Jul 13, 2018
Tough Job
Dr. David Hoch

A vacancy notice is posted and you apply. Eventually, you interview and are offered the head coaching position. It you are already in the district, you probably know a great deal about the team and why the position was open. However, outside candidates may not have all of this information.

There can be several logical reasons why a position is vacant. At some point, all coaches have to make a decision when to retire. Age, health, family considerations or a change of professional positions can all play a role. While one hopes that a change isn’t made due to not winning enough games, this could also happen in some situations. If the reason wasn’t clarified during the interview, it is extremely important to determine what it is — ideally before you accept the offer, but definitely as you start your planning process in preparation for your first season.

If you are taking over a team which has had a few losing seasons, you want to determine why. After all, you want to make changes that result in improvement. In most situations, there usually are definite reasons. For example, it could be that:

  • The organizational aspects of the team were in disarray. Practice sessions were perhaps poorly planned or conducted.
  • The coaching staff was not large enough to provide good, sound individual attention during practice sessions.
  • The skill instruction or the strategy employed was outdated or inadequate for the talent available at the school.
  • The talent pool is extremely small.
  • The school is a member of a league that isn’t compatible with its student enrollment, community interest, and support.
  • And there many other possibilities.

Once you determine the reason for losing seasons, you can plan and take active steps to make improvements. The following considerations should help.

  1. Hire assistant coaches who understand the challenges. It is difficult to turn around a losing program and may take a few years. This means that coaches have to be encouraging, nurturing, positive, supportive and hard working. It is also helpful it they have vision, creativity, and loyalty.
  2. Sit down with your assistants and develop two to three goals for the first year. A common mistake is to try and tackle everything at once. Instead, prioritize and create a realistic list. And then put in total effort to achieve these initial goals.
  3. Schedule clinics for middle school and community teams. This step is critical in order to create interest in your sport and to build a feeder system.
  4. Also host clinics for the coaches of middle school and community teams. By doing this, you can introduce the skills and approach you will take with your high school program. Providing a head start for young players is vitally important in order to improve the level of play on the high school level.
  5. Develop communication, public relations, and marketing initiatives for your program. You need to build interest and support. There are a wide array of vehicles you can and should use: meetings, e-mail blasts, website posts, social media. Does this take time? Sure it does, but it is absolutely essential in order to explain your hopes and direction for the program. You need support and appreciation for your team.
  6. Set small achievable goals for your team during the season, particularly in your first season. Stay away from mentioning winning in connection with goals. With improvement, wins will eventually take care of themselves.
  7. Establish a “clean slate” for all players from previous years. In terms of starting or playing time, athletes should only be judged on what they do in current practice sessions. Also, don’t dwell on what happened in previous seasons. Focus on developing your own expectations, goals, and methods of doing things. This is a new season, a new staff, and a fresh start.

Inheriting a losing team is fairly common. To move forward and succeed, you need to think through a number of considerations and develop a sound plan. This takes time, effort, enthusiasm, and confidence.

David Hoch, CMAA, CIC, retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at: [email protected].

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