Thursday, November 17, 2011

Coaching vs. Teaching

WARNING: I'm about to address perhaps my biggest pet peeve about my entire profession, so if you happen to be an academic sort, please don't take any personal offense to anything written here. As mentioned in my first post here, I'm currently in my eleventh year of coaching, meaning that I've been working at this my entire adult life. I did go to business school in an effort to possibly open other doors in sports in the future, but I loved coaching too much to give it up while I was in a full-time MBA program. Once I finished the program, however, I knew that I would have to add another job in order to start paying off the approximately $50K in student loans I had accrued over two short years at one of the nation's most expensive universities.*

*This extra time commitment of coaching probably went a long way toward me losing my partial scholarship after one year, and thus putting myself more in debt. Good times! In addition, GW doesn't need to hold their breath waiting for a check from me. I think I've given them enough money, especially seeing as how the school's organizational business model is apparently the U.S. Congress. That's not a good thing.

Naturally, the problem was (and, for that matter, still is) finding a job that leaves you free between the hours of 3 PM and 7 PM to coach high school sports. And of course, the most obvious answer to that dilemma is teaching. Teaching in a classroom is a full-time gig that conveniently ends right before one's coaching responsibilities begin, all the better if you can score both positions at the same school, and walk from one job to the other. So during my second year of business school, I started looking for teaching jobs at and near my then-employer for the coaching side of things.** But I ran into a brick wall; I wasn't experienced enough. And the only explanation for that rationale is that academics are snobs.

**I didn't expand my search any farther at that point because I was primarily concerned with demonstrating some loyalty and providing continuity to a group of volleyball players who had been under a different head coach every year from 8th through 11th grade, and three of those players were college-level players and deserved someone familiar to help them through the process.

Here is my issue; how can you say that with nine years' experience (at that point) of teaching kids multiple different sports, and being pretty well-regarded for it, that I was unqualified to teach in a classroom? How, exactly, is coaching different from teaching? You still have to plan, you still have to instruct, and you still have to evaluate, not to mention serve as a mentor/confidant/psychologist/disciplinarian/everything else that good teachers do. Other than a general lack of textbooks and desks, and occasionally (if you coach an outdoor sport) four walls and a roof overhead, where are the differences? They are nowhere to be found.

There is of course the argument that what students learn in the classroom is so much more valuable than what they learn on the court or field, but I don't buy that argument either. Kids probably learn much more about coexisting and cooperating while working toward a common goal playing a sport than they do in a classroom reading Catch-22 or solving trigonometry equations. Those teamwork skills become invaluable when these same kids become working adults and are, essentially, working on a team (at least if their company/firm is well-managed). In addition, they learn about discipline and sacrifice for a common good; there are studies out there saying that athletes are more successful in business because they understand these things better than the average bear.

In short, coaching is teaching, just in a different setting. So why do so many academic types steadfastly refuse to see it that way? Back in the spring of 2010, for example, one of the positions I applied for was to teach history at the same school. It made perfect sense to apply: history was one of my college majors, I could be assured of good references from multiple college professors,*** and I had already been working at the school for awhile, so I was plenty familiar with the students, faculty, and staff. So guess how quickly they got back to me for even a token interview? I'm pretty sure you've already figured out that they did not. The head of the social studies division for the school not only did not respond to my initial application, but didn't bother to return any follow-up phone calls or e-mails, which came from an in-house e-mail address. This person knew me both by name and by face, and couldn't even politely respond with an "I'm sorry, you don't have the background we're looking for."

***Although it's a safe bet that Dr. R---- would not exactly be one of those, and not just because my friend Ryan and I spent an entire three-hour session of historiography (it's as boring as it sounds) coming up with names for beer pong formations.

Now, if this had happened just the once, I would be prepared to write it off as either one particularly bad (and rude) snob,**** but this happened at other schools when I started applying there in the spring and summer of 2011, and after I got hired to coach again elsewhere. I understand the rejections; it's expected that in a down economy, when the only industry that seems to be growing is government, that I wasn't going to have dozens of offers on the table. But the fact remains that apart from one elementary school where I had already spent a year as a three-days-a-week substitute teacher, only one other school ever replied. It's hard to find much of a reason for this other than intellectual snobbery.

****It is worth mentioning that I did at least get a courtesy interview for an English teaching position at this same school.

In some ways coaching can be more difficult than teaching. In many school environments (particularly public schools) it is almost impossible to get fired from a teaching job, while coaches are much more easily replaced. Depending on the school, coaches can also be subject to a lot more scrutiny; no parents have ever showed up at a biology lab and made public nuisances of themselves for two hours, two to three times a week, until finally the head of the school has to step in and lecture them to stop behaving so immaturely.***** Also, in a class, one or two students falling behind are not necessarily going to affect the productivity and learning curve of the entire class, which is certainly the case in team sports. It's difficult to get the most out of your best players if they aren't getting challenged by your bench on a daily basis.

*****This happened with the parents of a few basketball players I coached one season. It was embarrassing, and probably cost the school any chance they might have had at getting any kind of sportsmanship accolades for the next five years.

So if you work in an academic setting, please don't be so quick to dismiss those of us who coach sports. We perform the same tasks of educating kids, and often (in high school and below) for far less money. Educating is about developing the whole child, and it couldn't be done without coaches.