I have a rule when it comes to hiring high school coaches. If, during the first interview, the candidate asks how much the position pays, I’m not offering them the job.
I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates for countless coaching positions in the past 10 years as a high school athletic director, and I stand by that rule. Yes, there’s a time and place to discus compensation – and I believe my record during my time at Tacoma Public Schools and now at Kennedy Catholic High School, where I’ve worked hard to ensure that my coaches are among the highest paid on average in the state, speaks for itself. But the truth is that anyone looking to get into high school coaching for the money is going to be sorely disappointed and likely headed for a short tenure in the role.
The reality, with very few local exceptions, is that the difference between a “well-paid” and “low-paid” high school coach is a couple hundred dollars over the course of a 12-week season. And once you add up the hours of games, practice, scouting, rides, grade checks, and meetings, then subtract what is spent out-of-pocket on supplies, meals, gas, apparel and other odds and ends, almost every coach walks away with the same compensation plan – and it surely doesn’t include retirement.
What it does include, at least in the case of the countless all-world coaches I’ve seen firsthand over the years, are an infinite amount of fond memories that come from leading a group of 14- to 18-year-olds student-athletes in competition and all the life lessons and benefits that come with participating in sports.
And that’s where I think many have missed the boat in the debates staged following TJ Cotterill’s recent articles on the personal training/7-on-7 industry. It’s also the same debate that’s been had for years in the world of AAU, club volleyball, select soccer and more.
Here’s what I choose to believe: Whether a high school coach, a personal trainer, or a coach of an outside program, the best involved in the youth sports industry do so because they believe in the power of sports, the lessons it can teach, or that it can be a ticket toward a better life – be it a free education or a professional career.
But as you can see, even that basic belief has many different prongs. Two different people can both want to provide something special for a young athlete and yet those goals can be completely different.
The stats are easily available – only the smallest of percentages of high school athletes earn the opportunity to compete at the NCAA-level (not to mention that the majority of those do so absent of receiving significant scholarship money). If that is the only goal, our student-athletes need all the true, authentic help that they can get. Yet in my experience, some of the best high school coaches I’ve seen can go years without an NCAA Division I talent coming through their program. Does this mean they are unqualified or not dedicated to those that they coach like some have hinted at? Or should we celebrate them for their continued efforts to provide a memorable experience for the dozens of graduates that might not have made it across that stage were it not for their selfless guidance and support?
If a high school athletic program or the coaches that help lead them are to be judged solely by the scholarship offers they produce then we are living in the ultimate glass-half-empty society. But on that note, if these private trainers and outside programs are as integral in the recruiting process as they and many of the families paying thousands of dollars annually to be a part of them make them out to be, then we as educators need to find ways to adapt and provide access to all.
Sure, there are exceptions to every rule. The high school assistant coach that does it just for few extra dollars a season. The club coach in it for their own win-loss record and trophy collection. The private trainer gouging every last dollar out of a student-athlete most assuredly headed for the intramural circuit. But again, I choose to believe we’re all in it for the same reason – the problem might just be that somewhere along the line we forgot what that reason really is.
While we should all help, support and push today and tomorrow’s high school student-athletes to reach for their goals and be the best they can be, we must also love, teach and prepare them for success in life – regardless of whether that life includes a scholarship offer or not.
- Sam Reed, Athletic Director, Kennedy Catholic High School