More non-teacher coaches at Iowa schools helps fill void

Some officials urge the need for setting expectations, boundaries

Stephen Mally/The Gazette

Iowa City West Coach Mike Parker talks to his team during practice at Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track in Iowa City this past Monday.
Stephen Mally/The Gazette Iowa City West Coach Mike Parker talks to his team during practice at Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track in Iowa City this past Monday.

After 20 years of being a high-school coach, Mike Parker has learned a lot about getting through to students. “The art of coaching is motivating and inspiring kids,” he said.

The West High girls track and cross-country coach is among a growing number of nonteaching coaches in Iowa — or coaches who don’t carry any teaching responsibilities — which some believe could be a disadvantage when it comes to working with students.

Iowa changed the law in 1984 that required coaches to also jointly be a teacher, and in 2004 required the coaching authorization for non-teacher coaches, according to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

Coaches such as Parker must earn a coaching authorization, which includes a four-day, 55-hour course, and then recertification every five years. They also get criminal background checks.

Iowa actually has one of the strongest training programs in the country, athletics officials say. But at the same time schools are in a pinch, so they don’t want to make the entrypoint too difficult.

Fewer teachers want to coach, officials contend.

“The teaching profession has become more demanding and difficult. By the end of the day, they don’t have time and energy to coach,” said Mike Dick, executive director of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.

This means more coaches from the community are finding a place in school athletic programs.

“The first choice is a teacher. The second is someone outside the district. The third (choice) is to eliminate the team,” said Angela Lumpkin, professor in Robinson Health and Physical Education Center at the University of Kansas.

There are now 10,682 non-teacher coaches in Iowa with active certificates, which is an increase of 14 percent in the past 5 years and 26 percent in the last 10, according to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners.

Training and risks

But some believe the increasing number of nonteaching coaches, who come without traditional teacher training, potentially puts students at greater risk for inappropriate situations with students.

“It lends itself to a greater chance of having those kinds of things happen,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the National Interscholastic Athletics Administrators Association who spent 30 years as an athletics director in Indiana. “It shouldn’t happen anyway, but I think when dealing with nonteaching coaches the risk would be greater.”

School and sport officials generally prefer to appoint teacher-coaches to their teams because their educational training prepares them to work with young people, and they have additional interaction with their athletes and school culture during the day.

That helps with setting expectations and boundaries with students.

“Educators are trained to work with children, how to de-escalate situations,” said Scott Kibby, athletics director at West High. “Sometimes (non-teacher coaches) don’t get trained for skills that educators have ... . It doesn’t mean citizen coaches don’t have those skills. They just haven’t been trained as a professional.”

West High’s model is to mentor new coaches from the community, bringing them in slowly as an assistant or a freshman coach, he said.

Dick said the daily interaction teachers get with the students is ideal, but added that “many non-school coaches have great expertise and have done great jobs.”

However, according to data from the Iowa Board of Education Examiners, the number of people investigated for six of the most common infractions related to sexual contact or inappropriate relationships in Iowa jumped nearly 200 percent in the past 10 years.

According to data, from the Iowa Board of Education Examiners, 49 people were investigated from 2009-2013, up from 17 in 2004-2008. Overall complaints are up to 214, from 71, in that same time frame — although Duane Magee, executive director of the examiners board, cautions that new offenses and reporting changes could have inflated the numbers.

“There could be a lot of factors in why these cases have gone up,” Magee said. “The role of technology and social media has changed a lot in the last five years. We didn’t have text messaging or Twitter.

“We can memorialize the conversations between licensees and students in a way we couldn’t before.”


Magee isn’t ready to attach the increase to non-teacher coaches. He said all educators, coaches, music teacher, tutors or others who work closely with a small group of students, who have such personal interactions, are more susceptible to inappropriate relationships, or other violations with students.

The Education Board’s data isn’t separated between teaching coach and nonteaching coach, so it is difficult to know if the uptick is connected to the increase in nonteaching coaches.

In one of the cases that did involve a nonteaching coach, Patrick Ryan Nicoletto, 36, a former high school girls basketball coach in Davis County, had his coaching authorization revoked for “disqualifying crimes” connected to a sexual exploitation of student.

Nicoletto had a consensual sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student. In 2011, he was arrested on the charge of sexual exploitation of a student by a school employee, but the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the charges in April, saying non-teacher coaches don’t meet the definition of a school employee under Iowa law.

The state since has moved to redefine school employees to cover coaching authorizations.

“One of biggest reasons schools like teacher-coaches is they know that the teacher has the training,” said Dennis Docheff, a professor of physical education at University of Central Missouri and a former high school coach and principal.

“We don’t always know what the background is for a nonteaching coach. We don’t know how they will act around children. We don’t know if they will act appropriately.”

Researchers such as Lumpkin and Docheff said studies show athletics has a positive effect on the educational experience for students.

So the focus on athletics is unlikely to dissipate any time soon, which means more and more non-teachers will become involved.

The good news is officials say Iowa has one of the most rigorous certification programs in the nation.

“The follow-up recertification is key. Some states don’t have any follow up and others don’t require licensing at all,” said Tim Flannery, director of coach education for the National Federation of High School Associations. “Iowa’s requirements for coaching are with those at the top of the list. Iowa is providing the training for coaches that they should.”

Magee said the state is looking at adding an ethical training requirement, not just for coaches but for all licensees and certificate holders.

Some of the concerns surrounding nonteaching coaches haven’t held back Parker. He’s a motivational speaker by day, won 11 state titles by night, has a 100 percent graduation rate among his students, and no infractions on his record, according to records from the Iowa Board of Education Examiners.

“I am much a different coach 20 years later,” Parker said “I have a huge passion for track and cross-country. Now, after 20 years, there’s definitely a learning process that has taken place.”

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