Coaches face a myriad of choices in trying to find what motivates athletes to improve. We want them to unlock the greatness within, but this is a challenging task. In the search for improvement, coaches need to evaluate their entire programs including finding ways to increase their effectiveness as leaders. One of the ways we can better serve students is to take an active role in learning. Whether you’re a veteran or first year coach, professional development needs to be a continual goal to improve athletic programs. Here are three ways professional development can help improve coaching.
Keep current with safety and training methods
One element that draws students to try high school athletics is the environment. Students want to make friends, test their physical and intellectual limits, and have fun. Coaches set the tone to bring out the best in their athletes, but sports training methods are continually evolving. As an example, 30 years ago, weight training and plyometrics were an afterthought for many competitive high school programs; however, we now know such cross-training better prepares athletes for the rigors of competition and creates better overall health. To keep current with this need, coaches should engage in professional development. Attending a conference today may reveal new sport specific training methods that improve safety or include new breakthroughs in technology training aids. Not all new material is appropriate for every program, but coaches need to be aware of current trends so that they may adapt to the needs of our athletes and speak on them when questioned by our athletes and community.
Network with others
Attending a conference or participating in an online class can bring another benefit as well: the ability to network with peers. Established coaches may have a long list of local contacts that they can share ideas with, but in this era high school coaches can network across states, countries and even continents. Whether the tennis coach learns a new way to teach a tennis serve from a colleague in Australia or the basketball coach finds new drills from someone in North Carolina, attending conferences or online webinars can extend professional networks and give coaches opportunities to share their challenges and successes with a much wider audience. In addition, it allows coaches to access experts in their field of study which are no more than an email away.
Encourage open and honest evaluation
For those that find their resources limited, professional development does not always have to be via conference attendance. Far too often, coaches forget that they may have professional resources in their own communities. Finding local mentors in the form of retired coaches and current athletic directors can also be beneficial. Retired coaches can observe practices and games and meet with coaches later to discuss their findings. Athletic directors ultimately control employment, but they want to see their programs succeed and consequently want to see their coaches succeed. Athletic directors are usually more than willing to offer their expertise in improving effectiveness.
Another sometimes overlooked resource is the NFHS website. The NFHS continues to develop meaningful courses in nearly every high school sport and revises the information regularly to keep up with the best practices for safety and training. In addition, such courses can fulfill certification requirements that make coaches more esteemed in the eyes of students, parents, and school community leaders and may even result in promotions or higher levels of certification.
For some coaches, professional development becomes an overlooked aspect of their career; however, if we ask athletes to improve, coaches who role model and subscribe to active learning are open to the immediate benefits they can bring to their communities. Such leadership by example sets the stage for future success for the coach and program and further validates the meaningful work that we do.
Steve Amaro has been a USPTA certified tennis coach, athletic director (CMAA), and English teacher at Freedom High School in Oakley, California, for the past 13 years. He recently received his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California. A current member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee and the NIAAA Accreditation Committees, he is also the president of the North Coast Section Athletic Directors Association, a member of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Athletic Administrator Advisory Committee, a representative at the section level of the California Coaches Association (CCA) and an NIAAA LTI instructor at the state level.