Coaching for Life

Coaches can play an important role in the lives of children, but the coach-athlete relationship must meet some challenges if it’s to be successful. The dingy gyms and patchwork practice fields of the high school ranks are a far cry from the gleaming basketball palaces and football cathedrals where professional and major college coaches work. Those coaches also enjoy seven-figure salaries, endorsement deals, and a celebrity reception that are nothing like the reality high school coaches face.

Most high school coaches are teachers who work additional hours after school because they love sports and working with young people. The days can be long, and the pay is skimpy -- they may receive a small coaching supplement, but they probably could earn more at some other part-time job.

Increasingly, too, coaches face greater pressure, as do the administrators who hire and supervise them. Outside influences, from neighborhood troubles to overenthusiastic parents, make it more difficult for today’s coaches to connect to young athletes than it was for their predecessors. Fans are less patient -- sometimes even hostile -- when programs are not successful in the win column. Even when coaches’ jobs aren’t on the line, they still feel the burden of winning and losing.

“The pressure to win is greater than the public thinks,” says Joseph Reda, athletic director at Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights, Ill. “Playing Monday morning quarterback is easy.”

Coaches say the challenges they face make their role more -- not less -- important. Today, more than ever, young people need the personal guidance and attention that coaches can provide. Positive lessons learned in high school sports carry over into other areas of life, they say, and if students aren’t learning those lessons at home, then coaches can help fill that vital role. 

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