Teacher Coaches

Strategies that work in the classroom and on the field.


Last school year, 122,185 Arizonan students participated in high school athletics, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Nationally, this marked the 26th consecutive year where total student-athlete participation increased in the United States.

That’s a whole lot of kids who are waiting for the final bell to ring so that they can get to practice — and it’s a lot of teachers who close the books only to head out to their second jobs as coaches.

Ask any teacher-coach, and they’ll tell you that when it comes down to it, there’s a whole lot of similarity when it comes to teaching an academic class and coaching a sport. And maybe they’re on to something. Here’s just a few strategies that translate on the carpet and the court.

Make Losing a Lesson

Why is it that we tell our athletes things like “you can’t win ‘em all” and “you win some, you lose some,” but we do our darndest to ensure that our students never fail? Great coaches know that it’s not all about the win; it’s about the game. Making mistakes in a supportive environment should absolutely be a part of your classroom, as flops, blunders, and slip-ups provide opportunities to review what went wrong, refine skill sets, and try again. We’ve got to get away from scaring our kids with the permanence of grades and high-stakes test scores and allow students to dare to take risks that will lead to fulfilling their potential.

Keep Score in Class

When I ran track high school, all of the runners’ times were common knowledge. The coach kept track of our progress by keeping a board in the locker room with our weekly times posted. Sure, you could see who was the fastest or the slowest — but that didn’t matter, because every individual was improving, and that inspired us to keep going.

I’m not advocating posting private information, but there’s a lot of ways to chart, map, and showcase classroom successes by posting measurements. Turning the scoreboard on in your classroom is important because it puts the proof that you’re heading in the right direction and meeting goals in the spotlight. Each student is capable of topping his or her own personal record, and the greatest motivator for success is — you guessed it — success.

Steal the Ball

It’s nearly unheard of for a coach to start off as the head of a varsity team. Rather, most coaches follow a meandering path to the top, learning from everyone that they work with.

Do the same with your teaching practice. If a colleague has impeccable classroom management, ask if you can sit in on her class and take notes. (A good place to start is the list of National Board Certified Teachers.) Your neighbor’s students are always pumped to attend his class? Ask him for the secrets to his top-notch rapport. Excellent educators invest in all facets of teaching — and you can do this by taking pieces of what others have done and making them your own.

When it comes to transforming today’s youth, great coaches certainly have an edge that we can use to put a full court press on learning.

Ready to get some training of your own? Attend the Arizona K12 Center’s Restorative Practices workshop.


Heather Sparks is a writer, educator, and mom of two. An Arizona native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a master’s degree in gifted education from Arizona State University.

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