High school coaches have busy schedules. Most have a full day of teaching and the tremendous pressures that go with that, while others are professionals outside the school setting with their own set of challenges and time constraints.
Many new coaches are not prepared for the sheer volume of paperwork and educational requirements that come with each sport season, much of which is centered around health and safety – Concussion and Sudden Cardiac Arrest Education, Pre-Participation Physical Forms, Emergency Action Plans, Heat Illness Prevention, Bullying and Hazing Prevention. The list can go on and on.
Some administrators delegate these tasks – professional development needed to minimize risk in their individual programs – to coaches. If administrators do not provide the support needed to navigate these rough waters, coaches can quickly become overwhelmed. When dealing with the health and safety of athletes, this is not an acceptable outcome.
In order to provide the support that coaches need, administrators should consider the following five steps:
1. Become an Authority on the Requirements
It is hard to adequately communicate policy requirements and provide the support needed for coaches unless you have been through this yourself recently. At the very least, a list of all expectations and requirements with clear deadlines should be provided to your coaches. Be sure to include instructions for accessing courses and examples of paperwork required at the state and local levels. Consider taking some of these courses if you have not done so already. Ultimately, school administrators should be familiar with this material so that they can point their coaches in the right direction when they receive questions.
2. Take Ownership in the Organization of Health and Safety Training for all Coaches
There are several hours of health and safety paperwork and training that are required for each coach on an annual basis. With that in mind, an orientation or training session should be conducted with all coaches to ensure that these requirements are met. Ideally, this could be done with all coaches prior to the beginning of the respective sport season. Bringing everyone in at once can help ensure that the correct information is communicated clearly. Instructions for obtaining access to required online courses as well as any district-specific requirements can be discussed. School district leadership and/or school health liaisons can help with agenda development. There may even be opportunities for this training to be used to fulfill professional development requirements, especially for those coaches who are teachers.
3. Make Sure the Content is Appropriate for Your Audience
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) met this challenge head on in 2009. Previously, coaches education in Kentucky took the form of six to eight hour-long seminars that would be attended only by the head coach of each sport and only every other year. Private sports medicine groups generally conducted the training. Since 2009, the training has been conducted through an online health and safety course.
Kentucky state law now specifies that each interscholastic coach must take the course, which consists of mandatory topics such as emergency action plans, heat illness, concussion and principles of first aid. The course is to be taken every two years and must not exceed 10 hours. The members of the Kentucky Medical Association’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee prepare it for the KHSAA and update it every two years to ensure that the content is appropriate and easily understood by everyone.
4. Consider a Document Management Service
When ensuring that all boxes have been checked, the responsibility for compliance with health and safety policy lies at the school level. Just a few short years ago, that consisted of a 1-2 page physical/consent form and the occasional first aid course. Times have changed, but there are a number of vendors available to help coaches and administrators manage this essential information.
5. Let Your Coaches Know that You are Available to Help – and Mean It!
Perhaps nothing goes farther than a little empathy and support. Administrators should check in with coaches a few weeks before practice starts to make sure everything is in order for the coming season. Consider offering incentives such as coaches’ meals, clothing or budget requests that would motivate your coaches to beat the training deadlines. This kind gesture can go a long way with morale while helping ensure that training is completed in a timely fashion.
The success of education-based athletic programs depends heavily on the presence of coaches who are firmly entrenched in their profession because of their love of students and sports. When administrators provide the support that coaches need to complete health and safety professional development, coaches are less likely to become frustrated or intimidated by all of the extra responsibilities that come with coaching in the educational setting. As a result, effective coaches are retained, programs flourish, and young lives are changed for the better.
Mark Reeves has served as an assistant executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association since 2008. His responsibilities with the state association include wrestling, soccer, coaches education and sports medicine. He currently serves on the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Jill Stobber, AT Ret, LAT is an athletic director at Waterford Union High School in Waterford, Wisconsin. She served 22 years as an athletic trainer and is in her 11th year as an athletic administrator. She is a member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Philip Hurley, M.D., is a private practice orthopedic surgeon in Owensboro, Kentucky. He is a member of the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.