Kebba Tolbert on #82509

    I actually disagree. I think that kids and parents do have choices. When they sign up/try out for a team they are making a commitment to abide by certain rules and regulations. Regular attendance is once of them. Parents do have choices when they schedule things and they should, when possible, try to schedule them so that kids don’t miss practices. As far as vacations during the season, why does it seem that these thing problems tend to come up mucb less in sports like basketball and football?

    Although those sports come with their own sets of problems having a “bench” is a significant deterrent to certain problems like missing practice and games. We do have a bench in track, we just tend not to use it.

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    Daniel Andrews on #82512

    Again, I disagree, parents schedule vacations based on work and school. Athletics must come after family and education despite whatever a coach feel. Football runs August to November, I don’t believe many people have or take Vacations in those months. Basketball has Christmas Break which is two weeks long and there are some troubles with this, but every coach has the same problem occurring at the same time. Track on the other hand has varied Spring or Easter Breaks depending on the school. I think in the grand scheme of things, parents are more willing to travel long distances for Thanksgiving and Easter holidays than they are for any other reason. The rise of club athletics has also bitten into summertime options as local competition has been now replaced with nationwide competition at the club level because of its growth which is a result of poor leadership in the scholastic realm.

    Kebba the coach has a choice he can be accepting or not. If an athlete or parents plan for that child do not fit his system then the athlete should not be on the said coach’s team. Thereby limiting participation.

    If you try coaching that way with a scholastic population under 1000 kids you will not be successful or have a very good participation rate. I also believe you limit your reach and diminish the possible lessons that be taught in a different manner.

    You must realize, I come from a military background and thought that way works best. It doesn’t. The athlete cannot overrule the parent, therefore any punishment is because of a parent-coach conflict. You do this at the risk of creating a problem between the parent and child, yourself and the parent, and you and the athlete(child). That’s a nice way of saying I have more power than your parents. Then the athlete’s parents dictate policy through school boards and rants to papers. The coach by working for the school works for the parents. We don’t live in a communist state or dictatorship.

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    wisconman on #82513

    How much of this has to do with the focus of the individual? If a coach or athlete only cares about winning/ doing their best, aren’t they going to sacrifice grades/family etc. to get there? I don’t have a lot of experience in the club vs. High School area, but looking at it from a scholastic point of view I know a lot of coaches who only cared if their athletes got good enough grades to pass, and athletes who only went to school because they wanted to play sports. And how do we judge success? P.R.’s for the athletes that compete, or getting the best athletes in the area to compete for you and maybe not try their best and go to all of the practices but win when it comes to game time? Are we trying to win or teach life goals?

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    Daniel Andrews on #82514

    Wisconman:

    You can do both, excel at athletics and excel academically. Both excellence and success are subjective, but it if you strive to do both you are bound to have conflicts especially if athlete’s are learning life’s lessons. The coaches who only cares if a kid is doing enough to pass classes is not teaching his athlete what he expects on the field of play. Those coaches need to be driven from the scholastic ranks, they don’t belong. If you want excellence you expect it in all areas of an athlete’s development.

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    Kebba Tolbert on #82516

    Not only can you do both, you *should* do both. It’s not an either/or proposition – to present as such is a false dichotomy. I’ve had lots of academic all-conference athletes and academic all-american teams as well as natiuonal champions, conference champs and so on. I am as easily annoyed by people who waste their opportunity for a quality education as I am with those who waste their athletic talent.

    I realize that I may be in the minority here, but I just believe that practice is fairly sacred. I’ve had kids who had to take classes that conflcited with practice. We work around it. Family things do come up, and when reasonable I try to accomodate those things, but it’s not an absolute. With the younger student-athletes I am a lot less flexible until they demonstrate a certain level of responsibility/commitment to excellence.

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    Chad Williams on #82517

    Not only can you do both, you *should* do both. It’s not an either/or proposition – to present as such is a false dichotomy. I’ve had lots of academic all-conference athletes and academic all-american teams as well as natiuonal champions, conference champs and so on. I am as easily annoyed by people who waste their opportunity for a quality education as I am with those who waste their athletic talent.

    I realize that I may be in the minority here, but I just believe that practice is fairly sacred. I’ve had kids who had to take classes that conflcited with practice. We work around it. Family things do come up, and when reasonable I try to accomodate those things, but it’s not an absolute. With the younger student-athletes I am a lot less flexible until they demonstrate a certain level of responsibility/commitment to excellence.

