Coaches as teachers

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(HOST) High school coaches often teach academic subjects in addition to running athletic programs. Commentator Brian Porto thinks that college coaches should, too.

(PORTO) A recent newspaper article about a retired coach got me thinking about how changes in the coaching profession could help to alleviate the problems plaguing college sports. Ironically, the article was about a high school coach, Leon Royce of Hartland, whose former colleagues and players at Windsor High School hon- ored his many years of service with a special ceremony earlier this year.

It was evident from this article that Leon Royce earned that cere- mony. Although he loved to win, he was more interested in seeing that his players learned to play baseball properly and that they used the game to learn lessons that would guide them for the rest of their lives. To be sure, Royce won plenty of games, compiling a record of 267 wins and 150 losses between 1959 and 1983, while winning two state championships and finishing second four times. More important, though, are the life lessons recalled by his former players, including one who said, “He’s the biggest influence of anyone in my life. He was a father figure to me.”

I suspect that Leon Royce influenced the lives of his players because he was not just a coach; he also taught social studies
at Windsor High School after earning a Master’s degree at Dart- mouth. Undoubtedly, his graduate training and classroom teaching experience taught him that playing and winning games were not the most important things in life.

I wish that more college coaches understood that. Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported the results of a study con- cluding that, even at small, academically competitive colleges, athletes spend too much time on their sports and too little time studying and participating in campus life outside of athletics. This often results from the excessive demands of coaches whose sin- gle-mindedness about winning flows largely from the insecurity of their jobs.

The solution to this problem lies in applying the best features of the high school model to the college setting. College coaches should be required to have Master’s degrees and classroom teach- ing experience and to coach more than one sport or to teach in addition to coaching. In return, they should receive five-year rolling contracts that offer a measure of job security. They should also be evaluated primarily on how well they teach their respective sports, not on their win-loss records.

Thus, colleges could learn a great deal from the example set by high school coaches like Leon Royce. When colleges require their coaches to be teachers, their athletes will be better students.

This is Brian Porto of Windsor.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a freelance writer. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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