I have heard a few horror stories recently of coaches being reprimanded by college administrators based solely on negative student-athlete feedback from a small minority on a team. We have all also heard tell of coaches being let go basely solely on their team’s win-loss record. Although most of us are “evaluated” on a yearly basis, I think it is in fact rare, that any systematic form of actual evaluation of coaching competency occurs. Certainly it is easy for an AD to judge administrative and recruiting efficiency and collegiality within a department, however I have never seen or heard of an administrator attending a game or practice with a conceptually-based checklist to evaluate a coach’s technical, tactical, physical, or psychological expertise with their team.
In the last twenty years, Coaching has in fact developed into a bona fide sub-discipline in the Exercise & Sport Studies field. The work of Canadian Pierre Trudel and colleagues at the University of Ottawa is a prime example of this, as is the work of British researchers such as John Lyle . Here is a link to an outline of Lyle’s recent book on coaching, which examines key issues in the area. Coaching and High Performance systems in both nations have applied this research to devlop world-reknowned coach education programs. I believe that any meaningful evaluation of college or high school coaches needs to take this research into account.
How one evaluates a coach should be directly related to a comprehensive model of “what a coach does”. As an example of this, in our Graduate Program in Coaching at Smith College (we offer a two-year M.Sc. in Exercise & Sport Studies) we have used the NASPE Standards for Sport Coaches to developed a matrix that guides the evaluation of our students who serve as Assistant Coaches on our varsity teams. Each competency or task in the matrix is tied to a specific evaluations component which might be a written assignment for a class (e.g. a physiology or psychology paper) or based on an observation by a Coaching Practicum Advisor. As an advisor, I would observe the coaching student on at least three occasions throughout the year, in both practice and competition situations, using both video, checklists and on-the-spot discussions to evaluate and provide feedback. Here is a link to a few informal evaluation tools from the Coaches Association of British Columbia.
Although this type of comprehensive evaluation might be too costly and impractical to be implemented annually, the idea of bringing in an expert (s) merits consideration. Perhaps a single sport scientist with sport-specific knowledge, or a Coaching Specialist who can evaluate non-sport-specific components such as psychology, leadership, organization, pedagogical methods, plus a second observation from an “expert” coach (from another conference or Division?) to provide feedback on technical and tactical aspects of the sport.
I belong to two associations who use an alternate and less costly model to ensure my coaching competency. Both Tennis Canada and the National Strength & Conditioning Association have Continuing Education (CEU) requirements that must be met to maintain certification after the initial evaluation that took place to obtain certification. I met the Tennis Canada requirements by obtaining my Wheelchair Tennis coaching certificate two years ago, and my AD, Lynn Oberbillig, is paying for my NSCA CEUs as part of my professional development plan.
Either of these models, direct evaluation or a continuing education requirement, would be an improvement to the current prevalent situation where a coach’s actual competency is left unassessed. Coaches need to press for a more systematic type of evaluation to ensure that they are evaluated fairly, and administrators need to do the same to enhance their employees’ performance and perhaps protect themselves if a wrongful dismissal suit were ever to occur.