SIDELINE SLANTS

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
If a coach wins 80 percent of his or her games, but is lousy in the classroom, is that person a success?

Or, to put it another way, if push comes to shove, are people willing to sacrifice the education of children for winning athletic teams? There’s already ample evidence that the public will not tolerate high school coaches who lose too many games regardless of how good they are in the classroom.

Coaching success should be defined by more than wins and losses, although that is often what is most valued in public opinion. In reality, we should applaud coaches for being good character builders as well as trophy collectors.

Chances are those coaches are doing some good things with students in their classrooms as well.

According to an out-of-state superintendent, “It is easier for the public to draw conclusions about a coach from a win/loss record than to objectively appraise that coach as a classroom teacher.”

My head tells me that most of us understand that a coach at the middle and high school level is an educator first and a coach second. But to some extent, the perception is that a coach is a coach first, one who also happens to be an educator.

And you know what they say. Perception is reality.

Without any empirical data to back me up, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of high school head coaches made their career choice primarily on the basis of wanting to coach. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad classroom teachers, but their passion is coaching.

Or, maybe it’s more accurate in some cases to say that their passion is for working with kids, primarily as coaches and secondarily as teachers.

How can you blame them when they grew up seeing winning teams getting all the glory while good teachers perform in obscurity?

But the reality is that their contract defines their job primarily as a classroom teacher and then adds a small salary supplement for coaching duties.

The other side of the coin is when a person continues in the classroom but stops coaching, either voluntarily stepping down or resigning under pressure.

That model can put school administrators in a bind because they need to fill a coaching vacancy, but they don’t have a teaching position to go with it. That limits their options, especially in smaller school districts.

In many cases, school districts fill teaching positions with people who can coach. I have a cousin who suspects he could have been hired as a social studies teacher in a suburban district in Minnesota had he possessed soccer coaching credentials.

That didn’t mean the school considered soccer to be unreasonably important. They had only so many teaching vacancies, and they had to match them with extracurricular duties, in this case soccer.

Serious educators must be scratching their heads. What matters to the masses isn’t who teaches what class. What matters is who coaches what sport.

Certainly at the middle school and high school level, the message is that if you want a teaching job, it helps if you can coach sports.

High school athletics should be part of education along with academics. That is why they are called co-curricular activities. The last thing anyone should want is a sports vs. education skirmish.

If we honestly consider the questions at the top of this column, we have to admit it’s possible for someone to be a winner as a coach and a loser in the classroom.

I think most coaches take their classroom teaching seriously, but I wonder how many take the coaching role more seriously than teaching.

We’ll probably never know for sure, but who can blame those who put coaching first?

Call me cynical, but I seriously believe that some school administrators are either wittingly or unwittingly sacrificing the education of children in exchange for winning athletic teams.

For the sake of our children, I hope I’m wrong.

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