I have been reading with great interest an article in Monday’s Indianapolis Star concerning the biggest challenges coaching football in 2022.  The article, written by Kyle Neddenriep, was in reference to the demands on coaches heading into the upcoming season. The coaches responded anonymously and some of their responses were expected.

To give you a small example, here’s what a couple of coaches had to say:

  1. “I think the biggest challenge is to be able to keep the time demands low enough to not burn players and coaches out while at the same time giving enough time to plan and prepare for the incredible coaching and playing talent that you face week in and week out.”
  2. “It’s multifaceted but it all revolves around time. We are now year-round. There is no down time. The ‘off-season windows’ are putting too much on coaches and kids.  Kids are being asked to go to multiple sport practices now in all seasons. Coaches are now working year-round for a couple of grand. It’s asking way too much of them, but especially of their families.”

I am sure if you ever coached a high school sports program, the amount of time you spend is no longer just during the season. This goes for the student-athletes as well. “We are now year-round”. Problem is, “year-round” has been going on for a very long time and it may finally be taking a toll.

Coaches and student-athletes are attempting to make sure there is no off-season. Is that their fault? No. What choice do they have? The expectations (though mis-leading as they may be) are we “MUST” concentrate on our respective sports 24/7/365. No excuses! If we don’t, we won’t have the chance to win  state championships. As student-athletes, we won’t have the chance to get that college scholarship. Many parents have the same thinking process. If little Johnny or little Suzy don’t play and practice all the time, there goes that all expenses paid ride to Alabama or Notre Dame. One of the coaches in the survey said; “We’ve gotten away from the off-season being about athletic enhancement and skill development and made it full-time. Kids are getting burned out. We are asking for too much time right now. We are not doing what’s best for kids right now.”  He is right!

When I was a head basketball coach in the 2000’s, I got a real taste of what it meant to be a head coach,  first hand. I was told “you have to” put almost 100% of your time and energy into this job despite working full-time and trying to be a family man. We started conditioning in August and continued doing drills and shooting right up until the season started in late October. Then the grind of the season went until March, with very little time off for the holidays. When the season was complete, we went right back at it getting ready for summer basketball. That included playing in every tournament possible. Traveling to various communities in Indiana and Ohio playing as many as 7-8 games per weekend. That lasted until July and then, and only then, would we give them time off.  We also expected the players to put time in on their own.

And let’s be clear,  I was told by a couple of my assistants, who believed they had the key to ultimate success, I needed to convince all the players they should focus on “ONE” sport… basketball.  I was told to tell them they won’t have as good of a chance to make the team if they didn’t put more time into basketball. Believe me, that did more damage than good.   These were the same assistants who took those players, year-in and year-out, and made it impossible for them to enjoy the game by the time they got to high school. They simply made basketball NO FUN and burned them out!

Then of course, we had to deal with “unrealistic” parents who truly believed their daughter was getting that Division One scholarship and it was the coaches fault they didn’t get to the WNBA. They were led to believe at a very young age they were “special” and should be treated that way. Problem was, they weren’t special players, but AAU coaches filled their mind with a false narrative.

The coaches made another great point in the article. Finding coaches who want to put in the kind of time society now demands of our sports teams is becoming very hard, especially for the pay they receive…especially assistant coaches. One coach said; “Also, coaching is no longer just show up and coach if you want to be a good program. You are a dad, mentor, counselor, director of operations, schedule maker, etc. to your entire team. There is no pay for that either.”

We haven’t even talked about being a student-athlete. I remember time and time again our players talking about how much work they had to do in the classroom and still do basketball and have a social life. I know, we all had the same issues when we played or when we coached years ago.

When I played I don’t remember any coach demanding “specialization”. We didn’t have summer travel teams playing all over the United States so the college coaches can see us play.

And don’t forget what social media has done. Coach Lane Kiffin was right, social media is rat poison. Parents, players and others can get on Twitter, Facebook or Tik Tok and spew out issues that used to be handled in-house. Now, just complain on social media without talking with the coach or AD and attempt to get sympathy from your friends, family and community, until your get your way.

The Indy Star story shows us we are not heading in the right direction. Like teachers and officials, it’s just a matter of time before there will be a shortage of coaches. You say that’s impossible. I am pretty sure people were using the word “impossible” when the trend of losing teachers and officials started becoming an issue. Just look and see where those professions are heading now!