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Clarifying athletic program objectives: the foundation for coach evaluation and job satisfaction.

Coach evaluation and retention are two fundamental issues that continually challenge athletic administrators. Whether the administrator is the singularly assigned athletic or activity director in a larger school, the multi-tasking principal/ activity director/teacher-coach in a rural environment or the club director in the private sector, the task of finding, hiring, and retaining qualified coaches is daunting.

It is a never-ending annual or seasonal responsibility. If it is not accomplished in a timely and professional manner, a number of negative results can occur, such as the loss of qualified coaches, a lack of confidence in parents and community supporters, and an over-all reduction in the quality of the athletic program.


There continues to be increasing numbers of athletic programs, but at the same time, there are fewer resources, more expectations on coaches, and fewer teachers willing to coach in the schools. Therefore, it becomes even more imperative to establish a structured format by which the role and expectations of coaches are clearly defined.

Post-seasonal evaluations will be much easier if the role has been established and agreed to by all.

Step 1: Define and prioritize* the objectives of the athletic program

Many administrators and coaches find it difficult to accurately articulate the goals and objectives of their programs. Certainly, they can present many of the cliches used indefinitely to promote their sport, but problems arise when their actions are compared with their words.

One of the primary problems in coach evaluation at any level has been a basic failure to define the primary objectives of the program and how or even if the coach achieved them.

If objectives have not been articulated and documented (that is, talked about, agreed upon by all parties, and written down) during preseason, during the year the parties involved (coach, athletic director, school board, parents, and players) will not be on the same page. When that disagreement occurs, the program suffers.

Step la: Defining the levels

It is a false assumption that all sport programs are the same. Even with a particular high school, district, or private club, different levels have different objectives and goals. Just as every community has its own personality, every athletic program reflects the individuality of the school, club, and environment in which it exists. For example, a public school may have within its athletic program:

Every level must be identified and have fundamental goals and objectives established for each. It is impractical and often counterproductive to have the same goals, objectives, and methods for the coach evaluation for each. Programs that do not have clearly articulated goals will find themselves mired in conflict.

Step 2: Defining program objectives

It is much more than an academic exercise to define both the levels of play, the behavioral expectations at each level and the rules and guidelines for each. For example at the public high school level, the administrator in charge could start the pre-season by creating a basic program matrix:

For each level of play, primary objectives and guidelines are determined. For example:

Recreational: The primary objective is to have fun by maximizing participation, minimizing formal training, and reducing the emphasis on improvement and performance. In an intramural program, the participants often create the teams, there is not a formal coach or training sessions, and the role of administration is basic scheduling and facility coordination. There is little emphasis on winning and very few formal post-season tournaments or play-offs.

Developmental: The goal at this level is to maximize the learning of skills and tactics of the sport. Maximum participation by athletes is emphasized not only for the overall growth and welfare of the athletes, but the continued development of the overall program. Developmental levels should be the foundations for the higher, competitive levels. While competition and winning play more of a role than at the recreational level, developing athletes is a higher priority than a winning season.

Competitive: This is the level at which most Varsity' programs aspire. The primary object is to put the best eleven, nine, six, five, etc. players on the court, field, diamond, or pitch until the contest is decided. Coaches at this level are often told that their objectives are similar to those at the lower levels, but ultimately (or in an unwritten way) they are judged by the results of the season. There are, however, many written and unwritten constraints on this level that distinguishes it from the "super" competitive level.

Levels:    Recreational  Developmental  Competitive  Super-competitive






Super-competitive (the Friday Night Lights syndrome): There are absolutely no restrictions on producing the most competitive teams possible. These teams are characteristically found in some private club sports that have no limits (other than financial) on who can play, where they can travel, the number of games per season, etc. Often, these teams are created from pools of players who are continually competing for positions on a team for a specific competition. National teams maintain pools of players from which a roster of players is selected for an event, tournament, or individual game.


To simplify this presentation, let's examine a more common contrast for the public school program. That contrast will be between the developmental and competitive objectives at the sophomore, junior varsity, and varsity levels. Let's assume that a school district has enough athletes to have teams at those three levels.

