Aligning Your Everyday Practices with the InSideOut Initiative

So you’ve read the book InsideOut Coaching by Joe Erhman and you’ve started to develop some common language around goals versus purpose, transformational coaching and moral character in your school community. You feel good about the progress made so far and believe there is room in our current win-at-all-costs sports culture for purpose-based athletics. So what’s next for you on your journey to becoming an InSideOut school? It is now time to put your vision into action by aligning your hiring practices, professional development practices and your coach evaluation process with the InSideOut Initiative. Here’s how:

Hiring practices
The most important thing we can do as athletic directors to influence change is to hire transformational coaches to lead our programs. Have you stopped to reflect on your hiring process? What does your head coach job description say about the type of candidate you are looking for to fill a vacancy? What type of process do you use to screen potential candidates? What questions do you ask and what are you hoping to hear or learn from a potential candidate during the interview?

Purposed-based head coach job description
What traits are you looking for when searching for a head-coaching candidate? Are you transparent about the traits you feel are most important? A purpose-based job description should include basic qualifications for your next coach, traits of an effective coach, performance responsibilities, and job goals. The job description we post online should be a billboard for how education-based athletic programs are different than youth sports and professional sports. As AD’s we need to highlight the traits of an effective coach. These traits should align with your coach evaluation rubric and professional development topics. I believe an effective coach demonstrates a high degree of empathy, positivity, trust, responsibility, discipline, and flexibility. I want my head coach to be a developer, teacher, achiever, and problem solver.

Screening potential head coaches candidates
After you develop a comprehensive job description that lays out exactly what you are looking for in your next head coaching candidate, it is important you develop tools for ensuring that type of candidate makes it to the interview table. A 30-minute phone screening is a great way to evaluate potential candidates. The InSideOut Initiative screening tool asks three questions for each one of the following categories: Developer, teacher, achiever, problem solver, empathy, positivity, trust, responsibility, discipline, and flexibility. The tool provides “look for” items for each question. The candidate earns a point each time they hit the “look for” item while answering. After 30 minutes, you will have a pretty good idea of where your coach’s strength and weaknesses are in terms of being a transformational coach. It becomes quite clear which candidates are worth bringing forward to the interview panel.

Interview questions
I ask every potential head coaching candidate the same four questions.

  1. Why you coach?
  2. Why do you coach the way you do?
  3. How does it feel to be coached by you?
  4. How do you define success?

The four questions come directly from Joe Erhman’s book, InSideOut Coaching, and can be incredibly helpful in finding transformational coaching candidates.

Why do you coach?
I want to hear the candidate share a passion for working with young people and a desire to change the arc of every athlete’s life. Candidates will often share a story about a coach they had while growing up that said or did something that influenced their life. It is important for me to hear a desire for using their platform as a coach for teaching moral character and for being a positive role model. Sports do not teach character. Coaches, who are intentional about teaching life lessons, teach character.

Why do you coach the way you do?
This question forces the candidate to reflect on their past playing and coaching experiences. Young coaches, new to the profession, will often reflect back on a coach they had played for in high school or college. I am interested in hearing if this person is still a mentor in their life today. Was the athlete/coach relationship an important one to this person? If I am interviewing a seasoned coach, they will often reflect on a coach or a staff that they’ve coached with recently. I am hoping to hear about lessons they’ve learned or observed from others. In both instances, the candidate should share that they coach they way they do because they had great coaches or they coach they way they do because they had terrible coaches and learned what not to do or say to athletes. With each candidate, I want to hear they instill value in every athlete on their team.

How does it feel to be coached by you?
This seems to be the most difficult question for coaches to answer. I’ve found most coaches never ask or hear from their athletes how it feels to be coached by them. I am hoping to hear coaching candidates say that their athletes feel loved, cared for, valued, supported, safe and a sense of belonging.

How do you define success?
Success for any program goes way beyond the result on a scoreboard. Winning is important. We plan, prepare, practice and play to win every game. But winning is not why we exist. I want to hear my next head coach list three things that will help them define a successful season. Did my players have fun? Did my players improve? Did my players grow and develop as human beings?

Who is on your hiring committee?
We often have fuzzy agreements with our school board and at times, schools administration, boosters and community members. In most cases, a school board member, parents or the president of the PTC is not part of a hiring committee for a teaching position. I would argue most administrative positions are also hired without the direct input of a school board or a parent representative. So, why is the position of athletic director or a head coach treated differently? I believe input from all stakeholders is important. For that reason, part of the process I follow when hiring a new head coach is to create listening sessions for each stakeholder group. I don’t believe you can expect stakeholder buy-in if you don’t allow for some stakeholder weigh in. That being said, athletes, parents, and boosters graduate or move on. Gather as much input and information as you can, but do not give them a seat at the table. Athletic directors are charged with hiring head coaches and their staff. A large hiring committee can complicate the process. Instead, limit your committee to 1-2 others that share are committed to your mission and vision. If you are stuck between two strong candidates, have your Principal sit in one final round of interviews to help you make your final decision.

Professional development
If hiring is the most important thing AD’s do to make room in our current win-at-all costs sports culture, then mentoring and leading for change through consistent and relevant professional development is the next most important thing we can do. Unless you are opening a new school, you likely inherited many of the coaches on your staff. Just like coaches would challenge their athletes to recognize their weaknesses and work to improve them, we also need to help our coaches grow and develop along the transformational coaching continuum. Let’s go back to our job description. I believe an effective coach demonstrates a high degree of empathy, positivity, trust, responsibility, discipline, and flexibility. I want my coaches to be developers, teachers, achievers and problem solvers. Every article, book study, video, and presentation I give to my coaches reflects the characteristics shared in the transformational job description. As AD’s, we have to provide the resources necessary for continued growth and give our coaches the time, space and support to grow. Providing the space to grow means we as AD’s must stand tall against the resistance to change. Our parents, youth programs, and administration need the same professional development to take place. This is why developing a common language in your community is so important.

Coach Evaluation: If nothing changes, nothing changes
I used to dread the coach evaluation process. At the end of each season, I would bring a coach in and evaluate how they did. We’d go over parent/athlete surveys and a rubric that was based primarily on wins and loses. I’ve since changed my process and aligned it with my job description, hiring tools and professional development. My head coaches are scored in each of the following areas: empathy, positivity, trust, responsibility, discipline and flexibility, developer, teacher, achiever and problem solver. I start each meeting by reading their purpose statement and asking them, “How’d ya do?” We go through each category on the rubric and we both reflect on where the program is and how well the coach performed. I ask my coaches to reflect on the three things I feel are most important in determining success. Did your athletes have fun, and how do you know? Did your athletes improve? (3D pyramid, fundamentals, psychology of sport, spirit) Did your athletes grow and develop as human beings? What life lessons will they take them with them?

I understand the demands of this job. The management responsibilities of being an Athletic Director are time-consuming and often overwhelming. If you spend the time to write a transformational job description and you align your hiring practices, professional development and coach evaluation to that job description, it will save you time and lead you down a path for much greater influence with coaches, parents, athletes and your community. You can make a difference. As you start the journey, you’ll begin to see how much more rewarding and fun this job is.