“’I’m a volunteer. I’m a parent. My kid is on the team – and this is hard. I’m doing my best. I volunteered to coach because I thought it would be fun, I wanted to contribute, and, I genuinely care about this group of kids.”
This is a passage from an anonymous volunteer coach posted on the MinnesotaHockey.org website last year. He goes on to say he knows he’s being critiqued by parents on the car ride home and at the dinner table. But he doesn’t care.
“As coaches, it’s our responsibility to push (players) and challenge them. That’s why we try so hard to make practices fun and engaging and energetic, but at the same time forcing them into difficult situations and making them figure things out on their own. I want the kids to make mistakes. And then I want them to learn from those mistakes. Winning is fun, absolutely, but it isn’t everything. Far from it!”
This father and coach is taking his own time (including nights and weekends) to coach youth hockey players, to deal with parents and to put together thoughtful drills and practices that will benefit the players.
He is just one of thousands of volunteer coaches around the country who donate their time to various youth athletic teams across many sports.
These coaches are critiqued by parents on likely a daily basis, but how should they be evaluated by their leagues?
Should volunteer coaches be evaluated the same as paid coaches? Should it be taken into consideration that they are doing this because they want to and on their own time? Or should that not matter?
There is no right or wrong answer – it just depends on what is appropriate for each league and its teams. Find out below what criteria some leagues and experts are using or recommending.
Same job, same expectations
Andrew Lenhardt, the Director of Coaching at Springfield (Ill.) Area Soccer Association (SASA) said when he evaluates his coaching staff he uses the same criteria for his volunteer coaches as his paid coaches.
“We trust our coaches to be on the frontline of the club,” Lenhardt said.
If a coach is going to represent the values and goals of the league, then Lenhardt believes he or she should be evaluated based on the same criteria – whether he or she is a paid or volunteer coach. It’s important at SASA that all coaches put the expected amount of time and effort into the team and its players.
In fact, Lenhardt believes that by treating the volunteer coaches the same as the paid coaches he is enhancing their commitment and development.
“I think treating them the same as paid coaches makes them feel like they fit in, that they are appreciated and are valued,” Lenhardt said.
Player development matters most
When it comes to coaching, no matter or what sport or level of team, arguably the most important part is developing athletes.
According to the USA Soccer coaching manual, when it comes to evaluating coaches, how the youth athletes interact with the coach and how they develop their skills under him or her is the most important criteria. And that shouldn’t depend on whether or not the coach is a volunteer or is paid.
The USA Soccer coaching manual states: “Children do not make any distinction between a ‘professional coach’ or a ‘volunteer coach.’ Both coaches can have a profound influence on how a child views sport, physical activity, themselves and others.”
Lenhardt has a similar stance as the USA Soccer manual.
“We should evaluate volunteer and paid coaches the same because they have the same influence on player development,” Lenhardt said.
Provide training and education to ensure success
If volunteer coaches are going to be held to the same standards as paid coaches, then they should have the same access to training and development programs.
According to the USA Soccer coaching manual, Rainer Martens — a youth sport researcher and author – stated that fewer than 20 percent of youth coaches received training to become a coach.
The USA Soccer coaching manual states: “If we are truly concerned with the positive development of children to become productive, compassionate and moral citizens through sports, then all should be adequately prepared to be a youth coach.”
Organizations around the country offer training videos, classes and materials to help youth coaches enhance their skills.
Some organizations that offer materials include:
These are just a handful of websites that provide coaching development. To get materials on your specific sport check with your league or national governing body.
In addition to receiving training materials, all coaches – both paid and volunteer – should receive clear instructions at the start of the season as to what is expected of their role and how their performances will be evaluated. This will help ensure a more successful season for the league, coaches and most of all, the players.
What do you think?
Should volunteer coaches be held to the same standards as paid coaches? Leave us a comment.