By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA
Have you ever wondered why high school coaches have to be role models and what exactly is involved? While most of us assume that coaches should be role models, this is a difficult question to answer. It is even a more vexing issue when some professional athletes dismiss the notion that they should be role models.
Why can’t high school coaches also take this stance and simply decline to serve? Since athletics is part of the total high school experience and has educational value and significance, you have no choice. By the very fact that coaches are part of this educational process you are and have to be a role model.
While athletics is not the most important part of the educational offerings of a school, it is the most visible aspect. As such, everything coaches do will be easily observed and under constant scrutiny. This may make the coach one of the most important role models associated with our children’s lives and something that is an absolute expectation of the position.
Since a coach doesn’t have a choice of being a role model, what is involved? Everything! Absolutely everything. This means how we act, express ourselves, what we do and even what we don’t do. We are a walking example for our athletes.
There are several areas in which coaches need to be a role model.
- Sportsmanship. Coaches always need to be under control and conduct themselves with class and dignity. This means showing respect and courtesy to opponents and officials. Coaches can’t expect their athletes to exhibit good sportsmanship if they are berating officials, snarling at clock operators or throwing water bottles. The maxim that actions speak louder than words certainly pertains to coaching.
- Appearance. What is considered appropriate attire on the sidelines of every sport varies considerably, but it should always be professional and within the parameters of each individual sport. For example, a polo shirt and khaki slacks may be perfectly acceptable for a football coach; it isn’t necessary that he wear a coat and tie.
- Sound work ethic. While coaches expect their athletes to play and practice hard, they also have to be equally up to the task. Athletes should be able to expect coaches to thoroughly scout opponents, conduct well-planned practice sessions and to have detail-oriented preparation for all contests.
- Appropriate language. Athletic competition may bring with it occasional frustration and surges in emotion. During these stressful times, coaches cannot use foul or inappropriate language. Athletes do look to coaches and will follow their lead. Educationally, there is no place for inappropriate language in high school athletics.
- High standards. Typically, a coach will expect athletes to be on time for practice sessions and games or to communicate if they will miss them. Coaches also need to exhibit the same traits, because athletes do take note.
It is also important to be true to your word, a person of integrity and ethics. This sets the precedent for your athletes to follow your team rules, athletic codes of conduct and rules of the game.
- Positive attitudes. Not only will enthusiastic and encouraging approaches obtain the best results from athletes, these are also important qualities that they should develop. Being positive breeds optimism and a sense of hope and these are key elements for future efforts.
- Healthy lifestyle. When considering the dangers of smoking, illegal drugs and steroids, coaches have great influence with their athletes. Coaches not only need to educate and counsel their athletes with regard to these dangers, but serving as a role model can be the most effective teaching technique.
In addition, most sports require a high level of physical conditioning. While there should be allowances for the natural aging process, it is also important that coaches not only preach fitness but that they also model it.
- Personal deportment. When coaches relate to people in a polite, respectful and dignified manner, they will usually gain more effort, cooperation and commitment from them. This doesn’t mean that coaches can’t yell at practice sessions or games. It is OK for coaches to exhort their athletes to execute and to play with maximum effort; however, athletes will quickly follow the lead on what is acceptable in terms of civility and courtesy. When also coupled with care and compassion, coaches play a major part in the character development of young people.
- Academic attainment. Athletic participation often helps to provide the impetus or motivation for athletes to succeed academically. A coach, however, has to give more than lip service to this goal.
This could mean that a coach may have to occasionally excuse an athlete from practice to get extra help or tutoring in a subject or to make up a missed exam. It could also mean cutting practice sessions short during exams or testing times during the season. Taking these measures clearly shows that academic achievement is paramount for young people.
In light of these important attributes and expectations, not surprisingly, parents and the public can apply several Litmus Tests to determine if coaches are effective role models. They can ask:
- Would I want my son or daughter to play for that coach?
- Is this person a suitable walking ambassador for our school?
- What will our student-athletes take away from their association and relationship with this coach?
If these questions can’t be answered in a positive, resounding fashion, a coach may not be a good role model for their sons or daughters. Also if this were the case, it would be totally realistic that the next step for some parents would be to push for a coaching change. They, after all, only want the best for their kids.
Any potential list of traits that should be involved with being a role model can be pretty intimidating to some coaches and certainly involves great responsibility. It may be a huge challenge to be a good, positive role model, but it also brings great rewards. If done properly, coaches will see their athletes grow and develop, not merely in athletic ability, but as mature, responsible young people. Isn’t this the true value of athletics? It all starts with coaches serving as role models.
(Reprinted from the Summer 2005 NFHS Coaches’ Quarterly)
About the Author:
Dr. David Hoch recently retired as the athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 350 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as two textbook chapters. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.