“Coaching Coaches” in an Online Learning Environment


Guest blogpost By Sam Knopik, Assistant Athletics Director, Pembroke Hill School

Over the summer, I moved into a new role at my school as the Assistant Athletics Director. Among my duties is mentoring the coaches in our department. Traditionally, this has meant holding one-on-one meetings, keeping a checklist of what needs to be done by each coach, e-mailing reminders, and generally serving as a resource for coaches to find answers to their questions. While all of those responsibilities are important and have their place in the operation of a coach’s team and our athletic department in general, I believe there is more. Do our coaches truly understand their power over a young person? How could I transform our mentoring program from a checklist to a professional development experience?

At the same time I took on this new role, my school was in the early stages of a partnership with Global Online Academy. When our administration announced the opportunity to take a GOA professional development class, “Introduction to Online Learning Environments,” over the summer, I was quick to sign-up. The “class” turned out to be less of what I thought a traditional class might be and more of a professional development experience in which I was introduced to various online learning tools. I was inspired to apply as many of these tools that I could to my current bricks and mortar classroom… I just didn’t know how.

Then it came to me, like a thunderbolt: in my new role, I was learning that my school’s coaches would never have time to gather for meaningful small group discussions, especially since 80% of them have off-campus professional commitments.

But, we could all participate in an online community.

In a timely August meeting with a friend and mentor, Ryan Krzykowski, who “coaches coaches,” the plan came together. We opened an account in the Haiku Learning Management System and began laying the foundation for what we are calling “Coaching With a Purpose.” We plan to cover topics like:

  • Why do you coach?

  • The power and problem of American sports culture

  • Telling your story

  • Developing your coaching philosophy beyond X’s and O’s

Admittedly, it began — and for the most part, still is — a Phase I mode of simply taking previously produced materials and laying them out in a unit-by-unit fashion in our Haiku classroom. The dynamic community-building elements for the class revolve around a threaded discussion group. After reading through the unit’s introductory materials, the group is presented with a question to respond to in the threaded discussion. In addition, we ask them to respond to the post of at least one other coach. Our objectives include allowing coaches to share their stories, allowing the rest of the group to sharpen their coaching skills from the “best practices” of others, and encouraging them to take steps to develop a community among our coaching staffs.

One other nugget I’m using from the summer’s GOA course is the use of a Google+ Community. I have created a private group that is open to all of our school’s coaches. In this community, I have posted articles, videos, and various resources that I think will assist all coaches in their craft, bring their attention to a current event in our field, and ultimately push character education. While any member of the Community has the ability to contribute a post, participation has been slow to start.

This is to be expected. As educators, coaches, and whatever outside professions to which many of our coaches belong, time is precious, and a few minutes browsing this and that reading adds up. However, I will push forward; my vision is for an athletic department that can become so student-centered that our school will build a reputation of character-enhancing athletics right alongside our strong academic reputation.

Sam Knopik has worked at The Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri, since 2003. He teaches world history and serves as the director of the community service program, the assistant athletic director, and the head football coach.