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How to Reduce Risk When Hiring High School Coaches

Clay Burnett

One of the primary responsibilities of an Athletic Director is hiring coaches. But finding qualified coaches can be difficult—especially for sports like bowling, lacrosse, and cheerleading.

Being a coach is an important job that comes with public pressures and very little pay. Finding the right person can be tough, but it’s worth the effort.

A coach, for the better or worse, plays a pivotal role in the athletics experience. The best coaches help kids reach their full potential on the field while serving as role models—and even becoming lifelong mentors.

Add this all up, and it’s critical that athletic directors do their due diligence up front to make sure they hire the best coaches they can—the first time.

How Can You Improve Your Hiring Process?

Creating a job description including an overview of the athletic department mission, vision, and values as well as clear expectations, responsibilities, important dates, and compensation will help interested coaches fully understand the role. 

Additionally, you’ll need to inform coaches of policies, safety standards, potential hazards, facility usage guidelines, communication policies for parents and students, state rules and bylaws for practice times, out-of-season coaching, and out-of-season tournament entry, among other things.

The more familiar would-be coaches are with your expectations, the easier it will be to ensure that they transition into your athletics program smoothly.
Beyond that, there are a number of other ways you can optimize your hiring process to increase the chances that you extend offers to the most qualified candidates. Let’s take a look at five of them:


1. Look to Hire Proven leaders

When a new coaching vacancy opens up, you may be tempted to hire the teacher right down the hall or the winningest coach you can find. There are certainly merits to both hiring current staffers and proven winners; but leadership is the quality that should define your choice. Taking an ‘eyes-wide-open’ approach may help locate the best person for the job. You may want to reach out through your social networks to make sure that the best educators, best coaches, and best leaders in your community see the opportunity. After all, many of these folks may be looking to make a positive impact in your community.

Start by advertising the vacancy to immediate staff. If you can’t find the right person in the school, open the position to everyone in the district. After that, if you still haven’t filled the position, offer the position to members of the community and others outside the district.

Pro tip: Consider aligning teaching vacancies with potential coaching skills to fill two gaps at once.

2. Hire for Character

In athletics, kids come first, and winning comes second. The last thing you want to do is hire a coach who puts winning above all else—including the students’ well-being. In today’s culture, safety comes first when it comes to reducing risk and liability related to concussions, injuries, and preventative action.

Look for candidates that have the wisdom, honesty, respect, and humility needed to take your program to the next level. The best candidate will be highly committed to the job, team-oriented, on time, possess a superior work ethic, and lead by example.

3. Ask the Right Questions

As an administrator and manager of people, you have to know your staff. Hiring coaches who have character traits indicating their values align with those of your department is key. But, how do you know? Ask the right questions. Here are a couple we use here at FinalForms:

  1. What attracts you to working here?
  2. Which of your achievements makes you most proud?
  3. What one skill makes you the most qualified candidate?
  4. Pick one of your core values and tell me how your life reflects that value.
  5. What’s one piece of advice you’d provide to your younger self?
  6. What’s the best saying you heard from one of your family members?
  7. Complete the sentence: When the situation gets stressful I...

4. Examine Each Candidate’s Experience, As Well As the Quality of Programs They’ve Led

As athletic director, you want to do everything you can to make sure you hire the best person for the job. Coaching vacancies can be a huge opportunity to improve your athletic program—delivering more value to taxpayers and students along the way.

Put each candidate’s experiences under a microscope to determine who has the best credentials and skill sets for the job at hand. Keep in mind that the best coaches can create a culture and build a supporting staff without your constant oversight.

5. Follow Department, District, and State Policy

It may go without saying, but this is an important one: Make sure your coaches understand policy and law. Mismanaged fundraisers, errors in understanding eligibility, and more egregious actions such as harassment, retaliation, and assault can lead to anything from an embarrassing article to a full-blown lawsuit.
Contact references and conduct a background check on potential coaches to see if they have any red flags in their past—even those you might have missed the first time around.

FinalForms offers ‘Coach Forms’ that ensure policies are acknowledged and signed and also ensures proper emergency contacts and medical information are easily accessible.

6. Collect Emergency Medical Information and Contacts

Are you aware that one of your coaches is diabetic, another has a heart condition, and yet another has a seizure disorder? You better be when disaster strikes. Knowing which of your coaches may need an extra degree of care or medical equipment on hand can help save their life. Beyond that, knowing exactly who to call when something goes wrong can satisfy loved ones.

7. Look for a Technologically Sound Person

Coaching has changed significantly in the digital age. We’re in the era of online stats, social media, and e-learning. In this era, more and more programs are digitizing their operations, it’s important to look for candidates who have effectively used tech tools, social media, and websites in the past. 

For example, the right coach will be tech-savvy and able to adapt to new tools and technologies easily—particularly when they can help improve compliance and safety.

Successful Athletic Programs Are Built on the Backs of Great Coaches

You might have some of the best athletes in the world in your district, but if they’re led by the wrong coach, they’ll struggle to reach their full potential.

An inspiring and engaging coach can help every student-athlete improve every day—both on the field and off it.

With so much on the line, this is not a decision you want to make lightly. Take your time, develop policies and guidelines that work for your district, and do your due diligence with every hire. That’s the ticket to building a successful athletics program that earns accolades and sets students up for a lifetime of success.

For more information on how to improve your athletics program and reduce risk across your district, check out our new e-book: 20 Must-Have Online School Forms for K–12 Athletic Programs or check out our Ultimate AD Checklist: Get Ready for Fall

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