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Coping with the Coaching Shortage

This article originally appeared in the October 1988 issue of AB.


The law of supply and demand is definitely at work at the high school coaching level. Whereas a few years ago, physical education teachers were responsible for a school’s coaching duties, an increasing number of students participating in sports and a decreasing number of teachers who want to coach have caused an alarming shortage in the number of qualified personnel to fill coaching vacancies.

Chief among the contributing causes was the advent of Title IX. As more and more girls began to participate in sports, the demand for women’s coaches grew at a rate far exceeding the supply. In addition, given the pressures of home and child care, many women found the rigors of coaching too demanding on their lifestyles.

Another factor is the increase in the number of boys’ sports and the number of boys participating. Finally, many long-time coaches have given up coaching duties due to the demanding time commitment and lack of adequate remuneration, but still retain teaching positions, causing a need for a new coach, but no teaching position to accompany the coaching duties.

“People come in and take teaching and coaching positions and then they drop the coaching position,” says Sam Adams, professor of physical education, sport and leisure studies at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. “That just cuts you out of a potential coach.”

Adams also feels that the pressure to win has caused some coaches to call it quits.

“Let’s face it, the pressure has gone down to the high school (level) and you’ve got to win in order to stay in coaching. It’s taken a lot of the fun out of it for coaches and for players.

“The other factor is the number of hours. Many coaches, as they’ve gotten older and perhaps wiser, just don’t want to put in those kinds of hours,” says Adams.

Yet another factor is declining enrollments, says Rainer Martens, founder of the American Coaching Effectiveness Program, a youth sport and high school coaching education program based in Champaign, Ill.

“In some places, enrollments are declining, new teachers are not coming into programs and older teachers are saying they don’t want to coach,” says Martens. “They don’t want to give up their evenings and weekends, and the salaries in coaching are very poor.”


Turning to Walk-Ons

Lacking a suitable number of teacher-coaches, many school districts have turned to non-faculty or walk-on coaches to help alleviate the coaching shortage. The problem with utilizing non-faculty or walk-on coaches, however, is that many of these individuals, although familiar with a sport, may have little experience or training in the fundamentals of coaching.

“If the state of Washington is any kind of thermometer, one of the biggest problems we have here is finding competent coaches and enough of them,” says Adams. “In fact, they’re having trouble finding enough people who have coached, period.

“I don’t mean to imply incompetence, but simply the fact that they do not have the experience nor the training. In Oregon, two of the coaches in two of the bigger leagues in the state said they don’t know what to do. They many have to drop some teams because they don’t have anybody to coach them.”

Although no scientific survey has been done on the number of non-faculty or walk-on coaches utilized, Martens says administrators in California have estimated that 50 percent of their coaches are non-faculty, while administrators in Maine estimate that 70 percent of their coaches are walk-ons.

Preliminary results of a recent survey by the Youth Sports Institute at Michigan State University seem to indicate that the lack of qualified coaches has affected students as well.

“We surveyed 34,000 students between the ages of 10 and 18 in 18 large metropolitan areas,” says Vern Seefeldt, founder and director of the Institute. “If you listen to what these (kids) have to say, there are two primary problems in sports today. One is that sports are demanding too much of their time and more effort than they’re willing to give and the other is unqualified coaches. Those are the two things that really stood out in the survey.

“That’s the first time we’ve been aware of that kind of criticism directed toward high school coaches,” says Seefeldt. “We’ve always seen this in the non-school sports where we expected the novice coaches to receive a lot of criticism, but I think at this point, the high schools are in the same category because they’ve taken in a lot of these unqualified coaches.”

Some school districts, in an effort to obtain coaches who have more daily contract with student-athletes than walk-on coaches do, require that coaches be staff teachers, regardless of whether they’ve had any coaching training.

“(Schools) want someone in the school doing the coaching,” says Adams. “They’ve had a lot of problems with (the non-faculty coaches) because they’re not around the kids except on the coaching field. So, they give preference to someone who’s on the faculty rather than someone who’s just coming out of the community.”

Martens feels utilizing teachers who may lack coaching skills is not the solution, however.

“By and large, I think there’s almost as good a probability of getting a good coach by selecting a non-teacher coach as selecting a teacher-coach,” says Martens. “In my mind, that’s all based on a false assumption that because you’re licensed as a teacher you’re going to be qualified as a coach. I think it’s pretty obvious to people that training as a good math teacher does not necessarily qualify you to be a good coach.”

Regardless of whether schools obtain teacher-coaches or non-faculty coaches, some sort of training is desirable, particularly in this litigious age. But how do budget-conscious schools obtain coaches who are qualified?


Varying Solutions

Most schools do require that all coaches, whether faculty or non-faculty, take a first aid course.

“That’s probably the bottom line for any of them,” says Adams “From there on, they’re glad to have someone there with the kids, whether they know much or not.”

“The best bargain for any high school athletic director is to have some professional individuals come in and give workshops for their coaches,” says Seefeldt. “We’re doing that in Michigan now. The Michigan State High School Athletic Association and the Youth Sports Institute are providing the expertise for four sessions of a voluntary 15-hour workshop. For the fifth session, we’re drawing from the ranks of coaches and athletic directors.”

The Michigan programs, which also includes a 400-page, take-home handbook, is intended for faculty coaches, as well as non-faculty individuals.

“The athletic directors tell us that there are as many faculty coaches who need this kind of information because they no longer come exclusively from the ranks of people in physical education with a coaching minor,” says Seefeldt. “Many of them don’t have any more background in coaching than the walk-on coach, so we think that the 15-hour refresher course—or for many a new course—is the best way an athletic director can ensure that coaches receive essential information.”

