When hiring coaches, administrators will typically outline general expectations and may even provide a preview of the post-season evaluation form that has been routinely used. The challenge, however, in using a standard form can be the difficulty in which the document accurately assesses the direction, growth and leadership of the coach within the respective sport program.
Providing an assessment process for coaches at all levels of the school’s athletic program – including middle school coaches, and assistant and head coaches – should connect directly with the purpose and objectives of the athletic program.
In his book, Start with Why, Simon Sinek draws the parallel that a clear understanding of the reason behind providing assessment and evaluation of school-based coaches and their sport program is critical for the growth and development of all stakeholders within that sport.
The process of assessment is to provide appropriate feedback. This is no different than what schools would expect in other areas of their operations, such as for individuals responsible for academic instruction, transportation, public relations and fiscal accountability. They are provided with direction, suggestions and action plans to grow and improve. The same approach should be used with athletic coaches.
One of the key elements for successful evaluations of coaches is the creation of an appropriate culture that emphasizes growth as opposed to one designed to provide a basis for termination. The desired objective should be a continuous cycle of feedback and recommendations to ensure improvement. Evaluations should ultimately lead to what is best for the student-athletes.
As the athletic administrator, there are two critical questions that must be addressed regarding the evaluation processes. First, is the athletic director willing to serve as “the coach of coaches”? This has nothing to do with knowledge or expertise regarding the sport. It is more about the intentional plan to mentor and partner with the school’s coaches, which leads them toward personal and professional growth.
The other question for athletic directors is a rhetorical and critical one: How successful would the athletic programs be if you only assessed progress ONE time each year? The archaic approach to assessing coaches was often to provide a simple pat on the back for a winning season and if parental complaints were minimal. When a coach received a “see me” note in his or her mailbox, that was usually the cue that an evaluation was forthcoming.
Two important elements of this assessment design mean having a long-range vision for a coach’s improvement and a periodic schedule of feedback or assessment. It should clearly be explained to the coach that with this process feedback, adjustments and corrections are expected to take place throughout the year.
The Long-Range Plan
When a coach is hired to lead a team, he or she should be expected to develop a master plan and a direction for the program. The starting point should be the questions, “Where is the team or program NOW” and “What is the desired level during the next one to three years”?
Some of the answers for these questions may come from the interviews with the coach. However, the athletic administrator and the coach should formalize a definite plan that creates a clear path of the anticipated direction for personal and program growth.
The Assessment Cycle
The most important aspect of evaluating coaches is that the athletic administrator should create a climate in which conversations between both parties are encouraged throughout the school year. Certainly, pivotal issues need to be addressed during the season and should not wait until the end-of-season evaluation. If a prolonged conversation isn’t workable, the concern should be included in the end-of-season session.
It is important for an athletic administrator to be visible in order to set the tone for a culture of growth. Showing up at practices and contests only after concerns or issues have surfaced should be avoided. Instead, the athletic director should be accessible, walk around and observe practice sessions and events every day. This increases general awareness and demonstrates a level of engagement with coaches and the teams.
The assessment tool should incorporate both a review of the long-range plan and feedback on the progress made. The review should also indicate how well the coach is meeting education-based outcomes in coaching performance with students. To accomplish this part, the National Standards for Sport Coaches, published by SHAPE (Society of Health and Physical Education) provides parameters from which to evaluate coaching success and effectiveness. The National Standards for Sport Coaches is broken down into eight educational domains:
Establishing an assessment process that promotes and supports coach growth as well as appraising student and program outcomes with education-based objectives is a model for success.
Bruce Brown, a high school coach and athletic director in Ohio for many years, is currently executive director of the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the representative for the National Executive Directors Council on the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) Board of Directors. He is also the national chairperson for the NIAAA Leadership Training Course 723: Administration of Professional Growth Programs for Interscholastic Athletic Personnel.