When Vicky Tong started coaching seventh- and eighth-grade cross-country in 2012, she took the job because the school where she teaches needed somebody to do it. Tong figured that this additional work would follow naturally from her duties as a middle school science and Chinese teacher and complement her interest in running. She was training for a half-marathon when the offer arrived, and the timing seemed right.
Now, six years later, she looks back on her earlier reasoning with amusement. “If you go into coaching and think it’s like the classroom, you’re wrong—it’s very different,” she said. Further, technical knowledge of the sport—in her case, running—was essential but far less critical for success than other skills, she added. Her experience in the classroom made her a better coach, and what she has learned working alongside athletes has improved her teaching skills.
It’s impossible to know how many teachers are coaches and coaches are teachers, said Dan Schuster, director of coach education at the National Federation of High Schools; the data don’t exist. But he believes that the greater demands on coaches’ time and the shrinking of the off-season mean that fewer teachers coach multiple sports throughout the school year. Pressure from parents and clubs to focus more on “the X’s and O’s” has forced a change. “Years ago, if you were teaching, you’d coach a team,” he said. “It’s not that culture anymore.”