The role of a coach is immense. Not only do you have to provide guidance, encouragement, and expertise, but at the same time, you are also responsible for shaping individuals into their best selves both on and off the field. An international school athletic coach is trying to do all of those things in short seasons, for little or no money, and with athletes who tend to move in and out each year. So, what do these types of coaches worry about and what do they not blink an eye at? Those are the things that I wanted to find out more about, so I asked. For years I have asked athletic directors (ADs) what they thought about their jobs and the people they serve. However, no one, until now, has asked the actual coaches; the people who have direct contact with the students we are all trying to serve. To read the results and analyses of the 2023 AD survey, please click here.
This coaches survey was sent out in the spring of 2023 to coaches and athletic directors that are a part of my Globetrottin ADs network. ADs were asked to share the survey with their coaches. Unfortunately, this request came at a busy time of the year so the response was not as big as I had hoped. However, the survey did gather 156 responses from coaches in international schools around the world. Fortunately, two-thirds of the responses were from coaches in European schools which made it easily relatable for me and the coaches in attendance at the Coaching For a Greater Purpose conference in Dusseldorf, Germany. At the conference, in January of 2024, I unveiled the results of the survey for the first time and asked participants what they thought about them. Their in-person reflections have helped to shape the analysis in this article and to bring greater clarity to some of the issues arising.
My goal is that this survey brings the international coaching and AD community closer together and sparks conversation about the issues that affect us all; which include and are not limited to skill development or tactics. I believe that the results of this survey will bring more understanding of the job, and also hope that it will reflect the care that coaches have for the the student-athletes they serve.
Not Concerned About
Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are things that international school coaches are not concerned about. We do not want to take these items for granted or assume that they will always be this way, but the survey participants seem to not have many outside stressors during their season(s). Outside stressors that coaches are not concerned about include pressure from their athletic director, job security, pressure to win, and abusive parents. All of these responses yielded very high percentages of coaches saying they are ‘not concerned’ about them with ‘pressure from their AD’ topping the charts at 92%.
It should be noted that I mirrored many of the questions on the coach’s survey the AD’s survey. I did this because I really wanted to know if coaches and ADs think about their programs in the same way. In many of the cases, the responses were identical which should make both groups happy that they are on the same page. Two of the fun questions on both surveys asked “What you would do if you had unlimited time?” and “What would you do if you had unlimited money?” Funnily enough, the responses from coaches and ADs came back exactly the same. If both groups had unlimited money, they would invest in bigger and better facilities. If both groups had unlimited time, they would spend it with their student-athletes. However, what they would do with the specific time varies between the groups. The ADs would like to have more leadership building groups (for example athletic councils) whereas the coaches would like to schedule more practices and team outings. All of these wishes can be challenging to organize in the short seasons that many international schools have, although it is not impossible. After bigger and better facilities, ADs would like to have more money to pay coaches what they feel they deserve (something that we will come back to later in this article). Coaches, however, would like to improve the uniforms their teams are wearing. Responses about uniforms came back in all sorts of variations such as warm-up suits, shooting shirts, second sets of game uniforms, or simply brand-new uniforms. A third question with answers that are closely lined up relates to what coaches and ADs are asked about by the parents of their athletes. The most common response from coaches on the survey is that parents are asking about ‘playing time’ and why their child is not getting more of it. The second response from coaches, and the number one response from ADs, is about parents asking about information that they say they did not receive. A fantastic quote from George Bernard Shaw highlights this struggle that coaches and ADs seem to have with international parents. Shaw says, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
The focal point of my survey analyses is always the top concerns of the respondents. I decided on the top concerns from the coach and AD survey by the combination of respondents who selected “concerned” or “very concerned” on a series of statements. Coaches from Europe were 70% of the respondents which does make the results of this worldwide survey a bit unbalanced. However, I do think that despite this fact, the responses overall are still valid. If you would like more information about the survey questions and results please get in touch with me.
The first of the four top concerns indicated is definitely due to the high European response with coaches very concerned about ‘being constantly on duty” when traveling. The majority of conferences in Europe previously used homestays for their events, however, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of them switched to hotel stays in the 2022/2023 school year. One coach who said it was their top concern wrote,
“Constantly being on duty with the kids at the hotel is quite an extra burden and no compensation has been offered to coaches in any way, shape, or form. I do not expect compensation for everything, but we struggle to fill our coaching spots, so making the job more difficult and less enjoyable is not a good recipe for filling those spots.”
Now in 2024, at least one conference in Europe has gone back to homestays while others have tried to offset the extra burden with higher stipends or more chaperones. In the next survey, it will be interesting to see where this ranks when this new expectation has possibly become more of a norm for international schools as it already is for club teams. One coach at the conference talked about how much fun he would have with teams at hotels mentioning karaoke events, dance-offs, and card games.
