Coaching gone wrong: Are public high school coaches truly qualified for the job?

By Lauren Nacy

Think about a high school coach that you knew or played for. Did you respect them? Were they qualified to do the job? What was their moral standpoint on the game being played? Did they care about the well being of their athletes? When I think back on some of the coaches I had growing up, I remember the great ones and not so great ones. The coaches I had respect for had extensive experience coaching and competing in that sport, taught us to play by the rules and have respect for our competitors. These coaches held themselves to high standards and coached by modeling appropriate and sportsmanlike behavior. Thankfully there are only a few coaches that made lasting negative impressions on me. For instance, the coach that made our 7th grade girls basketball team recite The Lord’s Prayer before every game in a public junior high school. Also, the golf coach, whose only qualification was that he played on his weekly 9-hole beer league. Coaches spend a considerable amount of time with students and should be the ones setting a positive example. We trust coaches to uphold the strong principles that sports should be teaching students.

At a February 4th boys varsity basketball practice held at Bloomfield Hills High School, a member of the team was slapped by his coach, Duane Graves. This coach was respected, trusted and loved by the community and students. I wondered, if this coach could snap, what about others that may not have a positive reputation like he had built? Do all public schools follow the same hiring procedures that could help prevent unqualified, immoral, and unsportsmanlike people ending up in positions of authority over young adults? Are there unified training and monitoring programs that are being adhered to by coaches, athletic departments, and others associated with the MHSAA? How do we prevent incidents like this from happening again?

What could be worrisome is that Graves wasn’t even an employee of the BHS school district. Graves is an employee of EDUStaff, a third-party employer school districts use to fill positions such as substitute teachers and coaches. Some Michigan school districts are choosing to outsource hiring to privatized companies that have varying training programs and qualification requirements. EDUStaff does require what you would expect of any school employee like video training tutorials and fingerprinting. However, lower level employees (like coaches) do not have to complete the laundry list of more intensive requirements like substitute teachers or higher level educational staff. Shouldn’t coaches be held to the same standards? Schools need to require and provide more training, continued monitoring, and even professional development for coaches. Another question that is raised by coach employment by third parties is: Do they hold their job in high regard? They are affiliated with the school district but not viewed as “important” enough to be employed by the school district.

Opportunities for better coaches do exist. Perhaps school districts can require courses through the MHSAA’s Coach Advancement Program (CAP) program. There, coaches receive continuing education to advance themselves within the field of athletics within education. By increasing coaches’ training and qualifications, we can increase their effectiveness on the job. The answer is not to get rid of sports in education, like some alarmists suggest when these unfortunate circumstances arise. The answer is to make sports in education better for student-athletes by making coaching go right.

Bloomfield Hills coach Duane Graves during the MHSAA Class A championship game against Muskegon on March 22, 2014, in East Lansing. Graves has resigned as coach.(Photo: Al Goldis, For the Detroit Free Press)

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