Have you ever been to a meeting or conference where veteran coaches were obvious in their disdain for having to attend? How about having to listen to them as they make harsh comments and complaints? Now, I’m not talking about the problem coach that someone should have fired years ago. I’m referring to successful coaches who have soured over time.
As a younger coach, my thoughts always raced to an internal fear: “I hope I never get that way!” I felt the need to distance myself from all the negativity before it consumed me. I used to wonder to myself, “How did this happen? I remember that coach winning a championship.”
However, after talking with and listening to many coaches, I’ve found those behaviors are a direct result of being ignored, forgotten and left alone.
Let’s look at all three.
IGNORED- Veteran coaches usually have offered solutions to varying challenges within the sports department, such as field maintenance, gym cosmetics, developing coaching manuals, rules and expectations, board policies, etc. Many times their ideas were not taken seriously even though the problems impacted them directly. Instead, the issues were often handled by an individual or a committee with little sports experience. Over the years, resentment builds because their opinions and solutions weren’t considered or even acknowledged.
FORGOTTEN- Accomplishments from the past can be forgotten by new AD’s and Administrators. Veteran coaches have sometimes devoted their whole careers to the school, working on fields or in the gyms and giving freely of their time to camps. Yet, their records, championships and decorated players are forgotten. In a “what have you won for me today world,” yesterday’s titles are lost. Very often they feel no one cares and wonder why they even did it, or continue to do it. Realizing that none of that seems to matter can fuel a feeling of, “Why should I care?”
LEFT ALONE- A dilemma no coach ever puts a lot of thought into is getting to a point in their career where they are so trusted that no one checks on them, gives them guidance or holds them accountable. While it would appear to be a coach’s dream, it can be a lonely feeling. Players expect to be disciplined when they step out of line. They expect someone to teach and guide them regardless of their grade. Remember, coaches do as well, regardless of their tenure. Being left alone, while at first seems like a badge of honor, creates a feeling of not being an integral part of the sports department.
If you’re an Athletic Director, especially a newly hired one, veteran coaches can potentially be one of your biggest challenges. They can be set in their ways of doing things within the athletic department, and may either confront you or do their best to ignore you. In either case you have to establish a solid relationship so they have an understanding of your expectations and guidelines of accountability for every coach within the department.
With that in mind, what does a veteran coach offer that is valuable, not only to their team, but to the athletic department?
Experience- Expert in dealing with players, administrators, officials and parents.
Knowledgeable- A true tactician. Ability to handle game situations is almost flawless.
Resources- Knows every avenue to find answers and solutions.
Relationships- Fosters goodwill to colleagues, officials, and business people.
Credibility- Has shown the ability to build a successful program. Follows the rules.
Recognizable- The face of your school in the community and beyond.
Loyalty- Heart and soul have been given to their school, sport and players.
Dedication- Always had one main goal: To coach and support their team.
Commitment- Rarely missed a day. Always a role model for their players.
Caring- Went over and beyond in supporting players in personal challenges as well.
The key is to tap into these qualities. Let’s remember the three areas contributing to veteran coaches becoming negative and cynical: Being ignored, forgotten and left alone. How can we eliminate those three terms and use our veteran coaches’ attributes to help the department and reignite their passion?
Accountable- They don’t want to be treated any differently. They need guidance just like any other coach in your program. Experience is not a free ticket, but the key is to treat them as a peer, not a subordinate. If they step out of line, call them on it. Evaluate them just like any other coach. Will they like it? Probably not. Do they need it? YES!
Higher standard- Remind them you hold them to a higher standard. They need to realize their accomplishments and experiences make them a role model and ambassador for the other coaches in the program, the school and the community.
Recognition for Achievements- Take the time to highlight their personal and team achievements at a sports halftime, post something on social media every month (blast from the past) or send an online article to the local newspaper. Their accomplishments, while a few years ago, shed a positive light on the sports program, and give others new insight into your program’s history.
Listen/Let them fight- If they have a potential solution for a problem, take the time to listen. Should they want to take it to a higher level, such as the school board or superintendent, encourage them to do so. Just remind them of the risks. Nothing gives a person greater purpose than advocating for a cause.
Bigger Roll- Can your department, school or district, use their experience in a supplemental role while they coach or when they retire? That could be an Assistant AD, Sports Program Ambassador, Sports Fundraising Director, Sports Academic Advisor/Coordinator, Fields and Facilities Coordinator, or other roles.Think of all they bring to the table that can benefit everyone.
Insight/Intuition- Veteran coaches are masters of insight and intuition. During a game, they are always thinking and seeing ahead. Get them involved on athletic committees that make decisions impacting your school’s sports. Another voice of experience can be a positive when weighing all the factors. Giving back is a great way to cement their legacy.
Coaching Trainer- Every program needs a trainer for newly-hired coaches. Given their personality, demeanor and ability, a veteran coach may be a great fit in this position. Having experienced so many of the challenges young coaches will face makes them a great possibility.This certainly could be a position they hold in addition to regular coaching duties, or, in some cases, a stand-alone position.
Veteran coaches didn’t grow into a cynical and negative outlook with age. They got there feeling ignored, forgotten and left alone. Take the steps necessary today to use these valuable resources in a positive way to benefit not only them, but your sports program as well.
Learn more about us at wisersportsleadership.com and listen to our podcasts, "Influence for Today's Coaches," on itunes.