June 20th’s state championship tilts in baseball, softball, and lacrosse concluded another year of high school athletics in the Pine Tree State. The 2014-15 school year produced highlights galore, memorable individual performances, with many other contests soon to be forgotten.
Guiding the young participants on the fields, courts, and rinks were the coaches. Some thrived, helping lead their charges to championships, or to heights not expected prior to the season. Some coaches merely survived the season, while others were shown the door or resigned under pressure following tumultuous campaigns.
As we wrap up the high school sports calendar, I thought this week I’d take a look at some of the additional challenges today’s high school coaches face. How much have circumstances changed? It should be noted: anyone who holds a position of leadership, whether it be in business, government, or coaching, is going to face criticism. It has always been so. Anyone considering coaching at any level should not be so naive to believe they won’t face resistance at some point in their careers.
In the movie, Hoosiers, Coach Norman Dale, was nearly run out of town by a group of unhappy residents before winning the title. This was in 1952. The movie was based on tiny Milan High School capturing the Indiana state high school championship in 1954. So no, there wasn’t a day when coaches decisions were widely accepted and they had essentially free reign.
Anytime coaches are let go for dubious reasons there is cause for concern with how these people are treated. Is there a greater upheaval in the coaching ranks than ever before? I’m not so sure. While there is reason to be concerned, we also need to step back and take a deep breath, looking at the big picture. In basketball, for instance, there are approximately 270-280 varsity head coaches statewide. When you are talking about a handful of coaches each year out of so many, I’m not sure this is considered an epidemic.
Twenty or thirty years ago when a coach resigned or was removed, the dismissal was generally discussed within the community and that’s where the topic stayed. Now with the advent of public forums, discussions and opinions are delivered on a statewide basis, often with those providing input not privy to all the facts. I enjoy visiting and posting on these sites as well, however, one’s view of reality can sometimes be skewed by constant reading of these posts.
That’s not to say today’s coach does not face challenges their predecessors didn’t. In today’s youth sports culture, many parents have much more invested in the athletic pursuits of their children by the time they reach high school. With the plethora of elite and select travel teams and the like, many parents are shelling out the big bucks and spending countless hours on the road and in hotel rooms. Which begs the question: with all of these “elite” and “select” teams, how elite and select are they really? Are these players really elite or select or are most at varying levels of being merely good?
With investment often comes expectation. When expectations, as unrealistic as they may be, are not met, the high school coach can come under greater scrutiny.