High school coaches should play a bigger role
Posted July 27, 2014
On Saturday I published a column about the dire state of basketball today. There are many contributing factors, from club basketball, to self-proclaimed scouts, to trainers.
All of these characters have too much influence on basketball. But there's another factor that impacts the sport – a lack of influence from the high school coach.
We hold high school coaches accountable. You may not agree with their coaching strategies all the time, but they have an athletic director and principal to report to, they have a school district to report to, they have a state association to report to, and they have a national body to report to.
If a high school coach does something unethical or illegal, they're going to face repercussions. At the club level, not so much. There's little organization at the club level. There are multiple leagues for club teams to play in. And if a coach does happen to be disciplined, all he has to do is go create a new team, which is easier than you think.
Additionally, high school coaches are required to attend clinics to further their understanding of the rules and of the game. They go through professional development, such as the coaching education program developed by the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations.
The above cannot be disputed, yet we are constantly limiting the role of the high school coach, and that has a direct impact on the game and the kids who play it. It is time that we restore responsibility to the people who are truly held accountable.
Why? High school coaches are the only ones who are in a position to understand the entire picture.
Club basketball coaches can talk about the importance of academics all they want. Some club basketball organizations have academic-related statements on their websites, others may back a parent's decisions to remove a child from a team for academic reasons. But no matter what actions the club coach or organization takes, they do not have the same access to a child's academic life the high school coach has.
High school coaches work in the school, they can monitor the day-to-day progress of a child when it comes to their school work. If a kid cuts class, if a kid misses a homework assignment, if a kid fails a test – the high school coach can know. Other teachers can reach out to the high school coach about academic, attendance or discipline issues. None of this happens at the club level.
Furthermore, as a high school athlete, kids have minimum academic and attendance requirements that must be met, otherwise they do not get to play. No such requirements exist in club basketball leagues. Sure, the leagues may decide to collect report cards to check grade level, but they're not looking at the letter grades.
In my earlier column I noted how hard it is to earn a scholarship to play college basketball. Even if you are one of the lucky ones, you still have to qualify academically. If you don't have the grades, you won't be playing. Period. High school coaches, along with the student services departments at the high schools, have the ability to make sure kids are on the right track to meet NCAA initial eligibility standards. Club basketball organizations do not have direct access to transcripts, and they are not capable of supplying official transcripts – only the school can do that.
The academic portion alone is reason enough to increase the role of the high school coach. Every person – whether they're going to be a big time athlete or not – needs a high school education. Without a high school education, you can only go so far. Basketball – or any other sport for that matter – is meant to supplement the educational experience, not the other way around. By design, this is not possible in club basketball.
So what can be done? It starts at the top.
The NCAA needs to take action, and it needs to happen quick. Instead of expanding live periods during the club basketball season, they need to expand it during the high school season. Put the recruiting process back in the hands of the high school coach, the person who knows more of the whole situation, not just basketball ability. Allow the kids to use club basketball as an avenue to play top competition from around the region and the country during the summer to get better, then let the recruiting process play out during their high school seasons.
With technology getting better every day, there would not be any reduction in the number of kids college coaches could see. Film can be uploaded and shared with dozens of colleges with a few clicks of a mouse using tools like Hudl. The argument that we need live periods with huge national tournaments for college coaches to come see tons and tons of kids at once is an archaic justification.
There is another move the NCAA can make too – eliminate the early signing period. Remember, we are dealing with kids here. Kids do a lot of maturing in their high school years, and we should not provide them an opportunity to make a mistake. By forcing the kids to wait until the last half of their senior year to make a college decision, we give them as much time as possible to learn, mature, and grow. The recruiting process is overwhelming, and if given the opportunity to end the whole thing, a lot of kids will take it. It's stressful – not fun – and no one likes to deal with stress.
We have seen kids sign early and come to regret it. By forcing them to wait, we are letting them play their senior season of high school ball, then make a decision. Again, this gives the high school coach more of a role in the process. The early signing period happens just as high school basketball is getting started, which limits the high school coach's role.
More should be done at the high school management level too. First and foremost, we should pay our teachers and coaches better. Quality pay means we keep quality coaches. That goes for all sports too, not just basketball.
The governing bodies of high school sports can put in a quick fix for the diminishing role of the high school coach as well – get rid of rules that limits the coach's ability to work with his players during the off season. These rules are meant to do good; they are meant to encourage athletes to play multiple sports, to be engaged in other activities, and to make sure they are not overworked. But these rules aren't working. The kids are still specializing in sports, and they're being coached, trained, and taught by people who do not have the same level of professionalism and accountability as the high school coach. That leads to people being involved in a child's life who do not have the best interest of the child in mind.
In North Carolina, high school basketball coaches are allowed to work with four players at a time during the off season. During the summer – after school gets out and before fall sports tryouts begin – the coaches can work with their entire teams. Once fall sports tryouts happen though, the players are off limits again until September, then it's back to the four-man workouts until the season starts in late October or early November, depending on the year.
Wouldn't we rather our kids work with people who don't have ulterior motives? People that we can hold accountable? We owe it to the kids to make this change. The limits need to be lifted. The players need to have access to their high school coach and the high school coach needs access to his/her players.
As a whole, we also need to start holding schools that aren't really schools accountable. I call them "pop-up schools" because they typically show up out of nowhere, become somewhat prominent for a period of time, then fizzle out. We've even seen some locally come under NCAA scrutiny. When a school is more focused on you as a basketball player than a student and a child, that should raise red flags. I've recently seen one such school publicly and openly recruiting players on Twitter, telling them to leave their current school so they can play at a "big time private school." Again, red flags.
High school coaches (at legitimate high schools) are held to a different standard than club coaches. That's not to say that all club coaches are bad people, or that they don't help kids, that would not be a fair statement. But the vast majority of the responsibility in recruiting should lie with the high school coach.
We can take big steps in cleaning up basketball by making a few changes. We just need people in power who are willing to do it because it is in the best interest of the kids. Right now the big losers in the sport are the kids. As adults, we owe it to the kids to fix the sport.
Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT