September 10, 2018 • Athletic Administration

6 tips for identifying qualified coaching candidates

It has happened to all of us. One of your coaches arranges an oddly placed, one-on-one meeting with you. Before he or she walks through the door, you suspect what the meeting is about.

After exchanging small talk, they nervously execute a rehearsed speech, gently saying what you were hoping they would not. In as much time as it takes for the words, “I am going to have to resign my position” to come out of their mouth, your mind immediately starts to race trying to answer one question: Who can I get to replace this coach?

I used to dread this type of meeting. The pain was two-fold: first, it meant that I no longer had a coach, and second, I was suddenly charged with the task of finding a qualified replacement.

Finding qualified coaches is not easy. The challenges of coaching are well documented: The endeavor has become almost year round, scrutiny is ever-increasing, required training is frequently added and the per diem pay is relatively low. In addition, the talent pool is limited due to the fact that those outside the teaching profession work hours that rarely match the availability of the student-athletes. In many cases, it is a pretty tough sell.

Rather than dreading the burdens that come from the unexpected loss of a valued coach, I have learned to embrace it as an opportunity. The coach usually has a good reason for leaving your program, and there is typically nothing you can say or do to change his or her mind. It is fruitless to bemoan semantics of that part of the situation.

The part that you can control is finding a high-quality replacement. I view it as an opportunity to improve the program. Many of us have stepped away from coaching, but we know what it is like to build a winning team with athletes. Building a winning team of talented coaches is no different.

There is no substitute for having a clear and defined process when searching for coaches. Creating a job description directly connected to the desired outcomes, gathering a large pool of applicants, thoughtful screening, thorough interview methods and careful vetting are all required and prudent components to selecting the right coach.

But what happens when you get stuck early in the process? What happens when your list of applicants is a blank piece of paper? There are a few tips that the athletic administrator can employ to find qualified coaches when sudden openings become difficult to fill.

1. Know the processes already at work.

To yield the highest probability of success in finding quality coach candidates, it is essential to cast the widest net possible. The availability of your coaching position needs to be known by all those who might be interested.

A good place to start would be to send an email blast to all employees in your school building, district or organization. If you are in a larger district, perhaps your human resources department maintains a job vacancy board. This particular pool of people would be most likely to have the skill sets or qualifications you desire.

If you find that the interest is low in your organization, cast an even wider net. Local, regional or state athletic associations often maintain websites with job vacancy boards. By utilizing the processes that are already in place to spread the word about your job vacancy, you will be surprised by the amount of qualified and interested candidates there are to choose from.

2. Frontload and reload.

What if I told you that you could have a bank of experienced coaches available to fill your paid positions once they became available? This is certainly possible if you encourage potential coaches to get involved in your program as volunteers.

Each year, you may come across former players, parents or community members who express interest in volunteering their time to help your program. You may even want to go a step further and advertise volunteer positions with teams for which you would like to lower the athlete-to-coach ratio. Most likely, you will not get any interest, but if you do, it is certainly a bonus.

If a potential volunteer is qualified, reliable and willing to complete all required trainings, why not? If managed properly, they not only can help with the daily operations of the team, but they can develop into high quality, experienced candidates for paid positions once they open up.

3. Know what you have.

Who would have ever known that the art teacher in the classroom down the hall was an all-state high school football player? Or that the math teacher upstairs played tennis in college? You wouldn’t know unless you were tuned in to the talents of the people who work in your building.

It’s amazing what you learn about people if you spend some time outside the athletic office, having informal conversations with co-workers and learning about their interests and backgrounds. Keep mental or tangible notes of all those people who work in your building who, through informal dialogue, you determined are qualified coaching candidates. Even if they are not in the market themselves, it is possible that they may have friends, relatives or former teammates qualified and interested in your position.

Though many do not proactively express interest in your job postings when they become available, those who are hiding in plain sight may consider working for you if you have built a relationship on the front end and you approach them in earnest when the time comes.

4. Reuse and recycle.

When coaches leave your program, it is usually for a good reason. Most of the time there is nothing you can do or say to change their minds. Nonetheless, when he or she walks out the door, do not lose their contact information or your positive rapport with them. As time passes, sometimes the reasons why they left their position in the first place no longer exist.

For example, if a coach resigns because he or she would like to spend more time with their young children at home, perhaps they would consider returning when their children have grown up. If a coach leaves due to a changed work schedule, check back in a few years to see if their hours have become more flexible. Do not forget those talented, proven individuals, because although they may need to walk out the door once, they may come back better than ever if or when their situation changes.

5. Create and use a ‘wish list.’

The reoccurring theme here is to stay in tune to talented candidates, whether they are in the general pool, work in your building, have coached for you in the past, or even coached at nearby schools.

Create a “wish list” of their names, and after ranking the best fits for your position, start at the top of the list and contact them. The worst thing that could happen is they say no. Do not be afraid of the rejection. You never know when you may catch a highly-qualified candidate at the right place and time who says yes.

6. Look up, down and all around.

Another pool of candidates that is wise to tap into is organizations below or above your own. For example, if you administer a middle school program, the travel organizations that feed your program may have experienced and qualified candidates interested in taking a step up, while the high school program may have coaches who have a passion for the profession but would like less of a commitment.

If you are in charge of a high school program, reach out to qualified, up-and-coming middle school coaches interested taking the next step in their careers, or use your contacts with local collegiate coaches to find those who may want a different challenge at the prep level.

Do not forget about retired former coaches. Taking a step away from the profession for a little while may be enough to rekindle the fire to return if the right situation is presented. You may very well be that situation.

Turnover is a reality of our profession. It becomes a harsh reality when your careful hiring process digresses into an exercise in desperation. Hopefully, with a little preventative maintenance, attention to your surroundings and courage in the face of rejection, you can turn what can be thought of as a burden into an opportunity to make your team stronger.

Jay Schwanke, CAA, is the athletic administrator at Dublin Sells Middle School in Ohio.

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