Recently, I had a few discussions with colleagues about what characteristics are needed to be an effective athletic coach as well as an effective classroom teacher. Many athletic coaches on the high school and collegiate levels come from strong educational backgrounds which seems to be a natural fit and in turn can provide student athletes with a structured, respectful, challenging, but also positive learning experience. Effective classroom teachers also have this same impact on their students. From my experience as a teacher, coach, athlete, and school administrator, I can honestly say I have seen a wide-range of teaching and coaching styles with most having a very positive impact on students. Unfortunately, I have also seen several ineffective practices that have caused some very poor learning opportunities for students. Being a teacher and athletic coach can be difficult but are also very rewarding jobs that can play a pivotal role in the growth and development of young men and women. I would argue that the traits needed to be an effective teacher and coach are the same and great athletic coaches are also great teachers. Becoming a great teacher and athletic coach takes a lot of time, dedication, patience, professional development, and reflection. We can’t expect new teachers or coaches to be perfect. They are sure to make mistakes and will need positive mentoring in order to reflect on those mistakes, make the necessary changes, and continually grow as a professional.
In my opinion, schools need to be more consistent in their review practices for both teachers and coaches. Should schools have a double standard of what they think is acceptable teaching practices vs athletic coaching practices? I don’t belive so. I believe students should see the same consistent professional behavior expected in classrooms as on playing fields. I am not suggesting they need to be 100 percent the same. Athletic coaches do sometimes need to raise their voice a bit more at the right time to help motivate athletes during particular situations or once in a while the head coach may need to respectfully challenge a referee’s call. I don’t belive anyone with extensive playing or coaching experience expects athletic coaches not to get heated once in a while but poor sportsmanship and repeatedly using vulgarity in front of kids should never be the norm. Kids watch and often emulate what is modeled for them. We can’t expect students to act one way if the adults are doing the opposite. Effective teachers and coaches walk-the-talk. I am not talking about wins or losses here or just test scores. Being effective means much more than that. It is helping develop productive men and women that learn values, responsibility, empathy, leadership, cooperation, problem solving skills, teamwork, sportsmanship, resiliency, conflict resolution, dealing with authority, time management, self-discipline. and communication skills. Employers are looking for many of these skills.
As stated earlier, teachers and athletic coaches both have rewarding but difficult jobs and often are under the microscope to constantly win games or improve standardized test scores. There also is more parental scrutiny these days which can sometimes lead to political decisions being made in an arena that shouldn’t have a place for politics if we are honestly making decisions in the best interest of kids. In my opinion, if a teacher or coach is working hard, demonstrates continuous growth, acts professionally, makes decisions in the best interest of students, communicates well with parents and with their supervisors (not saying always agrees with them), and is a positive role model, then schools should uniformly support them. When we let wins/losses or test scores sway our judgment and not look at the other components of effective teaching/coaching, I feel we are doing students a disservice. I believe one should hire a passionate teacher that also loves coaching vs. a passionate coach who happens to just need a teaching job. In my mind, effective coaches are also great teachers.
I want to thank my friends and colleagues for providing me with a quote from their experience on this topic. They are all very successful Massachusetts School Administrators that also have extensive athletic coaching and teaching experience. All of these excellent professionals continuously work to improve student outcomes through effective teaching practices, ongoing professional development, and community engagement. Their input is truly appreciated and are great resources.
Bill Burkhead- Principal Monomoy Regional High School– “I truly believe athletics in America is extremely vital to the growth of our children. I do not think we should lessen the value we place on the importance of athletics and sports. I do believe, however, that we should make a societal shift to place greater emphasis on the importance of academic success.” See Bill’s Blog on –What can Academics learn from Athletics?
Maureen Cohen- Assistant Superintendent Mendon-Upton Regional School District-“Before I knew I wanted to be a teacher, I always knew I wanted to be a coach. Playing basketball and softball my entire childhood was truly a highlight and contributed greatly to the person I am today. When I entered teaching I quickly found out that the qualities of effective coaching were essential to my role as a teacher, but especially important for my students. When you are a coach, you view each player as if they have this immense potential of growth. You really get to know your players well. What if all teachers got to know their students as well as we do as coaches? As a coach, I know that a strategic mixture of modeling, practice, and targeted feedback can move a player’s skill immensely. As a coach, I fostered opportunities for student leadership of the team, choice, and collaboration. Additionally, as a coach my enthusiasm for the game, for the development of a positive team culture, and sometimes just having fun helped move us towards our team goals. Every one of those skills is transferable to the classroom as a teacher because every day is filled with coachable moments. Every student is filled with an immense potential for growth. There is no need to leave all the magic out on the courts or fields, because it can happen right in your classroom every day with passion, enthusiasm, growth mindset and sometimes a whistle can help.”
Marty Geoghegan- Principal of JT Nichols Middle School– “I believe that effective coaching and teaching are completely synonymous. A successful coach realizes and sees the greatness however small it might be in her players and the effective teacher does as well for her students. It is about trying to work with each child’s (student/player’s) weaknesses while building up his strengths. I always think about the lessons I have learned from being a coach in terms of how, as a teacher, you have to understand who your player is as a person to then know what will motivate him. You can’t just guess. It is a science and a balancing act to it. With both, it is building a relationship, gaining trust, and showing that you are 100% behind them to help them be successful. Teaching and coaching are definitely the same on this.”
Eileen Donahue- Assistant Principal Auburn High School– “Coaching IS teaching, the difference being that in coaching all of your students are there because they WANT to be there. The delivery and strategies are intertwined-both teaching and coaching are vehicles used to build up, motivate and inspire. The end game for both is for the students to walk away with a life-long passion for the discipline, a great experience and a positive self-image.”
Aaron Polansky- Superintendent Old Colony RVTHS- “Great teachers and coaches need to be competent, passionate, and connect with students. The best teachers take their students from a place of doubt, to thinking about the possibilities. Once a student moves from doubt to think, motivation shifts from external to internal, and barriers are broken.”
Arthur Dulong- Asst Director MA School Admins’ Assn, Retired Principal Concord Carlisle H.S. -“A great coach has to inspire an athlete to be better, encourage an athlete to keep trying even through failure, correct an athlete’s technique and attitude, model the behavior and work ethic needed, and always emphasize the growth toward perfection understanding the journey is ongoing. If you substitute the title “teacher” for coach you have the truth that makes each great in the other role.”