Pressure points: Prep coaches seek solutions as more is expected of them
Jason Olson, All
Like most people who watched the video of Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice pushing, kicking and berating players, Joe Cravens felt the coach's behavior was clearly unacceptable.
But he also understood, in a way that few do, how a coach can cross the line between appropriate and inappropriate, between motivation and abuse without ever intending to do so.
"I think he went over the line," said Cravens, who coached men's college basketball for 30 years and has coached St. Joseph's girls basketball team to two straight 1A titles. "I think there was a time when, if you'd have had a camera on me, and maybe a lot of other coaches, that could happen. The physical conduct is always going to be (wrong). But the verbal part of it, boy it would be hard not to walk into a lot of college gyms and hear some of that. I mean, would a guy like Rick Majerus even survive in this day and age?"
College coaches are under unique kinds of pressures that have just become more intense in the last 10 years.
"The stress, the demands of Division I coaching, at that level, you can't describe it to anyone," said Cravens, who recounts his own regrettable situation in which he kicked a player (in the rear end) during an especially intense practice. "You have to live it. It's like trying to describe to someone what having children is like. You can baby-sit your nieces and nephews all you want, but until you have your own, you don't understand."
What may be even more difficult for many to understand is how, just as pressure for college coaches has become much more complicated, high school coaches now deal with similar issues for a fraction of the money.
"Our responsibilities have gone way up, our workload has increased majorly, and it's a full-time, year-round job and you're getting paid peanuts," said Morgan football coach Kovi Christiansen, who has spent 15 years on the sideline.
Sports, for better or worse, are no longer just a hobby in this country.
The opportunities for athletes, which include scholarship opportunities and professional ambitions, have never been more abundant. But increased opportunities have transformed the games, at all levels, into big business.
"In the past, a school would give a coach a couple thousand dollars and say, 'OK, run a team,' " said Lone Peak men's basketball coach Quincy Lewis, who has also coached college basketball and was the 2013 Naismith High School Coach of the Year. "Now fundraising is a huge part of the job. There is a lot of money coming through the till."
High school coaches are often teaching tough academic classes while trying to raise thousands of dollars for their programs. If they don't do it all, student athletes will simply attend a competing school.
Prep sports is a universe made more complicated by the success of club and private leagues. High school coaches, most of whom are schoolteachers, are required to coach, and help with or recommend club programs where their athletes can compete and train year-round. While some parents demand this year-round commitment, others complain about it, and both coaches and parents agree the costs have become a significant burden for most families.
Davis High boys basketball coach and athletic director Jay Welk has coached for 31 years and he's doing things he's never done, including coaching a traveling team, just so his players can compete with other high school programs during the season.
"There is not a lot of financial compensation, so you have to be doing it for other reasons," he said, rattling off his duties this summer. "I don't get paid for that. … I'm just doing it to try and help the program get better."
Add to the equation constant scrutiny and near celebrity status in their communities, and even the best coaches talk about burnout and seeing the point of diminishing returns fast approaching.
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