Greenbrier Christian Head Coach Tommy Austin (Photo: Andy Hilton/recruit757)
Coach Tommy Austin of Greenbrier Christian Academy discusses the purpose of HS athletics
by Tommy Austin, Greenbrier Christian
In today’s Coaches Corner, Coach Austin shares his wisdom and experience about the game of football and the aspects of high school ball compared to college ball. He has coached at both levels and has seen young athletes develop into young men thanks to the lessons that the game of football can teach. – AH
During my thirty-five years as a coach, athletic administrator, and teacher I have seen numerous changes in the expectations that we have of our athletes, coaches, and athletics in general. I have also seen these changes, both positive and negative, during that time and while I am encouraged by some of the changes I am disturbed by others. In many instances, high school coaches are not only expected to win games and championships but they are also expected to get all of their player’s athletic scholarships. I believe this misses the point and purpose of our jobs as educators and coaches are really about. I became a coach to make a difference and while I also have a strong desire to compete, and to win, I don’t believe that winning is the only thing that’s important.
My concerns about the scholarship issue come from the inability of many players and parents to understand that as a high school coach we do not determine who gets recruited, offered or ultimately is awarded a scholarship. We can teach them, prepare them to play, encourage them to perform in the classroom and on the field as well as contact coaches, recruiting services, send film, emails, and make phone calls. But in the end the coaches from the various colleges will make the decisions about offers and scholarships. This will happen based on factors that in most cases are not within our ability to control such as size, speed, God-given talent, skills, academic performance, character and work ethic. These are all factors which coaches use to determine who fills the needs of their program. And while we can encourage, and set the parameters for, the development of these factors, the ultimate decision is out of our control.
It’s also our job as coaches to educate our players and parents about the recruiting process and the difference between Division I, II and III as well as the NAIA and junior colleges. The number of facts overlooked by many athletes and parents when trying to understand the process and the results are mind boggling. First, we need to make sure that everyone concerned is being realistic about the capabilities of the student-athlete and the opportunities that may be afforded to them based on their talent and academic prowess. Secondly hours of conversation must occur to explain how the process works and the factors associated with the different levels of competition. Lastly, this practice will allow for the open dialogue necessary so that unrealistic expectations or unfulfilled promises do not become an issue.
When I first began coaching most of the athletes and coaches that I worked with were involved with multiple sports. I myself coached football in the Fall, girls’ volleyball in the Winter and baseball in the Spring while keeping the weight room open all year round. There were no travel, club, or AAU teams that provided athletes or coaches with the opportunity to pursue their sport on a year around basis. I have enjoyed coaching multiple sports as there were always some new faces among the athletes you coached in one season that you did not have the opportunity to coach or get to know in another. I have always believed that my true calling in life was to teach and coach in order to make a difference in this world, to help young men and women to become better athletes, teammates, students, citizens, spouses, and parents. This, along with life lessons that are not learned in other environments, and the creation of memories are what I believe high school sports are all about. The image of a birthday cake is the analogy that I have often used. The cake is the opportunity to play a sport, the icing is the memories created from being a part of a team and the decorations are the individual or team accomplishments and awards. Scholarships, which in this analogy are above and beyond the cake, they are the lit candles. Without the candles you still have a delicious and worthwhile cake that will be enjoyable when you partake of it and will give you a filling and satisfactory experience. Most of us can recreate images of those birthday cakes of our youth and those of our children and recall the memories they have provided. High school sports and provide the same types of images and memories if we see them through the lenses of their true purpose, just as we’ve seen those cakes before the candles are lit. They provide us with memories of friends, family, and good times even without candles.
What was once a part of the educational process as well as an opportunity to be a part of something positive has been distorted in numerous ways. Many athletes, coaches, and parents have now come to believe that high school sports as well as the travel teams, club teams and other groups outside of the high school arena, have become training opportunities for scholarships and/or a professional contract. This along, with the idea that sport specialization is a way of preventing injuries or increasing skills, has diminished not only the number of multi-sport athletes but has diminished the skills of numerous athletes. Each sport teaches and utilizes different muscle groups, skills and offers opportunities for improvement on numerous levels. It is well known that most college coaches prefer multi-sport athletes, and in my experience as a college coach, I always felt that individuals who played multiple sports were better overall athletes. I also believe that by playing multiple sports a young person is less likely to get burned out on one sport as well as having the chance to truly find the one they love the most.
Unfortunately, the dream or desire for the after-high school experience, an athletic scholarship, or a career as a professional athlete has created a narrow perspective of what athletics should be. In other words, youth and high school sports should not be about scholarships or turning pro but instead be about the enjoyment of sports and the opportunity to compete as an athlete. These activities are not a means to an end as for most of those participating in youth and high school sports, their engagement in team sports will end when they take off their high school uniform(s) for the final time. According to Scholarshipstats.com, only 7% of the athletes who participate in high school sports will compete at the Varsity level in college and the largest percentage of both male and female students will compete at the Division III (non-scholarship) level. Therefore, the idea promoted by many that specialization will lead to expanded opportunities is misleading and should be discouraged.
I have always asked my athletes who have the desire to play at the collegiate level, but are solely focused on a scholarship, “What is your dream, to play at the college level or to get a scholarship?” I then ask them to identify whose dream is being chased and what are they willing to pay for that dream. Many of them cannot answer the questions, as they believe that the scholarship aspect is their only hope or they have been led to believe that it’s the only way to achieve their dream. If a student-athlete has taken care of business as a responsible citizen and in the classroom, then the number of possibilities increase exponentially, including the opportunity to play at a high level without an athletic scholarship. I encourage all of my players to chase their dreams but to also have a realistic vision about the following;
• At what level will your size and talent allow you to play?
• What are your academic goals?
• Have you done the things necessary in the classroom so your opportunities are not limited?
I also encourage them to have a multi-level plan so that they are not limited by the scholarship or no scholarship issue.
In closing, I encourage readers to think about why athletics are an important part of the lives of so many young people and keep things in perspective when dealing with our athletes, parents and other coaches. We teach our players that anything worth having is worth working for and their achievements are not limited to championships or scholarships but from the sheer enjoyment of playing the game and being a part of something larger than themselves. They are games and athletes do “play” them so there should be fun and enjoyment as some part of the process rather that the business aspect that too often comes into play at the collegiate and professional levels.
– Tommy Austin