By David Hoch, CMAA
It is difficult to imagine anyone in interscholastic athletics who hasn’t heard about the philosophical concept of education-based athletics. Whether one has or hasn’t, education-based athletics is the approach in which the interests of the student-athlete come first. Therefore, this also means that winning is not the most important outcome in high school athletics.
Young people should learn life-long values and qualities, develop and grow as a person, and understand and embrace sportsmanship. These are just a few of the outcomes that are ultimately much more important than winning. This doesn’t mean that coaches and teams shouldn’t prepare and strive to win, because they should as long as this is not the singular or ultimate objective.
If continuing to prepare and striving to win finds its right place in the equation, what does this mean and what is involved? Good coaches should:
- Prepare well-thought out, sound and comprehensive practice plans. This step is akin to classroom teachers preparing a solid lesson plan for each class every day. A good practice plan ensures the efficient use of time for the appropriate drills that are within the proper scope and sequence for the athletes and covers all of the necessary details to prepare for the next opponent. Good instruction starts with a sound plan. Often it may take twice as long to plan for a practice session as it does to conduct one. And student-athletes in education-based athletics deserve the best instruction.
- Provide simple, clear and consistent instructions during practice sessions and games when correcting mistakes. This can go a long way toward eliminating communication gaps that may cause mistakes or prolong the learning curve or improvement period. It is vital to remember that a key objective in coaching is for the athlete to understand what the coach expects in terms of execution.
- Try to keep instruction as positive and encouraging as possible. Not all athletes learn at the same rate and they often need repetition, helpful corrections, and a supportive and nurturing atmosphere. Berating and abusing athletes does not enhance retention or the mastery of skills and concepts.
- Use video for instructional purposes when possible. It has been determined by educational research that there are various learning styles and video images may be the visual component which ultimately helps some athletes. Being able to see the mistakes in skill work or in the execution of an offensive or defensive concept can be invaluable for an athlete to understand. Verbal instruction simply doesn’t reach all athletes.
- Scout opponents whenever possible. In some sports such as football and basketball, scouting is a well-established effort. It’s an advantage to preparation and its utilization is more readily understood. But scouting is also important for most sports not just for a select few.
Depending upon the size of a coaching staff, coaches may have to be creative in order to find a way to scout opponents. Consider sending an assistant, who leaves practice early, in order to see an upcoming opponent, or send one a parent to video tape a match that features a team appearing on the schedule later in the season. There’s always a way to scout.
Scouting will provide tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and details of individual athletes and the team’s execution. These factors can and should be incorporated into the practice and game plans in order to prepare more completely for an upcoming opponent. Better preparation puts the players in a position to play more effectively and can help produce more wins.
- Continually learn more about the skills and strategies of a sport. Staying abreast of the latest developments is essential in order to best prepare athletes. This may mean attending clinics, reading books, watching videos and observing college practice sessions. Professional development will directly help the players and team.
- Get feedback from their athletic director and ask what suggestions he or she may have for the development as a coach in education-based athletics. Usually, most schools have a formal evaluation process at the completion of the season, but coaches don’t have to wait to get solid advice which can help them improve through the year.
- Avoid becoming negative or abusive with the players after a loss. Losses, just like wins, can usually be easily explained. The apparent reasons are usually that the opponent was much bigger, faster and more skilled, or athletes made mistakes at critical junctures of the game.
It is, therefore, important to carefully and honestly analyze why a team lost. If it was a better opponent, move on to prepare for the next game. If there are correctible mistakes, plan practice sessions to incorporate drills that will continue to help the players develop the necessary skills. Go back to the drawing board and work hard.
In education-based athletics, coaches definitely should be using “teachable moments” with their teams. They should also promote academic achievement, help their athletes learn to persevere, teach good sportsmanship and many other valuable life-long lessons and qualities.
But, this doesn’t mean that coaches should neglect or forgo the preparation and effort to win. As long as winning doesn’t become the sole purpose of an approach to coaching, coaches should also strive to win. Simply provide the best effort and a nurturing environment, and the young people will benefit from the experience.
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.