January 14, 2013

It's a new game for high school coaches

Parents, athletes and social constraints force changes.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Scarborough High School boys’ hockey coach Norm Gagne, 66, and now in his 38th year as a coach, draws up plays during a practice at MHG Ice in Saco. On coaching, he said: “It blows my mind to see how much it’s changed.”

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Paul True, Lake Region’s girls’ basketball coach, is also the athletic director. When hiring a coach, he says, he looks for “a good person, honest and genuine.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

"He's definitely a player's coach," said Ross Hogan, the Wildcats' quarterback and a guard on the basketball team. "He's in it for the kids. He would never badmouth us. He's always there for us. He teaches football but he teaches life lessons along with that. He's always got our backs, on and off the field."

Taylor Newton, a lineman for York, said Small's home is open to them at any time.

"I think everyone has his phone number to call at any time," said Newton. "When we talk, it's not just about football, but it's also about life."

Small, the head coach of York's football team for 15 years, knows times have changed.

"You never cuss at a child," he said. "You never get in a kid's face. You never degrade a kid. We don't do that. We get after them, but in a positive way.

"The generation of the old-school coach who grabs the facemask and yanks the kid's head around and says, 'Hey, listen to me,' that's gone."

And rightfully so, according to some observers.

"I played sports a long time ago, so I know what it's like to be yelled at," said Bill Gayton, a University of Southern Maine professor who specializes in sports psychology. "Back then, if a coach wanted to punish us, he made us run. There's no data to show that it was necessary or beneficial, but they did it.

"The fact of the matter is that society has changed. And when society changes, you better change your behavior or you'll be in trouble."


Finding new coaches is no easy task.

"I think a lot of people are understanding today that coaching is hard," said Paul Vachon, the athletic director at Cony High in Augusta and the former girls' basketball coach at the school. "It's a hard thing. I think they see it because there are so many travel teams now, and so many people coaching them. I know coaches in Little League who have said they will never do that again. I see it in travel basketball where they say they're not going to do it again because everyone is on their back."

When someone is hired to coach interscholastic sports in Maine, they must complete -- within a year -- three online courses offered by the National Federation of State High School Associations through the Maine Principals' Association, including one on coaching principles.

The course is important, said Mike Burnham, an assistant executive director at the MPA, because it gives the coaching candidate an idea of what to expect. It provides guidelines for dealing with students, parents, budgets, anything that might come up. The course stresses the importance of education in the coaching process.

"It allows them to start thinking about the development of a coaching philosophy," he said. "About working with young people, about developing skills and techniques for communicating with young people."

When he has an opening, Vachon is looking for someone with "passion, excitement, enthusiasm." He hopes to find someone who can teach in the school system as well, because the student-teacher relationship is very important. He wants someone willing to make a commitment to the program.

When looking for a new coach at Lake Region High in Naples, Paul True -- the athletic director and girls' basketball coach -- wants someone who is "a good person, honest and genuine."

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Additional Photos

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Paul True, Lake Region High School girls’ basketball coach: “Parents are much more involved, and it can be a very positive situation if the coach fosters that relationship and puts an emphasis on communication.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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