Tips on Implementing Professional Development Program for Coaches

Editor’s Note: The following is an interview with Chris Lavoie, CMAA, director of athletics at Wekiva High School in Apopka, Florida, and Scott Stemple, athletic director at Mason (Ohio) High School, regarding developing a professional development program for coaches.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish with your professional development program for coaches and what led you to create it? Why is this effort important for the coaches in your setting?

Lavoie: My goal is to create an environment and program to provide continuing education opportunities for our coaching staff. As with any profession, things evolve, and this means that education and professional development are extremely important.

For example, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has policies and procedures that must be followed, and it is important that the coaching staff understands them and is aware of any changes that have occurred. It is also necessary that we develop and discuss our mission, vision and principles. By doing this, we can share our philosophy and develop a plan as to where we want to go and how we are going to get there.

Stemple: Our Coaches Learning Series creates an opportunity for continuing education and professional staff development in the areas that impact our school-sponsored sport extra-curriculars to benefit the students who participate in these activities. Through this program, our coaches are able to enhance their consistency, knowledge and actions as it applies to our stakeholders, operations and conflict resolution.

Question: With games and practice sessions during the week, and seasons overlapping, when do you schedule your professional development sessions for your coaches? Do you use methods such as online offerings, email and links to articles?

Lavoie: We are lucky. Our district provides us with the opportunity to meet every Wednesday because our students have an early release day. The majority of the meetings are face-to-face, interactive sessions, but I will also be using additional venues such as WhatsApp or GoToMeeting in the future.

Stemple: The Mason City School District provides our staff with a 50-minute session per month during the school day to offer the Coaches Learning Series. This gives us the opportunity to involve all of our coaches in the building as well as our non-teaching coaching staff members.

In addition, we also share information that is available on certain topics through articles, links and books. One of our focal points this year has been reading Fred Northup’s “Winning More Than a Game – Developing Character through Sports.” This is a relatively inexpensive book that offers great insight to character development and life lessons for students and coaches, and we purchased a copy for every coach.

Another aspect of professional development is helping our coaches to fulfill all of our state association’s required certifications. To meet this goal, we remind and encourage our coaches and cover the costs.

Question: What topics do you include in your program? How do you make your sessions pertinent to your school setting and your coaching staff?

Lavoie: By far the best developmental program that I have purchased and presented is the “Brian Cain 12 Pillars of Peak Performance Digital Training Program.” This program allows all of our coaches to go through an online training program that educates them on how to develop a championship culture. In addition, a review of district and state policy is included, and best practices are covered. At the end of each session, there is always time for open discussion. This allows coaches to give me feedback about pros and cons of the topics presented or to have a group discussion about current events.

Stemple: We try to focus on topics that impact the various dynamics of our athletic department and school setting. With our stakeholders, character development – both for students and coaches – is important. Discussions on day-to-day activities and compliance items relate to the operational aspect.

Where you have human interaction, you are bound to have some disagreement and tension, especially in a large high school and district setting like we have at Mason. While we strive to be efficient and consistent in our efforts and communication, we also need to work at conflict resolution.

Question: Do you bring in speakers or experts for specific topics, or do you handle all of the instruction yourself?

Lavoie: While I run the majority of the meetings, I do not want to always be center stage. Therefore, I try to involve others who can speak on specific topics. For example, retirement specialists, sales representatives, college coaches and NCAA recruiting experts have all taken part depending on their availability, and the appropriateness and value of their presentation.

Stemple: We do a combination of both. When I am leading the discussion, the emphasis is on engaging our coaches to listen and interact with each other. Also, another of our goals is to continually involve experts on various topics but not to a point where we lose the discussion and exchange of thoughts and ideas with our coaches.

Earlier this year, for example, we hosted our school attorney who did an excellent job highlighting significant issues and topics surrounding risk management. This session involved a question- and-answer period, and it was very well received by our staff.

In addition, we try to include our students as resources for our coaches in our Learning Series. As part of our next session, a three-sport student is scheduled to help and provide insight into the discussion surrounding the multi-sport student.

Question: Even if you do most of the instruction or presenting of information, how do you cover the costs of the professional development program for your coaches, such as refreshments, handouts, stipends for speakers, payment for online courses and similar expenses?

Lavoie: Fortunately, we are able to cover all costs for professional development through our athletic department budget.

Stemple: While our district does cover the costs for required certification as continuing education and as a means of minimizing liability, I have been able to keep expenses fairly low. Since there is so much information and expertise out there for many of the topics, it is possible to do this for very little expense and often for free.

Question: How have your coaches taken to this professional development program? Have they embraced it or are they still unsure of its value? With regard to “veteran” coaches, how do you get this group to buy into the concept and what has their attitude been?

Lavoie: There are four stages to the “buy-in” factor:

  1. This is not for me.
  2. It is OK for others.
  3. I’ll try it.
  4. I can’t believe I did it any other way.

The goal is to get every coach to Stage 3 where they are willing to try it. Once they get to this stage, they will see the value of their personal development for the benefit of their athletes. Every coach has a different coaching style and that is encouraged. However, the goal is to get everyone to share the same philosophy and developmental program. When we can start sharing terms, values, mission statements and visions, we are setting ourselves up to be a successful department and not just a single team.

There really isn’t a huge difference between the rookies and the veterans, in my experience. Instead, individuals start at different stages based on their personalities. Those who see the big picture and are eager to learn are always jumping right to Stage 3. On the other hand, those who believe they have a good system in place start at Stage 1, and it takes some time and motivation to move them to Stage 3. The Brian Cain 12 Pillars of Peak Performance is a no-brainer and most coaches get to Stage 3 pretty quickly when they see what he has to offer.

Stemple: Our coaches who have two to three years of experience have been very receptive to our Coaches Learning Series. They value the opportunity of engaging with each other on the various topics and ideas that are included in the session.

For some who have been in the profession for a long period of time, it can be easy to slip into the mode of “I already know it or done that,” or to “rest on one’s laurels.” However, we take the approach that everyone should be a “lifelong learner.” Most of our coaches see themselves as educators and buy into this concept. Also, as the leader of this group, I feel it is important to listen and learn from our staff and students, and to serve as a resource. The Coaches Learning Series offers this opportunity.