Four Steps to Move Coaches Down the Transformational Continuum

One of the things I love most about my job is the constant collaboration I share with my coaches. Many of our conversations quickly go from congenial in nature to collegial as we discuss best practices in coaching. These conversations are often followed up with a book or article recommendation. I was recently emailed a link to a blog entry titled The 5 Stages of A Coach’s Career, by Coach Dawn Redd-Kelly. Her blog post likely leads to some deep reflection for all coaches and athletic directors who read it. The five stages described in Coach Redd-Kelly’s blog entry are:

  1. Survivor (keeping head above water)
  2. Striving for success (earning credibility)
  3. Satisfaction (finally established)
  4. Significance (transformational coaching)
  5. Spent (tired)

After reading the article, I quickly sent a text message back to the coach who sent it to me. I wrote, “So where do you see yourself on the continuum?” His response was somewhere between Stages 4 and 5. Having observed this particular coach grow into one of our strongest, most influential and transformational coaches over the last 20 years—my heart sank. The hard truth we all face as ADs is our best coaches eventually move on or retire. ADs are often tasked with replacing veteran coaches (Stage 4) with new coaches (Stage 1). It is our job to mentor and move our young coaches down the transformational continuum as quickly as possible. So how?

Here are the four steps to get your coaches to transformational:

1. Ease the Burden on New Coaches (Moving coaches from Stage 1 to Stage 2)
Parents and community members often have strong opinions on how a high school sports program should be run without much knowledge of all the things a coach is responsible for doing. Managing staff, creating and updating rosters, scheduling buses, keeping track of equipment and uniform inventory, assigning and supervising locker rooms, and creating protocols for communication and team placements are just a few things a new coach has to consider prior to coaching their first practice. As ADs, we need to be intentional about providing clarity and support for new head coaches in developing a structure for their program. We have to provide the type of autonomy required for ownership but also guide new coaches away from decisions that will cause heartache and drama down the road. We also need to be sure we put systems in place that will help coaches manage their program more efficiently. I urge all ADs to develop and provide a comprehensive coaches handbook (like this one). In addition, promote and provide your coaches with access to tools like Schoology, HUDL, TeamSnap, Remind, Google Drive, MailChimp and Twitter to improve communication with all stakeholders. We as ADs need to do whatever we can to ease the management burden for head coaches so they can spend more time developing relationships with their staff and athletes.

2. Hit the Ground Running (Moving coaches from Stage 3 to Stage 4)
Hiring head coaches is the most important thing we as ADs do. At Prior Lake High School, I use a phone screening tool to ensure I bring forth the best possible transformational head coaching candidates. Each candidate is scored on a rubric in 12 important and vital areas of performance (mission, positivity, developer, empathy, trust, achiever, responsibility, discipline, results, flexibility, influence and problem solver). This process has ensured I bring forward only student-centered and relationship-based coaches to the hiring committee. My face to face interview process includes four questions. Why do you coach? Why do you coach the way you coach? How does it feel to be coached by you? How do you define success? The answers shared to these four questions help me to identify coaches that put their athlete’s interest ahead of themselves, chase influence instead of championships, support and empower athletes and define success by what their athletes go on to accomplish as contributing and productive members of our society after high school.

3. Create a Common Language in Your Community (Moving coaches from Stage 2 to Stage 3)
It is now likely that incoming freshman athletes have already competed for a State or National Championship at the club or youth sport level. Their youth program uniforms were probably new every year, there was no limit to the amount of games played in a season/year and every tournament was likely accompanied by a hotel stay. The experience we provide, as an education-based athletic program, is very different. To give our coaches room to move down the transformational continuum, we need to provide clarity to all stakeholders on how our programs are different than youth and college/pro programs. Education-based programs are an extension of the school day—we are the last class of the day. Our focus is on the growth and development of all of our athletes—physically, mentally, and socially. Less than 1 percent of all high school athletes will play professionally. Less than 3 percent of all high school athletes will participate in NCAA athletics. That means 97 percent of our student athletes will have a terminal experience. I challenge my coaches to plan, prepare, practice, and play to win. That is our goal but it is not our purpose. Our purpose is to support students in developing a meaningful connection to their school that results in love, appreciation, kindness, empathy, and respect for self and others.

4. Emphasize Professional Development and Coach Evaluation
What do we do with our Stage 5 coaches (burning out) or with the coaches who get stuck in Stage 3? How do we ensure that they get back to, or in some cases, move into the influence stage? I am a strong believer in aligning your hiring practices with your professional development practices and your post-season coach evaluation. Remember those 12 areas from the screening tool listed above? (Mission, positivity, developer, empathy, trust, achiever, responsibility, discipline, results, flexibility, influence and problem solver) Create your professional development activities each year around those same 12 areas. Help your coaches define a transformational purpose statement. Create a culture of collaboration among coaches where ideas can be shared safely. Always model honoring the absent and prepare your coaches for the unexpected, negative, random events (UNRE) that are likely to surface throughout the year. Once you have developed a clear path for helping coaches grow in all 12 areas, align your head coach evaluation to it. At the end of the season, take your head coaches through a rubric and be honest about how you see them performing in each of those 12 areas. If they are underperforming in one area, provide them with the tools needed to grow and improve. Set goals for the following year. Most importantly, be there to listen and support your coaches

Our coaches have more influence on young people in one year than most people do in a lifetime. ADs have to find a way to remove the obstacles that prevent them from making a significant impact on their athletes as soon as possible for as long as possible. Hire good people, take as much off their plate as possible, invest in them as leaders, celebrate the good things you see and work to improve the areas of growth. They’ll thank you for it, but more importantly, the athletes and their families will thank you for it.