In a recent piece for The New Yorker, author Malcolm Gladwell, raises an intriguing question; How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job? In this article, Gladwell focuses on two professions – teachers and NFL quarterbacks – in which predicting success has proven to be very difficult. He attributes this to the fact that in both professions, the only way to actually discover whether or not the individual hired will be successful is to let them perform and then evaluate their ability.
Essentially, there is no minor league for teachers, and despite the presence of college football, there is no minor league for a NFL quarterback. Even highly successful, “can’t miss” college quarterback prospects such as Joey Harrington and Ryan Leaf have failed to achieve mediocrity in the NFL. While there are “draft busts” at every position in the NFL, quarterback seems to have cornered the market on college performers who fail to live up to expectations. Gladwell explains that this is because the difference between the quarterback position in college and the NFL is far greater than any other position. This lack of a minor league system for these two professions has caused many poor “hiring” decisions.
You might be asking, “What on earth does this have to do with college recruiting or athletic scholarships?” Well, one sentiment that has grown over the years is a feeling of resentment over the performance of high school coaches. Due to increased pressure to win and expectations to assist with the recruiting process, many high school coaches have failed in the eyes of their athletes and families.
Note to reader: This will not be a debate on whether or not high school coaches deserve this blame as that could consume pages.
However, Gladwell’s article brought me to this realization: There is no minor league system for high school coaches.
Think about it. Where do most high school coaches come from? They certainly do not come from the junior high feeder system. I would guess that the majority of high school coaches are full time teachers first who then assume the role of coach as a secondary means of income and leisure. These people are rarely trained professionally to coach high school sports. Some high school coaches did not even play the sport they are coaching. Taking this idea a step further, I would guess that the majority of high school coaches did not play their sport in college.
Many high schools even require the coach be a full time teacher which means that should be their first priority. I have no idea why this is the case. Most athletes and parents would probably be more content and confident in their coach if coaching was their primary concern. This means they would be hired based on their coaching ability and experience rather than their teaching credentials which most likely has no bearing on their ability to coach sports.
Note to reader: I realize there are exceptions to the assumptions made above. In some cases, high schools will hire a coach specifically because they are an excellent coach. In many cases, the high school coach did play that sport in college. In my estimation these are the minority rather than the majority which I will focus on.
While there are some wonderful high school coaches across the country, maybe this lack of training is a reason why so many families feel as though they are being letdown by their high school coach. With that in mind, let me pose another question: Which is more important, the high school coach or the college coach?
Even though both have significant influences, I would argue that the high school coach has a more profound impact on a student athlete’s life. If a high school athlete does not receive the proper coaching, training, or guidance and never reaches their full potential at the high school level, they may never receive the opportunity to play in college.
At least college coaches typically come through the system of graduate assistants, positions coach, recruiting coordinators, etc before earning the title of head coach. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for the most part at the high school level.
There is no easy solution for changing the current high school coaching hiring system mainly because there is no uniformity in hiring practices to even alter. It seems as though most schools and states have different rules. There would need to be some sort of governing body implemented to create a system that addresses the hiring of high school coaches which will not happen because too many other aspects of our academic system need those resources far more than the athletic programs. I just wonder how much better off high school student athletes would be if they had higher quality coaches? We’ll probably never know.