Other schools or school districts have taken it upon themselves to develop coaching seminars similar to the program in Michigan.

One such program was undertaken by the Anaheim, Calif., school district. Although California does not require certification, Title V of the California Administrative Code requires that all walk-on coaches meet a number of requirements in order to assume coaching duties. These include experience in the specific sport they’re going to coach or courses in the teaching of sports activities; child psychology; a current first aid certificate; and coaching techniques.

M. Jene Mangan, former director of instructional services for the Anaheim Union High School District and current principal of Magnolia High School in Anaheim, designed the first walk-on coaching handbook utilized in California for some 400 walk-on coaches at 16 schools in the Anaheim district. The handbook has become a model for other California high schools.

“What we did was set up our own certification program by using the walk-on coaches’ handbook in what amounts to about an 8-hour orientation they are required to go through,” says Mangan. “Once they’ve gone through the orientation, they don’t have to repeat it, but they must keep their CPR and first aid up-to-date.”

Mangan says that by utilizing the certification program to attract walk-on coaches, the district hasn’t had to drop any sports.

“Once they’re employed, our employees stay with us and we were having a problem of super-maturity on the part of our staff. After they had coached a number of years, they decided they had coached all they could possibly coach,” says Mangan. “We didn’t have any jobs to offer, but we had the (coaching) openings.”

Still other states have walk-on coaching clinics operated by local colleges. One of the earlier programs was the Walk-On Coach Training Workshop at California State University at Sacramento, developed by Donald Fuoss, Ph.D., professor-emeritus of physical education at CSUS.

The program began four years ago and was originally intended for teachers of other disciplines to learn coaching principles. After its first year, however, Fuoss changed the program to accommodate non-faculty coaches who needed further training under California’s Title V restrictions.

“I went back and revised the course so that a minimum of 30 hours was necessary. We had two separate courses of 15 hours each. One dealt with adolescent psychology as it relates to sports participation and with coaching methods and techniques, while the other dealt with first aid, CPR and taping,” says Fuoss.

Marten’s American Coaching Effectiveness Program is another solution some states have taken. Martens says research for the ACEP program began in 1976 with level I of the curriculum released in 1981. Since its release, Martens says some 70,000 coaches have been trained—70 percent at the youth sports level and 30 percent at the high school level. The program features several options, including an 8-hour clinic and a self-study phase where participants study a manual and take a take-home test, which typically takes another 20 hours to cover.

“The Level I curricula was originally intended for the youth coach, but we’re finding that the program is much more appealing at the program is much more appealing at the high school coaches in Maine, who has trained some 70 percent of the high school coaches in Maine, a state that utilizes the programs. Other states where non-faculty coaches are required to meet certain educational requirements, of which the ACEP program is one of those requirements, include Kansas and Florida.


Other Possibilities

Beyond coaching seminars and clinics, Adams says a lot of the responsibility should rest with the head coach to educate non-faculty coaches who may not be familiar with coaching techniques.

“Someone might come in who played (football) in 1975 and loves to coach, so he volunteers,” says Adams. “In 1975, the popular thing was to spear and hit with the head as an initial point of contact. Well, that’s illegal now, so somebody has to make sure that this person knows the up-to-date techniques that are being used.

“I still think part of the answer is to have a coaching minor in the colleges,” says Adams, who feels that a coaching minor is the first step in the passage of mandatory certification requirements by states.

Seefeldt agrees that mandatory certification is necessary, but a long way off.

“I don’t think mandatory certification is a possibility in the near future, because there are so many sports and so many coaches needed and so few teaching positions available that individuals are just not going to subscribe to that unless the school has a teaching position for them,” says Seefeldt. “Unless we can find that, we’ll just have to be content with walk-on coaches.

“In that situation, there are two ways you can get the walk-on coaches to meet (coaching) requirements. First, pay them more for coaching. Coaching wages are tremendously low on a per-hour basis. The other way is to provide scholarships for walk-on coaches (to attend certification programs). In other words, paying the registration fee and saying, “We expect you to attend.”

“It would be nice to see somebody do a study of what’s paid to other people who lead activities and compare pay. For the number of hours that coaches put in, the pay is horrendous,” says Adams, who feels that steps must be taken to bring more women back into coaching.

“We still haven’t had a long enough time to bring the young girls up through competition where they just thrive on it like boys do That’s probably happening a little bit more every year,” but not at a steady enough pace to make former women athletes more interested in coaching careers.


Future Unclear

The answer to the coaching shortage is complex and a dilemma that some school districts are currently experimenting with and others will face in the future.

“I don’t think it will be solved for at least 10 years,” says Adams, “because I don’t think people in general are acknowledging that they really do have a problem. Every year you hear a little bit more rumble, though, and I think eventually something will have to be done.”

“I think it will become state law in all states by the year 2000 that coaches will have to meet minimal qualifications,” says Martens. “The courts will push us in that direction and we’ll find the best way to avoid litigation is to train our coaches. If we don’t train them, the cost of insurance will be so high, it will dictate that we train them.”

Martens says he feels in the next 10 years, schools will examine ways to implement certification cost-effectively and provide a quality curriculum.

“What we’re seeing now are some people jumping on the bandwagon and creating what are really pretty flaky curriculums,” says Martens. “As with any new trend, sometimes just offering something seems to satisfy those who are requesting that some education happen, but what’s really important is for sports administrators to look at what is really being learned in these programs.

“When we first started trying to promote coaching education in the mid- ‘70s, we couldn’t get many sport organizations to listen,” says Martens. “Today that situation has changed. Almost all sport administrators and organizations recognize the need for coaching education.”

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