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

(Continued from page 3)

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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

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He wants someone "who understands that we're not really in the business to make money ... Instead it's to educate our student-athletes with the opportunity to impact their lives in a very positive way."

At Lake Region, the highest paid varsity coach makes $4,022. An assistant or middle school coach earns $1,200.

Vachon and True also want someone who can foster relationships with both students and parents.

In his ninth year at Lake Region, and 16th overall as a coach, True said the parent-coach relationship is vastly different than when he started.

"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," he said. "Certainly with everyone's busy schedule, getting help from parents can be very positive for the program. It's a very different relationship than years ago when it was 'this is what the coach said or did' and the parents were really hands-off."

True admits that he has also changed over the years, has become "more sympathetic" to his players' needs. There was a time, he said, that he was very intense and didn't handle losses well.

"I was very critical, very reactive," he said. "Everyone knows I'm still emotional now, but I feel I can channel my energies in a much more positive manner than I did years ago."

Vachon resigned as the Cony girls' basketball coach in 2008 after 23 years, 433 victories, 11 Eastern Class A titles and seven state championships.

Asked if he could coach today, he said, "It's difficult to answer. I know I really feel for my coaches."

Vachon talks to his coaches all the time about finding positive ways to instruct their players. He was known as a very demonstrative, fiery coach who pushed his players to be their best every day. His image was not consistent with his message, according to a former player who replaced him as coach.

"He was a very compassionate man who cared about all his players," said Karen Magnusson. "That's one thing I try to emulate. Basketball is basketball and important to everyone who plays, but not as important as the relationship between the coach and players.

"He pushed me. He got on me and made me the best player I could be."

Magnusson loved playing for him.

"People saw the yelling, the craziness," she said. "But when you weren't on the court, you couldn't hear what he was saying. We did. And a lot of it was positive stuff."


One of the biggest changes coaches have noticed is that players are more often questioning what they're told to do, especially in practice. Players now want to know why they're running a particular drill, or why they have to learn a particular skill.

"Part of it could be that they want to learn, part of it could be that they're unsure why we're doing it," said Magnusson.

"Either way it's not bad to say why. Now they're learning basketball as well as the point of the drill. And when it works in a game, they understand the why."

But it is a change to those who were taught to never question the coach.

"Before it'd be like a Hoosiers movie at practice, you didn't question the coach's decision," said Massabesic's McHale.

"If you didn't get playing time or something happened in practice, you'd go home and your parents would say, 'What did you do wrong?' or 'What can you do to get better?'

"Now it's almost like walking on eggshells in your approach with players. It's much more constructive criticism and positive reinforcement. Which, really, it should be." 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:


Twitter: MikeLowePPH


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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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