An Important Evaluation Tool: Senior Exit Interviews

The purpose of high school athletics and activities is to provide adolescents with valuable experiences which complement the educational mission of our schools. All good coaches and administrators recognize and understand the focus of our programs must be the youth we serve—we know it’s about the kids. Unfortunately, there are many pitfalls which try to distract us from our purpose and the reason we coach and administer high school sports. Whether it is bus orders, facility reservations, game schedules, practice plans, answering emails, returning phone calls, game workers, game programs, concession stands, securing officials, cash boxes, eligibility, or figuring out who is going to sing the National Anthem tonight—the list goes on and on. This juggling act is difficult, and prioritizing is sometimes harder yet.

Evaluation, assessment, and feedback tools are included in this juggling act for many of us. Too frequently soliciting and collecting feedback is viewed as a necessary evil, or skipped altogether. This post will highlight an InSideOut way to gather the important and needed feedback which allows us to better serve the youth of our programs and provide the best experiences possible.

In the past, St. Anthony Village High School (SAVHS) had used different survey and feedback tools. The most frequently used tool was an anonymous survey which yielded little constructive feedback to help our coaches identify areas for improvement. What valuable information did exist in these surveys was often clouded by anonymous gut-punches. Looking for a better way to gather student input, for the past several years we have benefited from a method of student exit interviews. This is a very effective method to connect with athletes and to provide coaches with great feedback.

Here’s how it works:

  • The goal is to meet with approximately six athletes from each sport near the end of the season. I pick seniors as much as possible since they have the greatest breadth and depth of experiences in that program.
  • The end of a season (and career) brings a lot of emotion for our athletes. I try to schedule exit interviews just before the playoffs begin.
  • I meet with athletes one-on-one in my office. I start by thanking them for their time and explaining the purpose of our time together. It’s important to make sure the athlete is comfortable speaking about his or her experiences. I let the athlete know they should only discuss topics they are comfortable talking about and that our conversation is confidential and anonymous.
  • Each exit interview lasts about 10 minutes. This process gathers a lot of great information in a short amount of time. It also allows me to connect with our student participants to build better relationships and more trust. I am usually done with exit interviews for a sport in an hour—and it’s one of the best-used hours of the year for me.
  • There are six questions I ask each student-athlete and then I end with a visual activity. These questions can be tailored to your school, but at SAVHS we use:
  1. Can you tell me about your best experiences in [sport name]?
  2. Can you tell me about your worst experiences in [sport name]?
  3. If you were the coach, what would you do to improve the program?
  4. How did it feel to be coached by Coach [name]?
  5. What did you think of this character education lessons?
  6. Is there anything else you would like to tell me?

For the final activity, I show each athlete a coaching continuum (shown below) and describe to them what transactional versus transformational coaching looks like. I then ask each athlete to plot her/his coach on this continuum. (I use a new, clean sheet for each athlete.) After averaging all of the students’ replies, I then make a final copy showing the athletes’ average response to give to the coach during our post-season meeting.

You can tailor the questions to your setting and priorities. Here’s a little background on the reasons for the questions we ask.

Question 1 and 2: These two questions are built from my dissertation research on athletes’ best and worst experiences in high school sports. I am continually amazed by the amount of rich information these two questions produce.

Question 3: The third question is worded in a way so it does not feel like it is about their coach, rather looking for ideas they would have to make the program better.

Question 4: The fourth question is one of Joe Ehrmann’s big questions in his book InSideOut Coaching. Asking this question allows for great feedback to the coach about how it really does feel to be one of his/her athletes.

Question 5: The fifth question connects to our school’s character education efforts. At SAVHS we place a priority on building better people, not just better athletes. Each week our programs lead a lesson intended to focus on character development. I always enjoy asking athletes their thoughts about these lessons. It helps us improve our program and hone in on our future direction.

Question 6: The last question before asking athletes to plot their coach on the coaching continuum is open-ended. I want our athletes to have the ability to tell me anything they think their AD should be aware of, even if it is totally unrelated to my first questions.

Final activity: The visual activity also comes from Ehrmann and InSideOut Coaching. It is another opportunity to discuss common language with our athletes and the results give the coach a very clear and quick understanding of how their athletes view them. Sometimes coaches have a very different perception of themselves versus what their athletes hear, see, and feel each day. This exercise is great for our athletes and provides important insight for our coaches.

Once done with the student exit interviews, I compile all the information from each student interview and create a final document I share with coaches at their post-season meeting. While it is important to remind our coaches the information is coming from the eyes of a teenager and that sometimes their reality is different from ours. Our coaches are very good about accepting the useful information from this feedback and incorporating the ideas into their coaching. This student feedback is consistently some of the best feedback they receive.

There is one other outcome worth mentioning. Through student exit interviews, you will gather a lot of great input about the great relationships and experiences coaches build and create. As we move the definition of success away from a win-at-all-costs mentality, the time spent and information gleaned gathering testimonials from student-athletes about how great a coach made them feel, how much they enjoyed their experiences, and that the coach truly is transformational, is worth its weight in gold!