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Demonstrating Appreciation Key Factor to Retaining Coaches

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA on May 17, 2019 hst Print

In every high school athletic program, there will always be an individual or two who resigns his or her coaching position after the season, and this can be due to any number of logical reasons. Some may have invested many years into helping student-athletes, and they are simply worn out. There will also be individuals who have reached the end of their teaching career and will retire. Others may step aside due to family considerations. All of these are reasonable and understandable decisions.

When coaches begin relinquishing their positions at a greater rate and for other than common, normal reasons, there should be a degree of concern. For some districts, finding qualified coaches is extremely difficult and challenging. Therefore, it should be a major goal to retain those high-quality individuals who are an excellent fit for education-based athletics. You don’t want a revolving door and have to constantly replace good coaches.

In an effort to retain coaches, one might look to the corporate world for some answers. In this sector, salaries and bonuses are the major motivators and tools for retaining valued employees. While this is fairly obvious, companies have also realized that showing appreciation for well-performing individuals comes a close second. This is and should be a road map for athletic administrators.

Unlike the corporate model, it isn’t possible to give coaches raises or bonuses to reward great work or effort. Coaching salaries are standard scales developed through negotiations with the school board and, therefore, this isn’t the answer to retaining coaches. The demonstration of appreciation for these outstanding individuals by administrators – not just athletic directors – will go a long way toward retaining coaches.

Beyond purchasing the typical school-logo sweatshirt or jacket, what should athletic directors and administrators do to demonstrate appreciation for their coaches?

  • Publicly acknowledge and praise the accomplishments of coaches, beyond the obvious victories on the field or court. This step should include highlighting community-service projects, efforts to help their athletes with college applications and recruiting, and everything positive that they do. Settings such as pre-season parent meetings, booster club meetings and parent-teacher association meetings, as well as end-of-season awards programs are perfect for this purpose.
  • Post and promote all coaches who earn their NFHS Accredited Interscholastic Coach and Certified Interscholastic Coach designations. Let the community know that they are serious professionals who have prepared to offer the best possible educational environment for students.
  • Don’t forget to thank coaches when you see them during the week, something as simple as, “Thanks for the great job that you do on behalf of our student-athletes. Keep up the great work.” A few words in passing work wonders to demonstrate that you notice and value their enormous contributions to the growth and development of student- athletes. This is a simple step, but extremely effective.
  • Support your coaches when they are confronted by misguided, overbearing parents. This effort can take the form of sitting in on any potentially contentious conference or meeting and serving as a third party to ensure civility and proper decorum. By standing behind your coaches, they understand that you care about them. This creates the type of culture you need in order to retain coaches.
  • Cover the costs for coaches taking NFHS coach education courses that are steps toward earning their national certification. This serves a dual purpose. You get your coaches certified, which should be a major goal representing professionalism, and you also demonstrate appreciation by taking care of the expense involved.
  • Nominate your coaches for any pertinent awards for which they may qualify. In most cases, they can’t take this step themselves. By submitting their name and the information needed, this shows you value their efforts and are proud of them. Also, if they actually win an award or receive an honor, this is another item which should be posted on social media and your website. From a marketing or public relations perspective, an honor or award is a positive recognition of a coach and this is a gold mine.
  • Lobby and work with your administrators and school board to try and increase the coaching stipends. While money may not be the major reason why someone coaches, your efforts to improve their compensation will be viewed as a positive, supportive attempt to help them. They will see you as championing and valuing everything that they do.
  • Don’t forget to use annual evaluations of coaches as a vehicle to formally detail all of the positive things that they do for student-athletes and your program. While evaluations typically include a few recommendations for growth and improvement, the narrative section should also emphasize and highlight the strengths and extensive efforts of coaches. An evaluation is, therefore, a great way to recognize and show appreciation, and the final copy is usually shared with the principal and superintendent.
  • Be available, even in your extremely busy schedule, to listen to, advise and even allow coaches to vent when needed on occasion. This gesture or opportunity clearly demonstrates that you support and value their efforts, and it also establishes a culture in which coaches will want to continue and remain.
  • Ask for input from head coaches as to which non-league teams they would prefer to play if possible. Also, seriously take their suggestions or recommendations when it comes to hiring assistant or junior varsity coaches. Steps such as these create a good working relationship, which demonstrates that you value their efforts and involvement in your program.

Quite often, expressing gratitude, encouragement and providing backing may be done subtly and behind the scenes. However, coaches see and understand when they are valued and supported. The aspect of demonstrating appreciation cannot be understated, and it is an important key to retention.