As they say, “So you want to get into coaching?”

If you click on the thread below there is a collection of coaches giving 280 character snapshots of their journey. Every spring flooding into the summer there is a “Coaching Carousel” that has given prominence to accounts, such as HoopDirt or AtticusFinch. The landscape, particularly in college coaching is so competitive that the mere rumors of job openings have become comparable to reality television.

At any rate, everyone has a story. If there is a traditional path, mine doesn’t deviate too far from it. After graduating from college, I found early experience as an assistant at the high school level. Following one season there I was fortunate to elevate to the collegiate level – Division III – as a volunteer assistant with a former coach. From then on I knew I wanted to chase more opportunities.

The #CoachingCarousel is simply a term that has been coined for the high turnover rate that exists in the industry. While every coach’s journey is a bit different; it’s not really all that unique once you break it down. What I’ve come to recognize throughout my journey is what I’d consider phases of a coach’s career. While these may differ in definition from others, in large part I think most would agree that we have similar paths. Let’s take a look at where it all begins, usually out of ‘Convenience or Calling.’

Convenience or Calling

There are the few that might suggest coaching was their calling. The remainder seems to get their start for one of two reasons: there is an itch to scratch or a struggle to conceive doing anything else. When I was a graduate student years ago, I had an opportunity to speak with Fran Dunphy (former coach at Temple University) where I had asked him about how he got into coaching. He would go on to tell me the story about not really pursuing the occupation, as opposed to being pushed into it by his former high school coach; a response found similar to this quote from the PhillyVoice:

A high school coach from Malvern Prep convinced Dunphy to get into the coaching game, telling the young guy he needed some direction. “I said, ‘I don’t want any direction. I like everything about my life right now.’ But something told me to do it.’’ 

Nearly 600 wins later, this decision may prove Dunphy’s calling was as a lifelong teacher. He would use the sport of basketball as the common denominator for his lessons despite the initial preference for the links during the day and bartending at night. This story could also shed some light on the “coaching bug” that is rumored to exist. Because there are limited barriers to entry – particularly at the grassroots level – coaches can find a path to start with relative ease. Now, not everyone is getting a call from there high school coach to take over their program. But, after graduating college a lot of us ask the same question, what do we do now? Without really thinking about it, something just tells us to give coaching a shot.

The Grind

Typically, it is during this time sacrificing long hours likely with low pay where there is some sort of revelation that the coaching bug is real, or merely a fantasy to re-live. The word grind has worn out its welcome amongst the coaching community because who hasn’t seen the hundreds of highlights with captions echoing ‘Rise and Grind’ or ‘Grind Never Stops.’ But it is the grind where we have to pay our dues. These are typically in the roles that are considered lower on the totem pole.

  • Graduate Assistant
  • Manager (Volunteer or Scholarship)
  • Volunteer Assistant
  • Assistant Coach (Small Stipend)

*Some may throw the video coordinator in there, but I think that’s when you start to separate yourself a bit – see The Break.*

The grind exposes the investment. Are we willing to embrace having little-to-no voice for an opportunity to soak up as much experience possible for the chance at elevating in this industry? To be honest, this may be some of the most enjoyable times of your career. Fresh out of college usually with limited obligations typically in an environment for new experiences meeting a lot of new people. Professionally, this can be a pivotal time from a networking standpoint having the chance to manufacture the most connections in the coaching community.

I’ll repeat, everyone has a story and most have endured similar versions of the grind. When coaches congregate at conventions or run into each other at camps, recruiting, or wherever there is an opportunity to share war stories. Subsequently, strong relationships are molded by these experiences. It is those relationships that may prove to be of utmost value shaping the future of our careers. After likely bouncing around geographically for a few years these stepping-stone positions may open the doors to the first big break.

The Break

In some form or fashion, the break was conceivable attainable by leveraging the connections or experience towards a role of increased value. These positions may include the first head coaching opportunity, likely at a lower level, or at a program looking to be revitalized. Others may include:

  • Video Coordinator (1st Salary Role)
  • Director of Operations
  • Assistant Coach (Higher Level or Recruiting Role)

Finally, time to get paid. But with the increased bank account comes the expected increased responsibilities on and off the court. Not to mention the cutthroat nature of the business starts to become more apparent at this point. This is it; time to transition practice into the game – literally and metaphorically. For most, inherent with the break is the introduction to the balance.

Work-Life Balance

Feeling good about ourselves after the first big break, there can be a sense of increased job security or confidence in our ability to sustain this lifestyle. What comes next can be some of the most difficult decisions to make throughout the course of your coaching career. The cutthroat nature of the business may have been revealed in the break, but with a lot starting to transpire during this time it can feel like a twist of the knife.

As we begin to age our situations begin to become more complicated. There are usually a lot more variables involved:

  • Marriage/Divorce
  • Buying a home
  • Financial liabilities
  • Having kids
  • Aging parents

Suddenly, the days grinding it out doesn’t seem so bad anymore. Joking aside those aforementioned life experiences become the best moments in our lives. But it takes a lot of work to ensure that what is valued most in our life remain sustainable, healthy, and happy. It is during this time where coaches will have to weigh the options of job security, financial opportunity, or even considering staying with the profession being the best course of action moving forward.

Off Into the Sunset

Finding balance could be the most challenging aspect of the career. Finding a way to finish it could be the most bittersweet. The amount of time spent and energy exhausted takes its toll. The last and final phase is an attempt to figure out how to ride off in the sunset. This could be done in one of a few ways:

  • Leaving a legacy at the institution or campus where most time spent
  • Retiring after a championship or reaching accomplishments unforeseen
  • Finding that final challenge – think Jim Calhoun at D3

There is only one coach that can finish as champion at the end of the season. The odds are even less for the coach that can finish their career as a champion. The sunset is simply putting the stamp on our career on our terms. Taking satisfaction for doing the job to the best of your ability while impacting the most people possible. We are all different in our story, but the #CoachingCarousel shares a lot of the same traits in our chase to champion our own careers.


One thought on “Coaching Carousel

  1. I was motivated to find this article, and read it as the former head coach of Elizabeth City State University men’s hoop team, Shawn Walker used the term coaching carousel in an interview with the Daily Advance when the school decided not to renew his contract after the spring graduation, which caused him to miss the coaching carousel. This is a coach that should definitely be in coaching job ASAP as ECSU in the short, and long-term are the losers for not renewing his contract.

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