One concern that made the top four could be because of the type of coaches that filled in the survey. The coaches who filled in the survey and who came to the conference could be considered the best of the best in international schools. These coaches took the time to share their thoughts and wanted to hear what others think as well, therefore the concern of not getting enough games for their teams makes perfect sense as a top concern. However, maybe this is a futile concern to have since many schools have very few options around them when it comes to scheduling weekday games and having limited weekends in their short seasons. I know ADs are also interested in building out the seasons for their teams but this can easily be hampered not only from geographical locations but also by budgetary and academic restraints. A third limitation to consider is also the rising cost of trips, which was a top concern in this year’s AD survey. The coaches at the conference wondered, “If any game is a worthwhile game to have and would coaches play anyone?” A game is not always the best thing for the development of teams if the skill levels of teams do not match up. Competition level is something that schools deal with no matter if it is with club teams or other schools. No matter how much we try, there are always stronger and weaker teams. That is even more prevalent when trying to find local games that could match big and little schools or club teams. However, as the coaches mentioned, “Kids would rather play other schools even if they are not better games”. One coach on the survey commented about the difficulty of scheduling games in general which compounds when you add in the varying skill levels.
“Scheduling games for all the teams is difficult as we have to spread out the opportunities to the three teams and our teams’ skill level does not always match up with the opponents. Our B team ended up having to play games against schools with only one team and would lose by 50-60 points, not an ideal learning experience.”
All coaches know the importance of teaching and working on game situations so the only surefire way that you can do that is to gamify practice as much and as often as possible.
There are only two more top concerns to go, but the link between them is so substantial that we can discuss them together. They are “compensation” and “finding the time to keep coaching”. So, what’s the link? Generally, if coaches are well compensated, then they are more likely to find the time to keep coaching. Pairing these concerns with a perennial top concern of ADs of “finding qualified coaches” could lead to a dangerous mix of students and parents wanting teams but schools not being able to provide them due to not having enough coaches. Personally, I have never had greater problems finding coaches than I have this school year. Similar to the rising cost of trips, this is also a concern that may be elevated since we have come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am finding that many people, like this coach, have reprioritized how they spend their time. The coach states, “I coach two seasons and it is hard to balance home life, classroom expectations, and coaching. Finding time to prepare properly for both coaching and teaching is a challenge.”
How people decide to spend their time is often based on their feeling of value and if their time is valued. Money is one way for people to feel valued as one coach writes, “We work way too much for what we are paid.” However, as one coach at the conference mentioned, the compensation issue is a very individual one because of how financially secure a person is and also what their family dynamics are like. You never want to have the feeling like you are being taken advantage of, and it’s important to note that compensation can come in other shapes and sizes. Examples of ways that schools are trying to compensate coaches are by giving sports clothing, providing food/drinks, hosting parties, and hiring more assistant coaches. However, maybe a lower workload is an option as this coach suggests:
“Coaches don’t get paid enough for the amount of work they put in. More incentive needs to be given for coaches to be able to balance coaching and teaching, either financially or giving them a lower workload of teaching.”
Coming back to value, it is also about how much value a school puts on its athletics program as a whole. Are there extracurricular athletics or an equal partner in the education of the students and called co-curricular programs? What does it feel like to be a coach at your school, and what does it feel like to be an athlete at your school? In my book A Global Playbook: How Every International School Can Raise Its Game, I go into great detail about the value of an athletics program and suggest ways to improve the program of any school.
While I had almost 30 coaches in my presentation at the Coaching For A Greater Purpose conference, I thought I would ask them two of the main questions I took from the survey results and wondered if they could help. “How do we get more people to coach?” and “How can coaches raise the status of athletics?”
The answers and the discussion around them were great. I think that these specific questions are worthwhile asking any coaches out there who agree that the athletics programs in our schools could be much more than what they currently are. In the discussion, not surprisingly, compensation was one of the answers. However, more hands-on solutions were discussed when trying to find coaches. Scheduling changes and flexibility of practice times, reaching out to local universities, and tapping into the current student population were among the suggestions. Many schools have had success with juniors and seniors helping to coach middle school teams. though some of these suggestions may not help find that experienced teacher coach, they will ensure that the program keeps running and kids are playing. Raising the status of athletics is the responsibility of all our coaches and students and can be done by talking about the value of athletics at every chance we can. In addition, we can celebrate teams more in our schools, not only their athletic achievements, but also examples of sportsmanship, integrity, leadership, resourcefulness, and service.
I hope that with the results of this survey, there will be more understanding of the job of an international school coach. It should also help ADs around the world speak to their administration about their coaches and how important they are to the development of the students in their school. Dave Horner, who has been an AD in four international schools, wrote the following quote for the AD survey which remains true for the position of coaches, “Many human resource and administration team members are not aware of the amount of time and effort that goes into our jobs. It is often overlooked”.
Coaches and ADs, share this survey with your administrators, share it with your colleagues and continue to talk and compare your jobs to your colleagues. If not worldwide, then at least schools in individual conferences can band together for the betterment of all of your student-athletes and entire school communities. Coaches, please continue to grow and compare your jobs with your colleagues around the world. Whether that be at conferences like the “Coaching For A Greater Purpose’, during athletic conference tournaments, or anywhere and everywhere in between.