It’s no secret that today’s generation of student-athlete, on the whole, is said to have a vastly different mindset than the generation competing when the majority of coaches began their careers (or were playing themselves). Certainly, the behavior of coaches is under as fine a microscope today as ever before. Aside from coaches having all decisions big and small evaluated both on and off the court, we find that behaviors considered “traditional” for the profession are now being scrutinized, criticized and outlawed.
Over the past several years, many issues pertaining to coaches have made headlines for the wrong reasons. While the focus of news should be on the fact that there are more people watching and enjoying our game (first- and second-round NCAA Tournament viewership was up 46 percent from a year ago per ESPN), it’s negative press that often drives conversation.
Our game has tremendous personalities, acumen and energy on the sidelines; and the coaching capabilities are second to none. As coaches, you must protect yourselves both in the decisions you make, and the way in which you run your programs. I was recently speaking with a coach who shared, “I used to think that these situations would never happen to me, and now I make sure I’m prepared for when one occurs.” It’s not “if,” but “when.”
While there’s no simple recipe for dealing with any “negative” situation, there are steps to take right now that can often make the difference in your career, should a difficult situation ever arise.
1. KNOW your administration
There’s a difference between familiarity with your administration and valuable relationships with your administration. This is the most important part of dealing with difficult situations when they arise. It’s critical that your athletic director and sport administrator’s first instinct is to defend you. There’s no better way to put yourself in this position than letting them get to know you and your staff right now. Build in time each week for one-on-one time with someone in your administration – even a quick 10-minute chat – to keep them informed and allow them to buy into your program.
2. Build TRUST with your administration
Collaborate with your athletic department. While athletic departments don’t always value the sport of women’s basketball as much as we’d like, you can be valued (immensely) as a coach. While I’m sometimes surprised by the limited relationships some coaches have with their administration (and in the case of assistant coaches, their head coach), it’s something that’s easy to fix. Volunteer to have a bigger role within your department, and become someone that your administration knows it can count on.
3. PROTECT your program from issues that lie ahead
If the lack of a meaningful relationship with one’s athletic department is the most important part of successfully dealing with a difficult situation, getting out ahead of any issue is a close second (yet it’s just as overlooked). Because coaches enjoy routine and consistency, it’s easy to hope any minor issue fizzles and disappears. Through your experience and intuition, there are times when something just doesn’t “feel right.” When that’s the case get out ahead of it by giving your administration notice. Too often, issues that may seem unimportant or small end up festering or becoming much more. Don’t hesitate to attack it immediately, or at least inform or ask a professional as soon as something arises
4. INFORM your administration of important decisions in writing
Yes – this is your program. You’re tasked with the oversight of all areas and, therefore, both praise and criticism will fall on your shoulders. One of the most common ways coaches can find themselves in hot water is through perceived reasons for making discipline-related decisions. An easy method to ensure your reasons are less likely to be questioned is to keep your administration in the loop by providing written communication and documentation of all disciplinary matters. This doesn’t mean you need to ask for permission, but instead, give your superiors a window into your program and your decisions. This way, your administration will be happy and you will be protected if stories change or new administrators are hired.
5. EVALUATE “fit” for all members of the program – players and coaches alike
It’s not uncommon for me to help a coach through a situation with a student-athlete who wasn’t a good fit for their program and its culture. Many times in this situation the coach has relied on an assistant for the bulk of the recruiting. Therefore, it’s critical for the head coach to know and trust the type of student-athlete their recruiting coordinator will target, and for those assistant coaches to evaluate the fit for the program. In today’s “win-now” culture it’s easy to focus solely on how a potential student-athlete makes the team better. When things go bad, though, hindsight can show clear warning signs were present well before the issue arose. Save yourself the stress and problems down the road by fully vetting student-athletes as best you can and evaluating their fit before offering them a spot in the program.
Garry Rosenfield is an attorney for Coaches. Inc, a sports agency and marketing firm dedicated to the protection of coaches. Coaches, Inc. works with the WBCA to offer legal advice to it's member coaches when in times of need.