From the classroom to the field: balancing the board and the ball

Coaches and teachers both play guiding roles in the growth of adolescents, providing support and guidance in different areas of life. But what do you get when you mix the two? 

Assistant boys varsity soccer coach Mr. Conor Naughton has been working at Hilsman Middle School and coaching at Cedar Shoals High School for four years. Not being at the same school as his players isn’t the most ideal situation for Naughton, whose players refer to him as Coach Conor.

“The biggest disadvantage is just not being in the building with the players. It’s harder for me to check in on players and see how they are doing,” Naughton said.

Even though it’s a little inconvenient, Naughton feels like his absence from Cedar Shoals during the school day is preparing the players for the real world.

“It’s also preparing our guys for not having somebody constantly on their back their whole life, which is not going to be the case,’’ Naughton said.

Naughton’s position coaching at the high school gives him an added reputation among the the students at Hilsman. He sees younger athletes showing more respect knowing that they will interact with him in the future.

“Athletes in general, they hear, see, and know that I’m a coach at Cedar. That builds reputation among the students. Certain athletes may respect me more and buy more into what I say and teach,” Naughton said.

That respect he gets from his students encourages them to listen to what he says about high school. 

“It helps my 8th graders trust me a little more when I tell them what’s coming up in high school because they know I have athletes in high school that tell me how it is,” Naughton said.

Coaching and teaching gives the teacher/coach the connection of two worlds: the classroom and the after school sport. That influence can be powerful when students need help in either setting, says sophomore Amina Ba about her soccer coach Mr. Joshua West, who has been teaching for two years and coaching for five.

“His teaching positively influences his coaching because he is constantly teaching students and it helps him explain things on the field,” said Ba.

Ba has seen this influence at work as the Lady Jags move into their first season with West as head coach.

“We were on the field one time, running a drill on defense, and no one was really understanding it so he slowed it down and he taught us instead of telling us,” Ba said

“Sometimes just verbalizing what you want done won’t be good enough. You have to demonstrate and you can’t get frustrated when things don’t work how you expected. You have to have progressions of both your lesson plans as well as your practices,” said West.

Teacher/coaches also better understand the amount of school work students get as well as how important it is that the students succeed in the classroom.  

“Coach West is really focused on getting our grades up because he is a teacher and he understands some of the hardships us students have to go through,” said Ba.

West requires at least an hour of study hall before every practice everyday. This allows students work on anything they need to work on.

“It was a combo of things. A lot of the girls are in advanced or AP classes and I know how much time those sort of classes take,” West said 

“My coach values education. He really helps us put our grades in check, so he gives us at least an hour before practice to study and catch up on work and then go practice. It’s really a good balance,” said Mounina Ba, 10th grade varsity soccer.

Becoming a coach is not always the first choice for most, especially when you’re a new teacher trying to figure out how to handle the lifestyle. Naughton’s choice was followed by a different concern: the stereotype of males only becoming teachers so they can coach. 

“I tried to resist the urge and temptation to want to coach at least for my first few years of teaching because I feel like it’s almost like a stereotype with male teachers,” Naughton said. 

“Like, if you’re a male, and you become a teacher, you just want to be a coach. You must not really care about your content that you teach, or want to be taken seriously as an educator,” Naughton said about people’s stereotypes.

When Naughton was first starting out teaching, he had to learn how to best manage his time so that he could help his students during the school day and after.

“That’s always like a huge adjustment, managing time and stress and everything. And during my first week of teaching, I couldn’t even imagine going home and cooking dinner. I was so stressed out all the time,” Naughton said.

No matter the struggle, it’s all worth it to gain that relationship with the students and being able to help them on and off the field. 

“It made me have a better relationship with the students I was teaching,” Naughton said.