Healthy youth sports clubs and programs depend on an effective and flexible partnership between the Board of Directors and the Head Coach. Sports clubs can be run in a number of different ways, however the most effective is a Board of Directors which partners with and supports the Head Coach. There are a number of common characteristics of an effective Board-Head Coach partnership, including common expectations and standards, open and honest communication, cooperative planning and vision, and accountability. Of course, all of these come from a shared understanding of where the club is going, how the club will get there, its values and expectations, and the ability to evaluate if the goals are being met. Ultimately the Board and the Head Coach should be on the same path with shared values and goals, which will establish trust and understanding with the members and stakeholders, as well as create a strong Board-Head Coach relationship.
The role of the Board is to govern the life of the club by establishing the vision and values and direction of the club while providing the necessary resources. These things, especially the mission and the direction of the club, should be developed with significant insight from the Head Coach. It is important that the Head Coach not only understand but also support the direction of the club and feel confident that he or she can move the club in the direction that the Board wants to go. Essentially, the Board and the Head Coach should be on the same page when it comes to what they want for the club. It makes no sense for the Board to have one goal and the Head coach to have another. Instead, these things should be developed through the partnership of the Board and the Coach. In supporting the Head Coach with the task of creating a strategic plan for the club, the Board is able to form a strong partnership with the Head Coach and be a useful tool for all of the coaches within the sports program.
The Head Coach’s role is to support the Board with strategic information, ideas, and connections. This helps with the delineation of responsibilities– the Head Coach with the swimmers and coaching staff, and the Board with running the organization and enabling the Head Coach and their staff to be most effective. In many cases, the Board does not fully understand the ins and outs as they pertain to coaching athletes, so they need guidance from the Head Coach. What type of support will he or she need as far as equipment, facilities, support staff, time, or money goes? The board does not need to understand what type of equipment the coach will need, but instead, they need to be financially ready to purchase the equipment to move the athletes in the direction that the club would like to go. By focusing on the organization, support, and management of the team, the Board should strive to support the coaches so that they can focus most of their time on athlete development. For example, if the Head Coach of a club is also responsible for finances such as paying other coaches or paying bills, they have less time and attention to spend focused on the athletes. The Board does not have the expertise of the coach, so they are able to fill their time with things such as finances and other management issues. In doing this, the Head Coach is free to not only develop athletes but also to provide proper oversight to the coaching staff. The Board should not have to get involved in the coaching of the team because they trust and support the Head Coach in this area. Instead, they should support the staff and membership with strategic direction, such as financial oversight, operational leadership, facilities, and staff development.
Many times the Board and the Head Coach operate independently and move in two different directions–this can create a lot of distrust among the Board and also among the membership. The membership of the club — the paying members — needs to feel like the Board and the Head Coach is a united front. The goal of the Board should be to enable the coaches and provide strategic direction–where are we going and how will we get there?
One of the most important roles that the Board has when it comes to the Head Coach is the ability to hold him or her accountable to the vision and values of the club. It is important for the Board to have clear direction on where the club is going because that is what they will use when holding the coach accountable. The Board should spend time reviewing and understanding how the coaches are meeting the expectations of the athletes and the members, and be willing to communicate openly with the Head Coach if improvements need to be made. This should be an ongoing process and not something that comes around once a year. Coaches can meet those expectations when they are provided feedback and given opportunities to improve and understand what the membership and the Board are looking for in a program. When feedback is only given to coaches once a year, it doesn’t leave much time for them to make improvements or corrections toward becoming better coaches. Through frequent evaluation and honest communication, coaches don’t have to feel surprised when the Board is unhappy with the direction they are taking the club. It is always better to address issues as they arise, instead of waiting until it is too late. When a clear vision has been established by the Board and the Head Coach, it is easier for the board to evaluate if expectations are being met and easier for the Head Coach to understand the goals of the club.
When a clear vision is defined, everyone has an easier road map to follow in the development of athletes at all levels. Head Coaches can not run a successful organization on their own, and they need the oversight and support of a Board of Directors to help them meet the goals and expectations of the sports club. When a strong partnership is formed, the athletes, the membership, the Board, and the Head Coach all reap the benefits of a well-run sports club that continues to meet the expectations of everyone involved.