The Army of Confidants

August 25, 2008

What’s the difference between a coach, a trainer, and a ‘hanger-on’?

During the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, as the hundreds of athletes paraded into the Bird’s Nest, announcer Bob Costas referred to the crowds of people as ‘athletes, coaches, trainers and the other various hangers-on’. As if the coaches and trainers were somehow simply there through no effort, knowledge or skill of their own. I’m not sure if Costas was simply trying to keep talking during the five-hour presentation, but it’s a statement that I wanted to open for discussion regarding when a person is actually involved with a sport/ahtlete in a mutually beneficial relationship and when a person is simply a ‘hanger on’.

Getting into coaching is both extremely difficult and extremely easy (relatively). Texas head coach Rick Barnes broke into coaching by reportedly waiting eight hours to be interviewed after a head coach forgot he was waiting. It’s hard from the perspective that Barnes had to be smart enough to coach well, willing to work long hours for little pay, but it’s ‘easy’ from the perspective that Barnes only needed to put himself in the right place at the right time to get his start. One eight-hour wait for an interview isn’t equal to the years required just to be an entry level medical doctor.

Rick Barnes is certainly not a ‘hanger-on’, and I consider him to be an excellent coach (who I wish had stayed in the ACC) but given that all it often takes to secure a position in coaching is to show up and know the right person, often people in positions of sporting authority are hardly qualified to do so. USA Today reports that there is some thinking that coaches should have at the very least some psychosocial training in dealing with kids:

“So many coaches come from outside of the school system — as much as 60-75% — and in many cases the age of coaches is getting younger,” said Chris Stankovich of Columbus. “Yet they have in many cases, zero training to work with kids. As a result, there have been a spike in the number of inappropriate relationships.”

In other words, daycare workers usually need more credentials than coaches. While on one hand, this is acceptable – many youth coaches simply are volunteers who are willing to help kids – many others are the very definition of ‘hangers-on’, and this is extremely prevalent in basketball. Many kids are not only being recruited by top level universities, but they also have dozens of people whispering in their ears about their decisions. Those people whispering are looking for some kind of benefit.