by John Unrein
The impact of a hiring a new head coach at the high school level is felt in many ways. Some of those influences are noticeable on the surface, the others not as much. High school activities and sports are best served by consistent leadership. Therefore, the hiring of a new head coach for any program is a hire that an activities director and school administration wants to get right so that steadiness prevails in the development of student athletes.
The effects of the person selected to be at the helm of a high school athletic program comes with many questions. Is a candidate able to convince someone that they can motivate today’s young people and communicate with them effectively? Do they have a track record of winning and solid knowledge of the sport based on their background? Are they willing to adapt their philosophy to the players and assistant coaches they have, or will they be able to mold them into what they except and how long will it take to get the needed execution to be successful? Are they able to build positive relationships in and out of the classroom with students, fellow educators, other head coaches, parents, and community members? Is this their dream job or do they view it as a steppingstone? Are they convincing that they will be able handle the demands put on them by their job in managing a work-life balance?
Grain Valley High School Activities Director Brandon Hart is currently going through the process of identifying a new head coaching candidate for the Lady Eagles volleyball program. Hart shared his thoughts on what the candidate selection process looks like and what he seeks in a head coach.
“I would say head coaching experience is preferred in most cases, but not an absolute necessity. We try to evaluate each individual program and come up with a wish list based off the current reality of a program. It generally varies…sometimes we prefer experience and sometimes we prefer youthful energy. At the end of the day, we ask ourselves if this candidate is a good fit for our program,” Hart said.
Identifying the biggest attribute a candidate should possess is married to the needs of the program. An activity director must have a pulse on the health and personality of a team when trying to marry the right person to the job for the success of all involved.
“Identifying the biggest attribute or trait we seek in a head coach is a tough question because it depends on the identified needs of the program. I don’t know if you have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to hiring coaches. That being said, I think the trait we generally look for in a high school head coach is his or her ability to relate to kids,” Hart said.
“Will this candidate be a positive influence on the kids, school, and community? If a coach can form strong and positive relationships with kids, they can be successful in a high school program. High school programs should be judged more on the positive impact they have on kids than on a win-loss record.”
Some activity directors may go by feel they have for a candidate they develop through the interview process. Others may use a specific tool like a four quadrant matrix, that among other things assesses climate (relationships) and performance (knowledge) based on the answers provided by an applicant. Hart prefers to use both.
“As mentioned previously,
relationships are probably the most important attribute, but if relationship building is ranked 1A, knowledge of the sport is arguably ranked 1B,” Hart said.
“The reality is a coach needs to connect with kids, but kids will likely not buy into a program if the coach lacks knowledge/skills in the arena they are coaching. Both relationships and knowledge are extremely important, and really serves as the cornerstone ‘look fors’ in our evaluation process.”
Once someone satisfies the requirements and hunches of the activity director, administrative team, or committee they interviewed with and emerge as the potential new head coach, the vetting process begins. School districts like Grain Valley do background checks that require fingerprinting and clearance from law enforcement. Hart goes past that and contacts three references for the identified candidate before making a job offer.
Upon acceptance of the job to be a new head coach and the other needed requirements fulfilled, attention then turns to welcoming the newest member of the Eagles family.
“We introduce our new head coaches in a variety of ways. We try to release information to stakeholders first (players, coaches, etc.). We will also try to have a team meeting to introduce a coach if they are new to the district…we may not need to have a team meeting if it is an internal candidate. Social media is probably the most effective way to communicate new hires,” Hart said.