Nick Stevens

The Coaching Crisis: Why we continue to lose good coaches

Posted February 27

Millbrook boys basketball coach Scott Mcinnes. Millbrook High School travels to Leesville Road High School for a conference match up on January 25, 2017.  Leeville Road defeats Millbrook 71 to 59.
Photo by Suzie Wolf

On Friday, broke the news of two veteran basketball coaches who were getting out of coaching to spend time with family.

Millbrook coach Scott McInnes stepped down after 17 seasons at the school. Middle Creek coach David Kushner spent 13 seasons at his school before calling it quits. Both are veterans in Wake County. Both are good basketball coaches. Both are good people.

If you could see my mentions on Twitter and the tweets that got quoted by others, you would learn that there is confusion about why we are seeing experienced coaches step down. I can't speak for McInnes & Kushner specifically, but this is not limited to basketball. We are seeing experienced coaches leave the profession in all high school sports.

I'm fortunate in that I get to spend time with high school coaches and players behind the scenes. I wish everyone could. If you did, you would find a new level of respect for those who dedicate their lives to being coaches.

We spend a lot of time talking about on the court and on the field results. I'm including myself and my fellow journalists in that. Yes, we are part of the problem. When you come to you see who won and lost, you'll see the latest playoff brackets, who is on the bubble, who has hit a losing streak. That's the nature of sports, we have to report that. After all, these teams are competitive teams playing for a state championship.

But what isn't shared all the time are the important stories – the stories that change lives, the stories that teach life lessons, the stories about saving kids from making bad choices. It's not because they don't exist. Trust me, they do exist in every program at every school. Those stories don't get shared for a variety of reasons – to protect kids, because they aren't made public, and often times because the coaches aren't looking for that attention.

When a coach steps down, you would be shocked at the number of tweets we see from current and former players explaining what that coach meant to them. Rarely does it have anything to do with wins, losses and championships. It's almost always about how much that coach meant to them.

Coaches are fortunate in that they get to spend time with their students outside of the classroom. They get to see them in non-traditional settings, and that means they get to teach them in non-traditional ways. High school sports are first and foremost about education – not recruiting, not college scholarships, not winning and losing. The practices and games are an extension of the classroom.

That seems to get lost.

I often times see tweets, Facebook comments and website comments about coaches. People, who get to remain anonymous on the Internet, get to post about how this coach doesn't know X's and O's, or that coach doesn't know how to get the most out of his players. These anonymous posters aren't at practice every day. What they don't know is that the coach is spending a good portion of his day checking grades, making sure kids get fed, keeping kids out of trouble, giving kids rides home after practice, talking with them about problems they have in their lives. They are not college coaches. They do not have lavish offices with the latest technology where they can break down tendencies of the other players. If they're lucky, they have Hudl. If they're really lucky, they have Krossover. That's about as advanced as it gets in high school.

We continually ask more and more of our coaches. Every year new rules and guidelines come out. More paperwork gets put on their desk. We make them take more educational classes. Yes, the smarter our coaches are and the safer our kids are, the better it is for high school sports. But when new requirements are put on coaches, they usually are not relieved of previous requirements. It adds to their workload. And keep in mind they still have to do their teaching duties during the day – most of them with a full class load.

And the work is now year-round. For example, basketball season doesn't run November-early March. As soon as the state championships are over, basketball coaches are in the gym working on skill development for the next year. They're doing conditioning and weightlifting. They're keeping up with their players and their grades. In the summer, they spend days and days with them at summer leagues – often times traveling for many days at a time, especially during the month of June. Then once September rolls around, they're right back to the skill development and conditioning before tryouts happen at the end of October or early November.

It's not just limited to basketball either. It goes for all sports. Essentially every single sport is now a year-round commitment.

Compensation for high school coaches is criminal at worst and embarrassing at best. If you were to break down the number of hours a coach spends on his sport, they would not come close to the minimum wage.

In Wake County, which is one of the premier counties to coach and teach in, coaches went more than a quarter-century before they saw an across-the-board raise. Now, the district is in year two of a five-year plan to gradually increase coaching supplements (and other extra-duty positions) to a more modern amount. But the way the plan was implemented, many of the veteran coaches have seen little or no increase in pay yet. The five-year plan has to be approved year after year by the Board of Education, and as we know, nothing is guaranteed in politics.

No high school coach gets into coaching for the money. If they do, they don't know what real money is. But compensating people for their hard work and dedication is a very nice way to show appreciation. It shows that you understand the important role that they play.

For the last few years, Wake County has made a very big deal about graduation rates. We can talk about the way graduation rates have been manipulated to make them go up – a 10-point grading scale, requiring retests and make-up work for late assignments, etc. But there is one undeniable fact about graduation rates that many don't admit to or understand – there is not a single graduation initiative that is more effective than athletics. Period.

The graduation rate of high school athletes is near 100 percent. For real. Why? Because they have to maintain minimal eligibility in order to participate in athletics. If they don't get the grades, they don't get to play. It's that simple. For kids who love sports, that is a motivating factor to put effort into their school work. For some kids, that is really the only motivating factor they have. In fact, multiple studies conducted in North Carolina have shown high school athletes not only graduate at a much higher rate than their non-athlete peers, but they are less likely to have disciplinary problems, less likely to be absent from class, and on average perform at a higher level on standardized tests.

So you have this vast program in place that does nothing but help the academic standing of your school, a program with a graduation rate of nearly 100 percent. Don't the people running those programs – coaches – deserve fair compensation and respect?

This is why we will continue to lose veteran coaches in high school athletics. Think about your job. If your boss was demanding more of you, requiring you to work more hours and spend less time with your family, you had the public anonymously criticizing your efforts from afar, and they weren't going to pay your fairly – would you do it?

We have started to enter a crisis situation when it comes to coaches for high school sports. Good, experienced, well-meaning coaches are getting out. That means less-experienced coaches are filling their shoes. And in some cases, schools aren't able or struggle to find coaches. Sometimes athletic directors have to step in and coach sports that they know nothing about, simply because they can't find anyone else to do it. This is how we are treating people who go above and beyond their job descriptions, people who are leading programs with near-perfect graduation rates.

Next time you decide to hit social media or a website to complain about a high school coach, stop and think about what you actually know (or don't know). What does that coach do for his/her kids in practice when no one is looking? What are they doing for the kid who couldn't afford shoes for the team or breakfast that morning? What about the kid who has no ride home? Or the kid who only has his coach to hold him accountable in the classroom? What life lessons are the players on that coach's team being taught?

The air comes out of the ball for everyone. For most every kid that plays high school sports, that air is gone when they walk across the stage to receive their diploma. But what our high school coaches are teaching them on the court, on the field, on the track, or in the gym – those are the things that are important; those are wins that we don't see.

Follow Nick Stevens on Twitter @NickStevensHSOT


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