    I am on board.

    I have tried to be the “nice guy” and eventually you get rolled on. Lay out the expectations and make the first few weeks tough. Once you know they are in the trenches with you and earned some respect, show em that you are human.

    I have a small contingent of athletes every year and I still have no problems weeding out the herd. Either you are committed, or you aren’t. Eventually, those that are committed resent those that aren’t and also take away from the time you can be spending with the kids that want to be there.

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    Daniel Andrews on #82519

    Not only can you do both, you *should* do both. It’s not an either/or proposition – to present as such is a false dichotomy. I’ve had lots of academic all-conference athletes and academic all-american teams as well as natiuonal champions, conference champs and so on. I am as easily annoyed by people who waste their opportunity for a quality education as I am with those who waste their athletic talent.

    I realize that I may be in the minority here, but I just believe that practice is fairly sacred. I’ve had kids who had to take classes that conflcited with practice. We work around it. Family things do come up, and when reasonable I try to accomodate those things, but it’s not an absolute. With the younger student-athletes I am a lot less flexible until they demonstrate a certain level of responsibility/commitment to excellence.

    Kebba:

    I don’t think you are in minority if you feel you can work around conflicts. I have had athlete’s miss as many as 3 practices in a week and the next meet they get 4 events (no relays) if they have completed a workout for them to do or altered it in a way that is acceptable. Showing good judgment and expecting it from the athletes is the only route to take. If an athlete cannot demonstrate responsibility or a commitment to excellence they are gone from the team for the season, unexcused absences, slacking, unwillingness to compromise in training methods are the things which can tear a team apart. So goes for lying or being disrespectful to me, you lie to me and continuing lying or you disrespect your teammates or competitors you are gone. Those things are more important than tardiness or absences as both of those could have valid and acceptable reasons. The one thing I took from my military background and applied successfully to Coaching was the Marine Corps leadership traits, “Judgment Justice Dependability Integrity Decisiveness Tact Initiative Endurance Bearing Unselfishness Courage Knowledge Loyalty Enthusiasm” or JJDIDTIEBUCKLE. I guess the difference between coaches is how these traits are applied.

    I don’t even believe family is sacred, some families are better than others at raising children. It’s these families I usually have conflicts with about vacations, doctors appointments, other scholastic activities. The other athletes tend to want to stay away from their families. So then I try to provide that structure to them through the team and school. So there is no way I will even make the team or practice sacred. The goal is to let the athlete find what is best for them. I think ex400 and I learned really quick that what we could expect from male athletes is totally different than female athletes as well.

    In the end I believe my actions as a coach are what allows me to be successful. I know leadership by example is so cliche now, but its true. When athletes and potential athletes see the sacrifices and commitments I make without complaining they are more willing to sacrifice and be committed. When they see I am fair and will back them up when they are in the right, they will be as just and loyal in their judgments. I believe I could on forever on this subject, but I want others to speak up on either side of the issue.

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    RussZHC on #82520

    I can’t speak about all of Canada but locally the mix of school and club is somewhat strange.
    There are two or three larger schools that tend to be organized to a greater degree (why, not sure but it makes sense since with a larger student body they need to be just to function) and as result of that and the large population to pick from, have developed Athletics programs.
    Other schools have only varying degrees of Athletics programs.
    Couple this with a short outdoor season (May and maybe 2 weeks of June) via the school system and those that are really interested or wanting to develop in Athletics are almost forced into involvement with a club.
    This is complicated even more by, excepting a small honorarium, the club coaches are volunteers and those who do coach at schools are most often doing it as part of extra-curricular work; lately this, extra curricular activities, has become a sore spot in terms of union bargaining agreements partially as due to facility use during school hours means many/most activities, sport or otherwise are outside of what used to be “regular” school hours.
    What does this mean? Do you cut programs that enrich all lives? Do you have fully qualified teachers/instructors getting paid more to work more hours? Do you have those same qualified personnel working the same number of hours but less traditional hours?
    I mean if you want to talk about life lessons, can not just as much be learned in either situation? It also means that though it is outside of “regular” hours, the activities at or connected to a school are still for marks. This is carrying the “big stick” as instantly those activities override all others or nearly all others.

    I have always tried to keep it “simple” by allowing decisions to be made but wanting athletes to understand decisions have consequences, including those decisions I make as a coach.
    I agree with parts of much of what has already been said but what I do not understand is if you commit to something how you can not stay committed to that? If you continually commit to things pretty soon you are going to run into issues simply by running out of hours in a day and if this is being shifted to the parents, they certainly need to realize the time involved.
    Sorry, but you can not have it all. If something, sport, school, personal life, etc. has to share, it has been my experience that once that list of “priorities” grows to about 5 in number there will be sacrifices and in some examples enough that 1 or more of those 5 will suffer enough that the level of “excellence” will drop significantly. It sounds mean but if you get a puppy, that is a commitment to the health of that animal for at least a couple of hours every day and that is a couple of hours you don’t have to do something else. Yes, that is a myopic view but each person in charge of the various activities may see that time as time that could be spent with sport, fine arts, work, study, social life etc. [If the example sounds a bit silly, at one point I was on a committee where the meeting dates and times were more or less controlled by whom had to arrive and leave when to get back to their dogs. I like dogs but…]

    I recently read/heard a statement, it may have been somewhere on this web site, but it was very telling, “playing [insert sport here]” or “playing at [insert sport here]” and of course this applies to other activities as well.

    If an athlete commits to 4x per week but then adds a part time job (in this particular example I have in mind, it certainly was not a necessity) and then as the year goes on in school and adds special interest after special interest, the days you said you were committed to change and shift throughout the year until you are down to an average of 2x per week with one or both of those being your “specialty” event, how do you expect to succeed? It is less work in Athletics than you did 2 years ago when competing in a younger age group. Again, sorry, not the way the curve works.

    If you work at something less than what others are willing to do, how do you expect to be competitive? And if you don’t, you have now shifted from competitive to participative and those are two completely different things in athletic terms. For years I have maintained, with a local view, that if someone were to take it to heart that they wanted to be the “best” in event “X”, they could, barring those of natural ability that pop up from time to time, just by putting the time in.

    FYI: the move is now on, locally, to shift more back to the schools and, percentage wise, the numbers have never been bigger.

    Oh, one of the instant “difficulties” created with a club, unless you restrict the age group and even then, is the older age athletes generally will have more freedom of choice but this in turn can cause younger athletes to want the same choices even though both parents and coaches realize they are not mature enough to handle the consequences of some choices, leading to a number of “why can’t I…’discussions'”.
    At some point there is only so much I can “ask” someone to do, then it becomes a choice if they chose to do it or not.

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    Daniel Andrews on #82521

    [quote author="ktolbert" date="1240957959"]Not only can you do both, you *should* do both. It’s not an either/or proposition – to present as such is a false dichotomy. I’ve had lots of academic all-conference athletes and academic all-american teams as well as natiuonal champions, conference champs and so on. I am as easily annoyed by people who waste their opportunity for a quality education as I am with those who waste their athletic talent.

    I realize that I may be in the minority here, but I just believe that practice is fairly sacred. I’ve had kids who had to take classes that conflcited with practice. We work around it. Family things do come up, and when reasonable I try to accomodate those things, but it’s not an absolute. With the younger student-athletes I am a lot less flexible until they demonstrate a certain level of responsibility/commitment to excellence.

    I am on board.

    I have tried to be the “nice guy” and eventually you get rolled on. Lay out the expectations and make the first few weeks tough. Once you know they are in the trenches with you and earned some respect, show em that you are human.

    I have a small contingent of athletes every year and I still have no problems weeding out the herd. Either you are committed, or you aren’t. Eventually, those that are committed resent those that aren’t and also take away from the time you can be spending with the kids that want to be there.[/quote]

    Chad:

    I think you and Kebba mistook what I wrote about tough guy coaches. I am writing more about the coaches who lay down rules so arcane they cannot be enforced from the get go and then later when they are enforced it creates problems. Enforcing rules is not taking care of a discipline problem, and doing it 9-12 weeks into the season when you knew it would conflict at the beginning of the season is not discipline its creating or allowing or hoping a discipline problem will not occur. Coaches have to be flexible and fair at the scholastic level. I agree you have nip problems in the bud, before they bloom into a disaster later on.

    If a coach is laying down a policy that zero practices cannot be missed for whatever reason and tardiness is not accepted then he needs to enforce such a policy from day 1 and the parents meeting by removing any athletes that are going to conflict at the start of the season. This is often the policy most coaches are taught and almost zero adhere to, and if they use it as policy it is going to cause problems. 20-30 years ago I don’t think this would have caused problems.

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    Kebba Tolbert on #82522

    sounds about right to me. We’re really not as far apart (philosophically) as it initially seemed.

    KT

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