Performance appraisal of coaches. We talk about it a great deal, but all too often don't do it. When we do evaluate coaches, we often don't do it well.
Coach performance appraisals are critical, as they form the basis upon which major decisions are made, including decisions to reward or terminate coaches. In all cases, such decisions have an impact on the careers of individual coaches, and in many cases, these decisions also have a large financial and operating impact on sport organizations.
Many coaches' contracts include some reference to performance evaluation, but it is seldom clear who is going to do the evaluation, how it is going to be done, when it will be done, what attributes will be measured and what sources of information will go into the mix.
Dr. Joanne MacLean is an expert in the field of performance appraisal. An experienced varsity basketball coach (11 years), an assistant coach of a national team (two years) and a university athletic director responsible for supervising a dozen varsity coaches (six years), she is a widely published researcher and an associate professor of sport management. She has written a book specifically about performance appraisals in sport and recreation and she has organized it around these very questions.
The what question is clearly the focus of the book and perhaps the most important one to ask. It is also probably the most challenging for those involved in conducting performance appraisals of coaches. MacLean observes that conceptually, the win-loss record is not the best measure of coaching performance. Most practitioners would agree with this and yet MacLean notes it continues to be used consistently as a basis for evaluation, and often as the main consideration in hiring and firing decisions. This is partially because win-loss is an easy criterion to measure and to use. But it clearly does not tell the whole story.
Maclean writes: "The problem with the use of win-loss records as the ultimate criterion of success is that it produces two finite categories: one good, one bad. In reality, however, innumerable factors contribute to success. In other words, a loss may not be an indication of bad performance, and a win may not result from good performance."
Based on over ten years of research in the field, MacLean has constructed a useful and practical framework to help answer the question, What should we evaluate? This framework reminds us vividly that there are many more aspects to coaching success than winning, and it provides a useful tool to help sport administrators think about the breadth of attributes that good coaches possess.
In this framework MacLean identifies both coaching "product factors" (for example, win-loss, medals, rankings) as well as coaching "process factors" (the actual tasks performed by the coach on the job, as distinguished from the outcome of such tasks). These process factors are further broken down into "task-related factors" (those behaviours necessary to complete the main tasks of the job such as recruiting quality athletes, teaching new skills, managing drills and practices, utilizing effective game tactics) and "maintenance-related factors" (those behaviours required to maintain a positive work environment such as cooperating with other staff, communicating well with athletes, conforming with organizational policies, adhering to timelines and administrative requirements).
MacLean makes the case that all three categories are important in the work of the coach and should form the basis for identifying the specific criteria against which coach performance is to be measured. Developing these criteria is part of a whole process, starting with a comprehensive job analysis from which a specific job description can be crafted. Then, based on this job description and the particular environment in which the coach operates, specific and relevant performance appraisal criteria can be developed. In this book, MacLean introduces the reader to these steps and provides useful examples and template from which to build.
MacLean also very briefly touches on problems of actually measuring coach performance against these criteria. The criteria must measure what they purport to measure. Her comments serve as a useful caution to the practitioner, but need to be enlarged upon in order to actually help the practitioner avoid such pitfalls.
MacLean takes the reader through the what of the appraisal in some detail. The other part of the performance appraisal is its actual application - the how, who, when and where of performance appraisal. These are all addressed in just one chapter, yet they are important issues for the practitioner. In fairness, these aspects of the performance appraisal process have not been the main focus of MacLean's own research. Nonetheless, for the practitioner these details are absolutely critical. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having people in certain positions administer the appraisal? What sources of information should be included? What are the implications around the timing of the appraisal? Are certain techniques better for obtaining certain kinds of information?
The final two chapters of the book touch on various positions other than coaching within the sport organization. MacLean also addresses the unique and changing nature of the environment within which such people operate and how this can influence the appraisal process. As well, she touches on a number of miscellaneous issues that might impact the appraisal process, including the legal contexts within which sport personnel function.
The greatest strength of this book is in making the reader think about the breadth of the coach's job; that is, helping one to recognize the distinctions between the process and the product of coaching, and between tasks directly related to coaching and tasks that support and maintain an environment conducive to good coaching. The importance of incorporating this perspective into the appraisal process cannot be overstated.
While MacLean does a good job setting out both the theoretical and practical basis of the what of performance appraisal, the lack of detail and practical examples in the how, who, when and where may leave the practitioner a bit short of the necessary tools for implementing an appraisal system. As well, lengthy sentences and paragraphs make this book a bit of a difficult read. Nonetheless, MacLean has made an important contribution to the sport management field, particularly as it relates to the need for greater professionalization of the management of sport.
Every professional coach deserves the opportunity to be evaluated using sound performance appraisal techniques. Such evaluations are essential not just for the feedback they provide, but also because they are an expected and necessary management function of any well-run operation. Performance appraisal is a powerful performance management tool, capable of contributing to the success and achievements of both the organization and the individual coach.
If sport managers haven't already done so, they need to learn and acquire the skills and knowledge of proper performance appraisal. And coaches need to understand how the process works in order to be an informed and vigilant participant. It's a win-win situation. This book helps the process.
Originally published: Coaches Report (2002) Vol. 8(4)