In Writing

January 29, 2015
When a coach's behavior doesn't match your expectations, it can help to have a written job description ready and waiting.
By David Paling

David Paling recently retired from the Middleboro (Mass.) Public Schools were he had served as Director of Athletics, Health & Physical Education since 1987.

Most jobs are accompanied by job descriptions. But when it comes to high school coaching, that's not always the case.

When I began my career as Athletic Director at Middleboro (Mass.) High School many years ago, there were no written job descriptions for our coaches. I quickly realized that this raised problems.

For one, I had certain fundamental beliefs about what coaches were responsible for, which some did not share. What was obvious to me was not necessarily obvious to all of our coaches.

Second, I found that individual team rules did not always reflect our athletic department's philosophy and goals. Coaches did not understand that their role was to further school vision, not develop their own focus.

Some coaches had gotten used to doing things their own way, and there was no written document I could refer to that would indicate they weren't meeting my expectations. Therefore, I developed a written job description (and had it approved by the school committee) that became part of the criteria for evaluating coaches.

It proved to be a great way to get all coaches rowing in the same direction. I revised the document as times changed or as the focus of the department shifted. The following are the most current 12 main responsibilities of our coaches.

- Coaches are responsible for the planning and delivery of daily practices, which will include sport specific fundamentals and techniques, formations and strategies, positioning, rules, conditioning, and safety.

This makes it clear that coaches are required to be specialists relative to their sport, and they must use this knowledge to make practices effective. The word daily (referring to weekdays) reminds coaches that they must administer practice sessions regardless of any mitigating factors such as bad weather or timing conflicts.

- Coaches are responsible to stay current with changes and trends in their sport through college courses, participation in clinics, and professional interaction with fellow coaches.

It is important for veteran coaches to engage in professional development because it is easy to become entrenched in doing the same thing for years. Professional development is just as critical for the new coach whose repertoire of skills and overall knowledge may be limited.

- Coaches are responsible for all paperwork, which includes completing and submitting all local, league, and state requests for information, in accordance with established timelines and procedures.

Throughout the course of the season, coaches have a lot of forms to process and numerous deadlines to meet, from eligibility paperwork to game schedules. Placing this expectation within the job description gives an athletic director the leverage needed to keep coaches focused on this important task.

- Coaches are responsible for the supervision of all team members beginning with their arrival in the locker room prior to the start of practices or games, and ending when the last student-athlete has met with transportation home.

I have observed coaches who have left for the night even though athletes on their team were still at the school. This opens the door for litigation should something unforeseen happen. The supervision of athletes from start to finish is a serious obligation that must be done each and every day.

- Coaches are responsible for enforcing compliance with all rules in both the student-athlete and state handbooks. They are also responsible for establishing and maintaining specific team rules and taking appropriate disciplinary measures when necessary.

This ensures that coaches have full knowledge of the rules they must follow. It also makes sure team rules do not conflict with athletic department rules and there is a degree of uniformity amongst our programs. Finally, it speaks to the fact that when coaches become aware of a student-athlete breaking a rule, they need to respond in a timely and appropriate way.

- Coaches are responsible for the continuous promotion and publicity of their sport by working with the media and parents and by their involvement in school sponsored endeavors such as spirit week, the school newspaper, yearbook, and program booklets.

Promoting student-athletes and their accomplishments will yield nothing but positives for the athletic department. Good public relations attracts newcomers to the fan base, keeps alumni connected with the school, and helps to foster greater support in terms of donations. In addition, a bright spotlight on a program leads to increased participation.

- Coaches are responsible for emphasizing student-athlete welfare, including the areas of drug and alcohol use, sportsmanship, hazing, academic eligibility, and concussion protocol.

Along with covering these issues in our athletic handbook, we require coaches to provide some form of education on them. Our modus operandi has been preventative.

- Coaches are responsible for actively assisting student-athletes in achieving their college acceptance goals.

This item requires that coaches write references for athletes upon request, for both the college entrance application and the college coach if that athlete is interested in playing at the next level. It also means that coaches should find time to meet with any college coach that expresses an interest in an athlete. This statement clearly indicates that the coaching season is not confined to the first day of practice through the final game of the season. We want all of our coaches available to help student-athletes throughout the year with this important process.

- Coaches will interact positively with coaches of other sports, and work to promote the best interests of all student-athletes at all times.

Having experienced clashes between coaches of different sports over things like sharing gym time and budget allocations, it became necessary to introduce this statement into the job description. The intention is to show coaches that we are all striving toward a common good and need to support one another. It also helps to promote an esprit de corps within the coaching ranks.

- Coaches are responsible for maintaining all applicable safety standards with regards to student-athletes, fields, facilities, equipment, and training as a matter of routine, and to conform with athletic department general injury/training procedures and emergency medical procedures, as well as state laws governing the care of student-athletes with concussions.

We have a written medical emergency plan in place coaches must follow whenever needed. We also expect that mouthguards will be worn in sports that require them, pitching screens will be used in baseball and softball, equipment is locked up until the coach is on-site, only certified football helmets are used, water is supplied to athletes and can be accessed at any time, and all coaches have the athletic trainer's cell phone number with them at all times. This part of the job description helps ensure the coach's awareness of risk management issues is at a high level so we can keep our student-athletes as safe as possible.

- Coaches are responsible for meeting with parents during the preseason.

Parents have the opportunity to attend a preseason meeting so they can meet their child's coach and ask questions. We specify within the job description the areas coaches must address in these meetings: concussion protocol, required paperwork, team rules, alcohol and drug abuse, hazing, transportation policies, injury procedures, and general philosophy.

- Coaches are responsible for their personal conduct and player conduct during all practices and games.

Since coaches serve as role models for young people and are representatives of our school, they must exemplify the highest standards of conduct at all times. Having this statement within the job description promotes professionalism amongst coaches. It is then understood that such things such as attire, punctuality, and respectful treatment of student-athletes are important, and that coaches must never use drugs or argue excessively with officials. Players are expected to carry themselves as good citizens, abiding by all rules in our handbooks (addressing such matters as profanity, fighting, bullying, theft, and so forth) at all times.

Our job description also underscores that coaching appointments are seasonal and that failure to adhere to these responsibilities may result in non-renewal. It provides the foundation for making expectations both clear and formal, which can be used as a reference point--either for improvement plans, or dismissal if a coach fails to conform with the duties of the job.

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