The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment in which every aspect of a high school activities program needs to be re-evaluated. Many families within the school district have lost jobs and income; others have been furloughed for months. Some families have been hit harder than others when it comes to their financial status.
School districts have continued to try to offer opportunities for athletes if it is allowed by governing bodies. When seasons were cancelled, coaches had the opportunities to hold virtual practices with their teams and continued to be get paid.
The spring of 2020 was unlike any other season for schools. Everything that happened was unprecedented. Many times, school districts were going day by day trying to navigate the way. The spring athletic season was constantly in limbo – was it postponed or cancelled? Virtual coaching could take place and, therefore, coaches got the contracted payment.
The reality is that we are no longer in unprecedented times. School districts have been through an athletic season with a pandemic. We now know that each day of practice is a gift, with the realization that COVID-19 could shut a team down for 14 days or longer.
So now the question remains, “Can schools continue to pay coaches when there is no event involving ticket sales”? This could be because no fans are allowed to attend games, or there was a cancelled game due to COVID-19 or the season was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Does a coach who is relegated to virtual coaching, in light of families being furloughed, deserve equal pay to coaching face to face? It really comes down to providing guidelines for what is expected of the coaches.
The school district needs to determine the value of education- based activities, and that value needs to be on coaching the whole person – character-building, motivation, physical workouts and touching base with each student-athlete on the team. Education- based athletics should thrive during virtual coaching. The key factor is for school districts to realize that athletics and activities are extensions of the classroom. The value to a student-athlete is priceless.
One of the main points during virtual coaching is the mental health of student-athletes. To a student-athlete, cancellation of a season is a big loss. Grieving is real for the sport he or she had planned on playing. In this role, coaches can console and boost students. A coach who normally coaches face-to-face may need to dig deeper to become an even greater coach on the mental side. Even before the pandemic, the impact a coach could have on a student’s life was amazing. Now, imagine how much more of an impact a coach can have if competition is taken out of the scenario.
The activities director can provide guidelines for coaches to be paid. What does 100 percent of the coaches’ pay look like? What does a coach need to do to get 50 percent of the salary? Guidelines will help the activities director to go to bat for coaches with the finance department.
There are coaches who put in more time in the “non-paid” off-season than people realize. It is important to ensure that their time is valued and that some sort of payment is always welcome. The other point to make is that coaches have personal budgets, and those budgets depend on the expected pay that coaches receive.
The guidelines could look like this. Even the most motivated coaches need to know what is expected. Of course, the coaches who are less motivated need the guidance, too. (See figure 1)
However, school districts also need to be fiscally responsible. Again, cancelling a season is no longer unprecedented. In the event a season is cancelled, with no virtual expectations, a school district needs a plan. It is hard to sell to the community to continue to pay coaches when they have not done any “work” as it pertains to in-season.
One option is to be upfront with information to the coaches on what the plan is. A school district plan may look something like this:
Coaches/Advisor Season Completion and Salary Plan 2020-21
In the event a team member (coach or athlete) gets COVID-19 and the team needs to quarantine for 14 days, the quarantine duration will not impact the percentage of the season completed. Protocol for athletes and coaches if and when there is a COVID-19 case will follow the protocol established by the district. This plan still allows for discussion, if a school goes to virtual coaching, with regard to paying coaches. Either way, it is important to be upfront with coaches.
This plan has a small stipend as a retention incentive; it is not ideal but shows that the school district values the work of a coach. Having a plan ready to go is essential during this time of uncertainty. Sadly, the unprecedented times are now precedent, and we need to be ready and flexible.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CAA, is the athletic/activities director at Pine Island (Minnesota) High School after serving in a similar capacity at Houston (Minnesota) High School for several years. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.