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The job of coaching

For many, the work means long hours, low pay, high expectations, shifting personnel

Editor's Note: This article, which you can read by scrolling down this page , was part of an investigative two-part series on high school coaching in Palo Alto published in the Palo Alto Weekly on May 14, 2010 and May 21, 2010. Additional articles appeared only online.

Here is a complete list of all stories with links to them:

Out of bounds? Part 1: In the first half of this special report, published May 14, the Weekly described five recent coaching controversies at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools and explored attributes and examples of positive coaching.

Out of bounds? Part 2: In the second half of this special report, published May 21, the Weekly examines how specific complaints were made and handled by school administrators.

Editorial: Reforming Palo Alto's high school sports

A confusing complaint process: An article about the confusing administrative maze facing athletes and parents when they seek to raise issues about a coach's behavior.

Tips for high school sports parents: Advice to parents of sports-team members from the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance.

Who oversees high school athletics?: Athletic directors have big jobs managing teams and coaches, with little time and no extra pay.

Sports Boosters help fund athletics: How Palo Alto parent groups fund major athletic projects and team expenses.

Documents and complaints: Complaints submitted by parents, letters in support of coaches, e-mail exchanges with officials and responses of administrators related to baseball controversies at Paly and Gunn, softball at Gunn and girls' basketball and water polo at Paly.

The psychology and effects of bad coaching: Uncontrolled emotions combined with old-school coaching habits can leave lifelong scars

What makes a good coach good? Complex mix of factors results in outstanding coaching, player experience, experts say

Sports and coaches at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools: A comprehensive list of the sports offered at the two schools, plus statistics on the number of athletes and types of coaches who work or volunteer in the athletics programs.

The job of coaching: a review of the working conditions high-school coaches face. For many, the work means long hours, low pay, high expectations and shifting personnel.

Club sports add challenges to school athletics: how the emergence of private club sports in the past 20 years has created a pool of experienced coaches in high-school athletics -- but also has raised concerns about conflicts of interest and favoritism when a club coach has club players on a school team.

Positive Coaching Alliance seeks to eliminate 'poisonous negativity' in youth sports: A national program, based in Mountain View, aims to transform youth sports so sports can transform youth.

The job of coaching

Until the '90s, the vast majority of head coaches at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools were teachers connected to the school.

If a teacher coached two sports, he or she was granted an extra prep period in addition to a standard modest stipend. But with budget cuts, the prep period disappeared, making it harder for teachers to coach.

Several factors combined to force high schools to find coaches from outside the schools: More sports and teams were offered to students, increasing participation; an older teacher population resulted in fewer teacher-coaches; and increasing classroom demands left teachers with less time and energy for coaching.

Schools turned to outside coaches, called "walk-ons," who either have non-sports "day jobs" flexible enough to allow a part-time, seasonal coaching position or ongoing professional careers in the youth sports world (such as operating club teams, camps and other private youth sports programs).

Schools still prefer the teacher-coach, if available.

"They're a big plus," Paly Athletic Director Earl Hansen said.

Walk-on coaches generally focus more on winning and less on the larger educational and developmental coaching tasks than teacher-coaches, school officials say. Walk-on coaches are also less oriented to the school culture and other pressures in a student's life, and they have fewer opportunities to communicate with the school community, including to teachers, administrators and parents. They are only on campus for a short season each year.

For walk-on coaches who run private club teams, coaching a high school team can bring conflicts of interest when some of their club players are also on their high school teams. Suspicions of favoritism toward club players, either real or perceived, can cause team tensions. (See the sidebar, "Club sports.")

Despite reservations about walk-on coaches, most school officials accept them as both necessary and often the most knowledgeable about the sport involved.

Coaches, whether teacher or "walk on," don't do it for the money. Stipends paid to coaches vary -- depending on the sport, the number of years coaching and whether the coach is a credentialed teacher -- but they are modest compared to the hours worked and demands made. View the coaches' compensation schedule.

A credentialed longtime varsity football coach such as Hansen is at the top of the pay-scale with a stipend of $4,372 in 2009. A starting varsity golf or diving "walk-on" coach with no teaching credential is paid at the low end: $1,367.

The highest-paid "A" category varsity sports are football, basketball, track and swimming (the latter two because of the high number of participants).

The "A" coach pay ranges from $2,733 to $4,372. In the "B" category, which includes the rest of the varsity sports (except golf and diving) and frosh/soph football, the range is $2,277 to $3,718.

Junior varsity coaches (except frosh/soph football) and some assistant coaches are paid between $1,367 and $3,066, with a ceiling of $2,186 if the coach is non-credentialed. In addition, many assistant coaches are volunteers.

Paly volleyball coach Dave Winn earned $2,505 as a non-credentialed "walk on" in his third season this year. As to time spent, Winn estimated the following: During a 12-week season, he spends at least 17 hours a week on practices, matches, planning and communicating with administrators, players, parents and press. In addition, there are three or four Saturday tournaments and letters of recommendation to write for players' college applications.

During "pre-season" in the summer, Winn spends more than 50 hours in open gyms and managing team tryouts.

It adds up to a conservative estimate of 300 total hours spent or about $8 per hour for Winn.

According to Scott Bowers, Palo Alto assistant superintendent for human resources, coaches have traditionally been low-paid.

"You have to love what you're doing, enjoy spending time with it," Bowers said.

He said there is no requirement for hours coaches put in. They are contracted to do a particular job "and if they can do it in 10 hours or 100 hours they get the same amount."

Yet just attending all games and practices adds up.

"That's why sometimes it's hard to get coaches," Bowers said.

Coaches have no job security either. Unlike teachers, there is no union to represent the coaches (even those credentialed at the school). All coaches are "at will" employees in their coaching roles, hired on a season-to-season basis. They may be terminated at any time, including mid-season, for failure to comply with school or Central Coast Section (CCS) standards.

The district currently doesn't ask coaches for written agreements beyond payroll forms.

Coaches are provided the school handbooks and the CCS Code of Conduct and told to abide by them. They are instructed in pre-season meetings about their myriad duties, including paperwork, coaching courses, scheduling, facility use, transportation, player eligibility, training certifications, finances and fundraising, uniforms and equipment, league meetings, publicity, communicating with parents, hazing, tryouts, safety and sportsmanship issues.

Most school officials interviewed by the Weekly think that it would be a good idea to have coaches sign an agreement formalizing their commitment to abide by the school's standards of conduct.

"I was surprised when I came to this district that coaches don't have written agreements," Paly Principal Jacquie McEvoy said. "When you formalize a contract, it raises commitment to a different level."

This is something the district is now exploring.

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Posted by Tyler Hanley
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on May 14, 2010 at 9:03 am

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