The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


August 31, 2012

High school coaches are real life unsung heroes

Coaches play an important role in the lives of children.

Today, more than ever, young people need not only discipline, but also the personal guidance and attention that coaches provide. Positive lessons learned in high school sports carry over into other areas of life, and if students aren’t learning those lessons at home, then coaches can help fill that vital role.

In fact, a good coach can leave a lifelong impression on his team members. Perhaps that is why coaches rate as highly as they do on a student’s list of role models, and with that comes the power to influence the future decisions of their young athletes.

Undoubtedly, playing sports not only builds character and confidence but also gives the player a sense of accomplishment. In truth, it prepares youngsters for life by working as a team or as a team player, not as an individual.

And through a structured learning environment, coaches constantly challenge athletes to learn and develop themselves both on and off the playing field.

What is more, most high school coaches are teachers who work additional hours after school because they love sports and working with young people. They may receive a small coaching supplement, but they probably could earn more at some other part-time job.

Still, many coaches say the challenges they face make their role more — not less — important.

Unlike pro or even college coaches, high school coaches are supposed to be educators first. In high-profile, high-revenue sports like football, however, success is increasingly measured by wins and losses. As a result, coaches face greater pressure, as do the administrators who hire and supervise them.

At the same time, outside influences, from neighborhood troubles to over-enthusiastic parents, make it more difficult for today’s coaches to connect with young athletes than it was just a few years ago.

Let’s face it, fans are less patient — sometimes even hostile — when programs are not successful in the win column. Even when coaches’ jobs are not on the line, they still feel the burden of winning and losing.

All in all, the pressure to win is greater than the public thinks. And yet, more than 60 percent of boys and girls said that, more than anything else, coaches should give everyone a chance to play, which ranked above teaching new skills and even winning.

Most kids didn’t think that winning is all that important. Only 7 percent of girls said coaches should be most concerned with winning, whereas about 18 percent of boys said so.

It sounds as though kids think too much importance is given to winning at all costs. And many adults are starting to think changes are needed in youth sports. Perhaps that is because as high school athletics have become more intense and competitive, it has put an increasing level of pressure on kids.

As a consequence, many of the parents and fans seem to be missing the point: it is playing with integrity, making the right choices during and after each score and playing with heart and no excuses that determines a successful player from a loser.

Even so, the question remains: Is there still room for coaches to serve as role models?

The answer unquestionably is “absolutely.”

High school sports can reinforce many positive values, including how to win and lose with class, how to set goals, and how to deal with failure. Playing sports teaches students how to work as a team and coexist with people from diverse backgrounds. It also promotes health and physical fitness.

And despite the growing challenges, the relationships make high school sports worthwhile for players and coaches alike.

It’s a fact that most youngsters in school today still want discipline in their lives.

Providing an avenue for young adults to become great people is one way to change the world for the better. High school coaches for the most part are the unsung heroes of the public school system.

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— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail:

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