How do we recognize coaching talent? It is a complex question without any definitive answers. There are many factors that contribute to one’s coaching success, and many of the factors are situation dependent. Succeeding with beginners requires different skills than succeeding in the NBA; being talented at one does not ensure that one is talented at the other.
I recently spoke to a high school athletic director about a coaching position. Regardless of how one measures coaching talent, I do not know how this interview was designed to evaluate it.
If I recall correctly, the athletic director asked six questions:
1. How do you teach sportsmanship?
2. What is your experience with private schools?
3. How do you deal with intrusive parents?
4. How do you deal with players who miss practice for other school activities, such as choir or drama?
5. What do you think about multi-sport athletes?
6. What attracted you to a job coaching girls as opposed to boys? [I found out at the end of our conversation that he was hiring a boys coach too, which made this question more understandable.]
I understand the questions to an extent. Being a small, private school, I imagine the environment is somewhat unique, especially for someone coming from a large public school. As a smaller school, the students participate in numerous activities, and a coach has to have a way to manage the realities of the situation without it becoming too frustrating or limiting. In that way, questions 2-4 basically attacked the same thing: Are you a fit for a small, private school where athletics is important, but only in the context of a well-rounded student?
From this perspective, the interview sought two things: (1) How important is sportsmanship to you and (2) Are you a fit for this specific school?
Of course, this says almost nothing about one’s coaching acumen. Being a fit for a specific school is important, and not every successful high-school coach can be successful under these constraints. Some high school coaches treat the school like their own personal fiefdom, and that attitude or approach clearly would not be a fit for this school. Of course, the likelihood of a coach like that applying for a part-time job at a school that has not won a league game in five years is small anyway.
Beyond fit, what did the AD learn about candidates? This is probably the first interview that I have had that did not start with the interviewer asking the interviewee to give his background or introduce himself or re-hash his resume.
What about coaching style? What about basketball knowledge? What about training knowledge? What about the ability to manage a staff since the job oversees the 6th-12th grade program? What about associates to serve as assistants and/or lower-level head coaches? What about the fit for the current personnel? What about knowledge of talent development? What about ability to teach? What about philosophy of development versus winning?