Sports Commentary: Coaches facing some hard questions

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By Richard Tripp

What drives one to coach? What motivates one to put up with the low pay, long hours, sleepless nights and so on and so on that they want to stay and do something that once was considered an art form of respect?

With economic issues hitting just about every school in the country, coaches in some places are being asked to make some tough decisions concerning their programs. In some cases it can be a cut in games, such as is the case with the Albuquerque Public Schools. Some places are cutting meal money and coaches are being forced, more than ever, to fundraise or turn to parents to help feed their athletes. In some cases, coaches are seeing travel cut. Some schools have a mile radius as to how far they can travel, which means adjusting their schedules and perhaps not playing as a competitive schedule as they would like or use to playing. And, are you ready, some schools are asking coaches to take a cut in pay. That’s right, a cut in pay or coach for free.

New Mexico Overtime Sports Center web site (www.nmotsc.com) recently posted a poll on its Web site asking coaches two questions. The first being, “With economics hitting schools bad, if asked, would you coach for free?” The second question asked was “Are New Mexico high school coaches overpaid or underpaid?”

Well needless to say, many coaches who participated in the poll said they would coach for free; however, some also said they would coach for free, but there has to be conditions.

Hmmmm! Wonder what those conditions might be? Just curious.

I recall when I first starting coaching and my stipend was $250, I think that much. From that point on, I knew that I was not in it for the money. Coaches, depending on geography and sport, can make anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 again depending on the sport and school district. Some schools have incentives tied in, such as winning district and state titles. Some give raises after so many years of service. Some, well, still get low pay. Schools across America are looking for ways to cut budgets. Athletics and the arts are generally the first two places these districts look at. So if this is the case, how many coaches out there actually would coach for free or take a cut in pay to help your school save some cash that we hope will go back into the classrooms and provide our students with proper learning tools. How many coaches would sacrifice a game or two on their schedule, if you had a choice, or play teams closer to you, even though they may be of a lower class, to help your school save some bling-bling? After all, one is not going to make a living off coaching in New Mexico anyway.

Another thing to remember, as we all have and did, is that we are educators first. We say as coaches, “We coach because we want to teach the game the right way.” “We coach because we can make a difference in a student-athlete’s life.” “We coach to compete.” And of course we have coaches who honestly will say, “My kid is playing.” “The last coach did not know what he was doing, so I wanted to show them how.”

That is fine, fair enough, but again, would you do it for free or at a reduced rate?

I am in no way saying I would or wouldn’t coach for free, or even $250, but think about this: If every coach in New Mexico said, “I will coach for free this year only, and only if regardless of the season I have, I will be back next season.” Maybe coaches will not save the school budget, but it is a start.

As for “Are coaches overpaid or underpaid?” Well, let’s just say, be thankful for getting paid for something you truly enjoy doing. Be thankful you can make a difference in a young person’s life and get paid to do it. Think about this way, what else would you be doing if not coaching?

All too many times we hear coaches say, “They don’t pay me enough to do this job?”

They are right. But you are doing it, so make it the best experience it can be. Want big money? Coach Division I college or professional sports.

Just out of curiosity, what would you be doing if you were not coaching?

Richard Tripp is a freelance writer and has published articles in the Las Vegas Daily Optic as well as covers high school volleyball, girl’s basketball and softball for the New Mexico High School Coaches Magazine. He is also a writer for the web site New Mexico Overtime Sports Center. Richard is a broadcaster for KNMX Radio in Las Vegas as well as the Proview Networks in Albuquerque for nmaafilms.tv.