With more than 3,700 people serving as head coaches – and thousands more working as assistants – the coaching constituency is far and away the largest group in Division II other than student-athletes. So when Division II research revealed four years ago that this group was also among the least informed about decisions made in the division, governance leaders took note.
How could they help coaches gain a better understanding about legislative changes that affect their sport? How could they help coaches gain a stronger connection with the people guiding these changes – committees of presidents, athletics directors and other athletics administrators? How could they give coaches a bigger voice?
In search of a solution, division leaders created Coaches Connection. The program began in 2012 with a former football coach and a former volleyball coach serving as “connectors” between their sport’s coaching community and the NCAA governance structure. The connectors had spent years on Division II committees and understood NCAA legislative processes inside and out. They also were familiar faces to their respective coaching groups, an asset in facilitating monthly conference calls and establishing regular email communication.
The program saw immediate results, leading to growth in the second year with the additions of tennis and soccer connectors. More success, more growth: Division II this year awarded the Coaches Connection program $429,000 to be distributed over the next five years, enabling the program to add baseball, softball, wrestling, cross country and track and field this fall, and to eventually incorporate all Division II sports. The extra funding comes from the division’s Foundation for the Future initiative, a $5.7 million distribution to programs that directly benefit Division II members and support the strategic plan.
Since the program began, the program’s connector for volleyball, University of New Haven Athletics Director Debbie Chin, says she has observed coaches take more responsibility for changes in their sport. Rather than simply sharing complaints or pointing fingers, Chin urges them to take action. “You are the NCAA,” she reminds them.
Chin, like the other connectors in the program, runs a monthly conference call with head coaching representatives from each conference. Because the coaches set the agenda, the call acts as a forum for questions, concerns and ideas. “My role is to hear them, to guide them, to direct them and to facilitate when necessary,” says Chin, a former volleyball coach of 19 years and a veteran of various governance and sport committees.
After the call, the coaches who participated are responsible for distributing a recap to the rest of the coaches in their conference.
Angelo State University volleyball coach Chuck Waddington says the regular communication with a knowledgeable liaison has been instrumental in getting coaches’ voices heard. “(The connectors) are really in the know as far as how the legislative process works, which is a challenge for us as coaches to grasp,” Waddington says. “If we have an idea that other people might be interested in, how do we get it off the ground? Who are the right people to talk to? If I ask Debbie, she knows.”
This year, the volleyball coaches expressed concerns about a rule determining the number of hours that can be spent on team activities during the preseason. With Chin’s help, the group developed an idea that the Division II Legislation Committee members will consider in their November meeting.
Other Coaches Connection circles are experiencing breakthroughs, as well. The tennis group, working with connector Pam Arpe, put together a proposal to change the sport’s nonchampionship season. The Legislation Committee reviewed the proposal and incorporated several of the proposed elements into a larger piece of legislation that will be voted on at the 2017 Convention.
“This past year the program really evolved into a lot more coaches’ participation,” says Arpe, a former coach at Stonehill College. “It was like, ‘Oh, OK, now we understand what we can do.’” Arpe is encouraged by the progress made among tennis coaches. “I think we’ve found a way within the tennis group to get the information to the coaches,” she says. “And they’re responding in a really positive manner.”