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From the Classroom to the Sidelines: Teacher Coaches Fill Important Role

Wednesday, November 29, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

A question commonly asked of teachers in school job interviews is “Can you coach?” As veteran athletes from high school or college teams or experienced youth coaches, many teachers enjoy the opportunity to serve as coaches in addition to teaching English, science, or other subjects. The schools gain (hopefully) a coach with staying power as well has having someone on the field or court who understands the school’s mission.

“To teach the whole child, you’ve got to know the whole child,” said Jay Watts, director of athletics at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, TN. “A teacher-coach is going to see that child in the classroom and bring extra depth to the coaching relationship. They understand the demands of the school schedule and they know the parent body.”

In addition, coaching provides a means for teachers to earn some extra income while gaining knowledge of students that can help them to help their students succeed inside the classroom. Many students show different sides of their personalities when they are in athlete mode, and teachers may be slightly more relaxed outside of the classroom, especially at team dinners or celebrations.

Teachers are not the only school employees who can coach – many non-teaching staff also participate in athletics. “We have had some staff members who are quite effective at coaching,” Watts said.

But the challenge of finding teachers who want to coach is real. Academic classes always take priority over external activities, and the demands on teachers’ schedules can limit their free time. Coaching cuts into evenings, weekends, and even school holidays. Many teachers do not want to experience the scrutiny of team parents and not everyone is suited to drive a bus.

As such, many schools go off campus to hire coaches but then work to involve those coaches in the school community. They may be invited to faculty meetings or to have lunch on campus with students or faculty. “That extra connection can go a long way,” Watts said.

Sometimes the community coach may be a school parent or alumni, which brings certain advantages. The alumni can relate to the academic experience and may already know some of the faculty. School parents also know the school culture and likely know many of the students; however, there is a greater potential for a conflict of interest.

“You have to be really careful, especially regarding the roster,” Watts said. And not every parent can easily coach their own child. Parents may function better as assistant coaches or to coach the JV team if their own child plays varsity.

The most important lesson in hiring any coach – whether they come from faculty or from the community – is proper vetting. “Their coaching philosophy must align with the school mission and the athletic mission,” Watts said. “We have some faculty coaches who are fantastic and some community coaches who are also fantastic. You always have to look at the program at the end of the year and re-evaluate.”

Read more about community coaches from Jay Watts’ blog.

While not every teacher has the skills to coach, schools can still create opportunities for faculty to engage with athletic teams and strengthen relationships with their students. At Randolph School in Huntsville, AL, faculty are invited to participate in the Honorary Coach program.

At the start of each athletic season, each team selects two non-coaching faculty or staff members to serve as an honorary coach at one practice and one game. The students pick two people in case the first person they ask is unable to serve. Each person can serve only once per year. The program launched in fall 2016 with upper school sports but middle school teams now participate as well.

“We really take into consideration the teacher’s perspective and what they have going on,” said Athletic Director Blake Davenport. “It’s flexible and it’s optional, but it’s hard for teachers to say no to their kids.”

The team captains communicate with the faculty or staff member to work out the schedule. At the athletic events, the honorary coach might help to run drills. At a game, the coach sits with the athletes and enjoys time to talk and mingle with the students.

The results and feedback have been positive from students, faculty, and parents. “There has been a lot of excitement,” said Wright Ward, associate athletic director. “The kids see their teachers as more than their math or English teacher and the teachers see their students in a different light. Parents like to see teachers at games and they like to see their child connecting with a teacher.”

Whether a teacher is hired to coach a team or serves in a short-term honorary role, building bridges between academics and athletics is a goal at many schools. In small communities, the gap may be fairly small but in larger schools with multiple divisions, the distance may be more palpable. Teacher-coaches are a valuable commodity, but highly engaged community coaches and non-coaching faculty can serve the school’s mission in powerful ways as well.




For more about independent school athletics, join SAIS for the 3rd Annual Athletic Directors Conference, January 16-17, 2018, in Charlotte, NC. Register at


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