The end of coaching as we know it


The World of coaching a sport is changing.

More to the point, the experience of coaching a sport is changing.

Wicked fast. Right in front of our eyes.

It is evolving, moving, morphing into something different.

Change? What change?

In Leadership In Sport, a college course I teach, we study several of the great coaches. I’ll admit, some of the things those great coaches did *back then* would not pass muster today. Matter-of-fact, some of their actions would put them in deep-fried trouble.

The days of the coach on top of the pyramid, directing those beneath him, driving them to super-human efforts, unquestioned, while that coach remained above the fray, seemingly untouched by the swirling of effort around him as long as he won, are gone.

It used to be, as Woody Hayes that great coach from The Ohio State University was quoted as saying, Without winners, there wouldn’t even be any civilization.

No more.

Things are changing and today’s coaches are experiencing something totally different. Something well beyond the highs of winning and the lows of losing.

What’s Driving This?

The end of the coaching experience as we know it is not being accelerated due to the pressure to win more and to lose less, or by the pressures of recruiting. Those have been with us for years.

Rather the changes are being forced by a whole different flavor of pressures, ones that institutions and organizations are feeling.

One of those drivers is the concern for safety.

For example in a small community in New Hampshire there is a proposal to ban football. This is being driven by the dangers of concussions, proposed by a physician. As I write this another community, this in Massachusetts is up in arms because 5 Pop Warner players, 10 years old, received concussions all in the same game.

Coaches suspended. Threatened. Berated. Questioned.

Regardless of possible wrong doing or not on the coach’s part, the experiences of those coaches was something quite different from the past.

Yet another driver of change — the reduction of funding. Less money means a tightening of belts, less to work with, and a changed experience.

Those two are significant change-drivers, however, the most most significant driver, one that is seriously changing coaching as we know it, is the reaction to the horrific behavior of a growing number of coaches.

More and more coaches are being exposed for bad, often criminal, behavior. That in itself is changing the landscape of coaching, and the experience that the good coaches (the great vast majority of coaches) are having is greatly being impacted.

Where Do Coaches Weigh In?

Who the heck knows?

Experienced coaches are well aware of these changes happening. Yet it’s hard to know where coaches, as a group, weigh-in on issues such as concussions, safety, bad/deviant behavior by other coaches, since as a group coaches very seldom speak out in unison.

That’s too bad, because coaches are missing an opportunity to craft the changing landscape in a positive and constructive manner.

Coaches lose any power or impact on decisions made about coaching by being quiet. That quietness leads people to assume coaches think only of themselves, or only of winning. I know that’s not right but that is an image that is being painted about coaches.

For example, where were the voices and the opinions of coaches after the travesty at Penn State?

I’ve looked and I’ve found no statement from a coaching organization saying that was unacceptable from an individual and from an institution and we will not have that happen in our place/sport. Statements such as those may well exist, but if I cannot find them then how could a parent, an athlete, or some overworked administrator be expected to find it?

Is The coming Evolution Bad?

It is hard to tell where this evolution will lead, so to comment on whether it will be a better World of coaching would be foolish. As humans we have proven ourselves to be incredibly poor predictors of the future.

However, one thing is certain, the change in the experience of coaching is coming.

A Way Forward

It would be nice to see a group of powerful, well-respected coaches, from across the spectrum of sports, get together and lay out a plan for the profession of coaching. One that is removed from results for advancement in terms of winning and losing the national championships, and instead is focused on the profession of coaching and the impact of coaching. A plan that takes protecting the athletes, the community, the profession, and sports to heart.

Until that time comes coaches need to resign themselves to the fact that the experience of coaching as we know is coming to an end. And if we don’t get together, we don’t start working on a plan, then we need to take what comes with a smile.

by Michael Davenport

This was originally published on Coaching Sports Today

Mike Davenport has written several ebooks available on the Rowperfect shop including:


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