Employment Contracts for Coaches

Published August 30, 1997

In the Fall 1996 issue we made general comments relating to contracts. In this issue we will focus on employment contracts for coaches. The Canadian Professional Coaches Association will soon publish a compact handbook prepared by the Centre for Sport and Law and entitled "A Guide to Employment Contracts for Coaches". It has been written for the paid coach who works part-time or full-time in coaching for a sport organization, club, educational institution or a combination of these. The handbook also addresses many of the issues relating to the private coach -- that is, the coach who enters into a coaching, business or profit-sharing relationship with an elite amateur athlete.

The handbook does three things:

  • it explains the differences between an employee relationship and a contractual relationship, so that the coach can determine which model best meets his or her needs;
  • it explains some essential elements of the coaching contract; and,
  • it gives the coach some basic knowledge and background information to help negotiate a fair and effective contract with the employer.

In preparing the handbook we interviewed coaches who experienced significant problems because of limitations in their contracts. We also interviewed a number of coaches with experience in negotiating successful contracts which clearly reflected and supported a healthy working relationship with their employer. The experiences and advice of both these groups provided the framework for the handbook.

While no two contracts for coaching services will be alike, and coaches should ensure their contracts are tailored to suit their own particular circumstances, there will be some common elements in all contracts. Some of these might seem obvious and easy to deal with on a very general basis. But it is consideration of the more subtle details of the working relationship which makes the difference between a routine, and often ineffective contract, and a properly crafted contract which clearly reflects the expectations and obligations of both parties.

For example, the handbook points out that compensation clauses should deal with much more than simply the pay the coach has negotiated. In an employment situation it should include all forms of compensation negotiated with the employer including regular salary, overtime salary, benefits (extended medical and dental coverage and disability insurance), car and per diem allowances, holiday structure and pay, the employer's contribution to a pension, the employer's contribution to professional development and coaching accreditation, future salary increments (whether fixed in advance or performance-based) and bonus structure.

For the independent contractor, the contract should not only specify the amount of payment negotiated, but the frequency of payment, and reimbursement for-out-of-pocket expenses such as gas, mileage, parking, travel, accommodation, supplies and materials. The contractor may also wish to negotiate a bonus package or other reward for achieving certain performance objectives.

To further illustrate some essential areas coaches are encouraged to consider and include in their contracts, we will briefly sample three other topics addressed in the handbook: job descriptions, performance evaluations and the organizational culture.

The job description is often given little attention in the employment contract and usually is not developed in very much detail. While it seems obvious, a complete and accurate job description will prevent many potential problems, as the job description forms the basis for subsequent performance evaluations. It must also be realistic and fully reflect the job to be done. As well, from a legal perspective, an employer is only liable for the actions of employees which fall within their defined scope of authority. Likewise, any liability insurance which might be obtained by a coach typically covers only those actions which fall within a written job description.

Another very common area where difficulties arise is in performance evaluation. This area is often overlooked, both in the organization's policies and in practice. The contract should be very specific about how the coach's performance will be evaluated. It should specify not only what criteria will be used in the evaluation and how they will be weighted, but who will carry out the evaluation, at what times and in what format (that is, written or verbal). The criteria should relate back to the written job description and should state whether the performance review process provides the coach with an opportunity for input or feedback. Performance reviews are critical because they form the basis upon which major decisions are made, including decisions to penalize or terminate employees or contractors, as well as decisions to reward them. The single most common oversight in this whole area is not setting out the evaluation criteria and process at the outset -- before the job begins.

The third area that deserves particular attention when entering into a coaching contract is the organizational culture the coach is about to join. Coaches are advised to be political, entering the working relationship with eyes and ears open. The organizational culture will largely depend on the personalities involved and, over time, these may change. The coach may have to deal with people who have different styles and agendas. The coach may also be striving to achieve goals and objectives which have ceased to be a priority for the organization but against which the coach will be evaluated. In these instances, it may be appropriate to re-visit the contract and renegotiate certain terms, particularly those relating to performance review.

It is a rare contract that arises between two parties who are completely balanced in power and strength. The coach has been offered a coaching position. He or she may feel confident in negotiating a favourable contract or, may feel they have very little room to bargain. Either way, it is essential that coaches understand the terms of the contract they are entering and ensure certain fundamental terms are fully explored and included in that contract.

Originally published: Coaches Report (1997) Vol. 3(3)

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