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Transition from Youth Level to HS Coaching

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

You’ve coached youth sports for a while, and you’ve just been hired as a high school coach. While the skills and strategies are somewhat the same, coaching high school sports is very different from coaching youth sports. Your success and longevity in high school athletics may depend upon your understanding of the difference.

The following are some important aspects related to high school athletics that you need to understand:

High school sports have a different mission. At the high school level, education-based athletics is the hallmark philosophy. It is vital that you get a clear picture of what is involved with this concept. Not every high school around the country subscribes to this mindset, but most use it as the blueprint for guiding their athletic programs. And this approach can be vastly different from that of community or youth sports programs.

While high school coaches want to prepare their teams well and strive to win, winning games or championships is not the only or ultimate objective in education-based athletics. The growth and development of young people, beyond sport-specific skills, is the most important goal of high school athletics. As a high school coach, helping your players learn lifelong values like sportsmanship, leadership, perseverance, and teamwork must be at the forefront.

States and districts have set policies and procedures. To function within a high school program, coaches need to understand the state and district rules that govern them. In many districts, for example, practice sessions have a two-hour time limit and teams may not be able to practice on Sundays. Each state also has eligibility standards for athletes and there are established deadlines for the submission of forms to prove eligibility. Besides these examples, there are many additional requirements that coaches have to fulfill, and you can’t survive unless you follow these standards.

The school has its own organization and mission. Since a few (or many) years have passed since you were a high school student, many things have changed. Attaining a quality education—not athletic success—is the ultimate purpose of every school system. Student-athletes need to attend classes and they also have homework they must do most evenings in order to succeed.

Coaches cannot interfere with this primary academic purpose. You have to do everything you can to promote and encourage classroom success. You can’t, for example, pull a student-athlete out of class to talk to him or her. And you need to be flexible when athletes are occasionally late to practice because they are getting tutoring or making up a test.

You are a role model and a spokesperson. When you coach youth sports, you may answer to a president and board of directors, but you largely work on your own. However, a high school coach works for and represents a larger entity. As a coach, you are often the most visible representative for the school. This means that your actions on the sidelines and your comments to the media carry a great deal of weight. You are a role model and ambassador for athletes, parents, fans, teachers, administrators, and the community as a whole.

In your role as a coach, you also set the example for others with respect to interactions with officials and the media. While you can question an official’s call, you must do so in a calm, respectful manner. And during interviews and conversations with the media, you need to think about how your words will come across since they have enormous influence, either positive or negative. All of this means that you must be honest and respectful and always act in an ethical manner.

Communication is a big part of the job. As a youth sports coach, you may have to deal with parents to set up travel arrangements and resolve problems. At the high school level, however, a greater level of engagement is necessary. It is a coach’s obligation to return phone calls and respond to e-mail messages from anyone who contacts him or her, not just parents. This requires responding even when you expect a contentious or difficult conversation, and it also means remaining polite and professional.

Making the transition from coaching youth teams to coaching high school sports requires understanding the differences between the two entities and being willing to commit to the increased expectations and responsibilities involved at the high school level. By putting some thought into the above concepts, and by connecting with your athletic administrator, you can successfully make this move up the coaching ladder.


David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association’s Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country. He welcomes comments and questions and can be reached at:

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