The Importance of Implementing Professional Development Programs for Coaches

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Professional development for coaches should be an ongoing process.

In early 2018, student athletes and their parents in Rappahannock County, VA, asked their school board to provide more professional development programs for interscholastic athletic coaches. As a result, head cheerleading coach Gwen Burley and assistant cheer coach Lacee Trollinger of Rappahannock County High School attended advanced coaching clinics, according to the RappNews press release, “Professional Development for Rappahannock Sports Coaches.”

Their first clinic was Varsity University’s Cheerleading Conference, which offered the two coaches the opportunity to come together with cheer coaches from all over the nation and learn from the best in the business.

“The Varsity University cheerleading coach event is a great way to learn from some of the top cheer coaches from across the country,” Burley says in the press release. “Not only are coaches learning about safety, effective practices, and character development, we are meeting and networking with other area coaches and exchanging ideas about how to improve our cheerleading programs.”

This is an example of why athletic directors (ADs) should consider implementing programs for professional development for high school coaches. Coaches should be aware that learning doesn’t end when they finish college. It is, instead, an ongoing process designed to push both student athletes and an athletic department’s staff toward excellence.

Professional Development Resources Are Readily Available

Athletic directors tend to work in a fast-paced, busy atmosphere. On top of managing a sports department, securing funding, budgeting annual expenses, purchasing equipment, maintaining facilities, and organizing game and practice schedules, ADs are also expected to stay on top of the latest news and research concerning sports education.

ADs must devote further study and constant attention to their field even after they earn a master’s in athletic administration. Online resources are available, ranging from sports management articles to peer-reviewed academic papers. And offline, ADs can continue their education via memberships in professional associations and seminar attendance.

“Many athletic administrators don’t have time to create and conduct their own professional development program for their coaches,” writes Dr. David Hoch in “Take Advantage of Professional Development for Coaches” on “While these efforts are vitally important, they usually fall prey to other priorities, emergencies, and state and district directives.”

In lieu of creating their own internal professional development programs, ADs can access professional development services, seminars, symposiums, and online courses, all of which facilitate coaches’ development, introduce the latest trends in coaching, and teach coaches how to impart valuable life lessons that will follow athletes beyond graduation and into adulthood.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) offers a number of professional development programs online, many of which are free to NFHS members:

  • Bullying, Hazing, and Inappropriate Behaviors: teaches coaches about their responsibility to provide safe and respectful environments for their student athletes.
  • Concussions in Sports: educates coaches to recognize and properly manage concussions.
  • Engaging Effectively with Parents: presents techniques coaches can use to communicate and interact with parents and guardians, including those who are problematic.
  • Heat Illness Prevention: provides coaches with the tools necessary to develop a heat acclimatization plan and teaches the importance of staying hydrated and limiting activities during extreme changes in environmental conditions.
  • Social Media: promotes responsible use of social media by both coaches and students for purposes of building their brands (both personal and team)
  • Sportsmanship: shares insights from fans, players, parents, coaches, and game officials aimed at developing a more positive game environment.
  • Strength and Conditioning: presents the principles of conditioning from the point of view of weight room supervisors and introduces best practices and proper techniques.
  • Teaching and Modeling Behavior: educates coaches on their responsibilities as mentors to model appropriate behavior and good sportsmanship for the sake of their student athletes, who often emulate their coaches’ personality traits.
  • Sport-Specific Coaching: offers continuing education on coaching individual sports ranging from football to lacrosse, cheerleading, diving, and even pole vaulting.

Many school boards and state associations require their coaches to take some of these NFHS courses, especially the concussion and bullying offerings. Others may not be mandatory, but many highly motivated coaches enroll so they can learn to provide the best possible leadership for their students.

Trends in Professional Development Programs for Sports Coaches

Because coaches tend to be outgoing, social people, many of the most effective professional development programs are done in a live classroom setting. Researcher Brooke E. Forester, Ph.D., and colleagues studied the pros and cons of live classroom training, internet courses, and printed material study. They presented their findings in “High School Coaches’ Continuing Education Delivery Preferences” in The Sports Journal.

“High school coaches participating in this project preferred live courses/seminars as the top choice for continuing education content delivery,” explains Forester. “It was not surprising to discover high school coaches preferred live courses and seminars above other continuing education methods.

“Often live courses and seminars are very interactive while offering both professional development and networking opportunities. Case in point, the Nike Coach of the Year Clinic consists of 17 clinics spread across the U.S. with almost 13,000 high school coaches in attendance in 2014/15. Most major universities in the U.S. also host coaching clinics covering a variety of sports.”

Some schools are also beginning to implement mentoring programs for younger coaches with less experience. Sports researchers Christopher J. Cushion, Kathy M. Armour, and Robyn Lloyd Jones explore mentoring in their paper, “Coach Education and Continuing Professional Development: Experience and Learning to Coach.”

Cushion, Armour, and Jones point out that recent athletic coaching academic literature suggests that experience (in addition to classroom lecture and coaching manuals) should be a necessary part of coaching education. They suggest incorporating a mentoring program into the framework of professional development in which coaches eager to learn new skills or expand their knowledge would work with more experienced colleagues.

Finally, coaches who want to improve their effectiveness can be encouraged to engage in self-study. ADs can always make reading lists, links to informative websites, and recommended study materials available to their coaching staffs.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration

Ohio University houses one of the first academic programs in the nation to offer post-graduate educational options in sports administration. Since its inception, OHIO’s Master’s in Athletic Administration online program (MAA) has consistently graduated well-rounded athletic directors capable of leading sports departments and keeping programs running smoothly.

Ohio University’s MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. For more information, visit Ohio University’s MAA page.


Recommended Reading:

An Overview of Athlete Psychological Development

How to Develop a Coaching Philosophy

The Eight Domains of Coaching Competencies


Professional Development for Rappahannock Coaches – RappNews

Take Advantage of Professional Development for Coaches –

Learning Center –

Preferred Coaching Continuing Education Delivery Methods –

Coaching Education: Experience and Learning to Coach –