If asked, most adults involved (players, coaches, parents and administrators) could easily identify the traditional goals of sport participation. They include: having fun, developing skills, getting better, learning to compete, building life skills, etc. The difficult test is determining priorities when those objectives conflict. Those conflicts are the sources of problems at every level of any program. For example:


These are but a few of the issues that if not addressed and communicated on a regular basis will impact the athletic program at some point. It is not to say that ALL parties have to agree, but all parties need to know well in advance that these are the parameters by which the program, including the coaches, will be evaluated.

Basketball coaches being hired for a freshman team should know that their primary role is developmental. That is, the evaluation of their performance will not be on the win/loss record of the team, but a combination of how much the players improved over a season and how many came back the following year.

Any coach, even the youngest and least experienced, should be able to accomplish and document two things with their athletes:

A player who had fun is more likely to continue the sport than one who did not. The challenge to the coach is deter- mining how each player defines "fun" and meeting those needs as much as possible. If those two objectives have been agreed to at the time of hiring, an athletic director's evaluation responsibility will be simplified.

Skill improvement in any sport is relatively easy to document. There are readily available skill tests for most sports. The more coaches have and use these (or the ones they have created) before and during the season, the better. Documenting player improvement is easy if required.

The evaluation of "fun" can be determined by seeking player and maybe even parent input. Ironically, it has been established both in antidotal reports and through scientific observation that if players at any age are improving and having fun, winning will take care of itself.


Once the goals and objectives of a team have been established, they must be prioritized. Too often, coaches are asked to be all things to all people. Parents, especially, often exhibit unrealistic expectations. The parents want us to play every player an equal amount, make sure they have fun and feel good about themselves and win the state championship. As humorous as it may appear, it is not unrealistic.

An athletic administrator could use the aforementioned matrix and begin the process by placing values on the levels of play. For example, see chart below.

So, in this example, a coach at the freshman level would be evaluated primarily on the improvement of the players, then their level of fun and lastly the competitive results of the season. The varsity coach's evaluation would be just the reverse. Certainly an administrator could place both criteria and values on the levels, but prioritizing would be a good first step.

Sport in the USA will continue to grow in participation and popularity. Unfortunately, neither the number of qualified coaches nor the resources needed to support the programs will mirror that expansion.

For administrators to hire, develop, and maintain qualified coaches, a sound systematic method of evaluation must be established. The validity of the evaluation process will be reflected in its relationship to the prioritized objectives and goals of each level of sport.

Levels:      Recreational  Developmental  Competitive    Super-
                (fun)       (improving)    (winning    competitive
                                            within     (winning is
                                            limits *)     the only

Intramurals  Only

Freshman     2nd priority  1st priority   3rd          *

Sophomore    2nd           1st priority   3rd          *

J.V.         3rd           1st            2nd          *

Varsity      3rd           2nd            1st          *

(* limits within academics expectations, behavioral guidelines,
eligibility standards, etc.)


1. An intramural program.

2. An elementary program.

3. A middle school program.

4. A high school program and with in a high school there may be subdivisions.

a. Freshman teams.

b. Sophomore teams.

c. Junior varsity teams.

d. Varsity teams.


Within a private sports club, there may be:

1. Recreational teams.

2. Developmental teams.

3. Age-specific competitive teams.

4. Non-age specific competitive teams.

5. Traveling teams.

6. "All-star" super competitive teams.


1. How does your program address these issues?

2. Are there restrictions on number of players to be kept or cut during try-outs?

If there are cuts:

* Who is responsible for making those decisions?

* How are they made and on what criteria?

* Is the criteria clearly identified and publicized well in advance?

* If there are enough players and resources for teams at younger (lower) levels, how are the teams formed?

* Is there an A team and a B team or two equally talented squads?

* Is there a minimum playing time expectation at any level?

* By whom and how is playing time determined?

* Are your levels (sophomore, junior varsity, varsity) fluid in their rosters?

* Are coaches allowed to move players up to a higher level of play and, more importantly, move players down to lower levels?

* Are certain players given priority when selecting rosters? For example, are varsity coaches expected to save spots for seniors who have been in the program in the past or are all spots up for grabs at the start of every season?

* Are coaches expected to start seniors on senior night?

* Are seniors or juniors given extra playing time when college coaches are in town?

* Improvement in skills, knowledge of the game, rules of the game, etc.

* Enjoyment of the sport and overall program.

Craig Stewart, Ed.D., Professor, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT
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Title Annotation:COACHING
Author:Stewart, Craig
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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