An Even Playing Field

Why do teachers get paid a debatably decent salary, but most coaches are not paid at all?

Imagine what would happen if we paid our volunteer coaches.

I understand the argument that many times coaches are Billy Jones’s father or a mother who volunteers, but why not pay him or her? Coaches spend on average 80 hours during a typical season not only in coaching but putting up with all types of abuse from parents and dealing with kids (some of whom whine and complain because they don’t want to be there in the first place).

The reward should be more than a plaque at the end of the season that reads, “Thanks, Coach.”

While teachers in the classroom are providing academics, volunteers who agree (many with twisted arms) to coach are teaching those same kids life lessons. And those skills make youth sports so valuable. It justifies why citizens agree to pay taxes to build sports facilities.

Volunteer Revolt

Have you ever thought about what would happen if all of the volunteers joined together and said, “We’re not going to spend 80 hours of our free time anymore unless we get paid?”

With programs shut down, kids in the community would be hanging out and getting into trouble because they wouldn’t have sports programs to keep them occupied.

Now, the above hasn’t happened for the past 70 years, so it’s not likely to happen soon, but I think from time to time we take volunteer coaches for granted, and complain when we see some of them teaching kids the wrong “life skills.” Yet, in order for a recreation department to be viewed as truly helping kids through sports, these valuable volunteers must be provided training to understand their roles when they are on the court or field with children.

And I’m not talking about the X’s and O’s of sports but rather about making it clear to volunteers that sports for children aren’t the same as sports on TV. The coaches who spend hours developing young people–many with fragile self-esteem–must understand that they can’t treat players all the same; some kids are born athletes while others are out there only because they want to be with their friends.

Plus, just as teachers are evaluated and held accountable, it is only logical to treat volunteers the same way. The job is simply too important to have lower standards.

Helping Coaches

The next time a council or recreation commission meeting is held, bring a copy of this column and ask the members for comments. I bet most will say they never thought of the issue that way, and many will agree that they have to find a way to help coaches do a better job.

And compared to what school districts pay teachers, the cost would be microscopic.

Let’s say there are 1,000 people who volunteer in the community throughout the year. And let’s say they earn a minimum wage of $8 an hour and volunteer for 80 hours. That would cost a recreation department $640,000. That is some serious money these people are saving a department.

So, spending a fraction of that amount to provide a program in which coaches are trained to do their job correctly doesn’t seem like such a bad investment, does it?

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at emartinez@nays.org or (800) 729-2057.

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