The Coach's Burden of Proof


The concept of a burden of proof is a legal construct. You hear it often if you watch shows like “Law and Order.” The burden of proof falls on the police and the prosecutors as they build a case where they need to show that “beyond a reasonable doubt” that someone is guilty of a crime. The standard is high and tough to reach.


Well, we have a similar case now in the world of athletics and coaches are facing their own version of the Burden of Proof standard.


Once upon a time, a coach was an authority figure that carried weight in every discussion. They were considered to be expert in their area to the point where if your coach said “jump,” you literally did say “how high.” And then you jumped, just because your coach said you would be a better player for it. There was no discussion, there was no room for doubt, when it came to playing the game, we did what our coaches told us to do.


Many people still think of coaches like Bear Bryant as almost God-like characters who were great winners and leaders. Of course, there are examples of old-school coaches who took their authority to extreme levels. Just read “The Junction Boys,” and you can see there has always been a line between rational and irrational belief in an expert like Bear Bryant.


Nowadays, we see a totally different model in place. The idea of coach as expert is no longer widely accepted. Nowadays, coaches need to continually prove their knowledge and capabilities. Coaches are no longer believed in, based on what they have accomplished, but rather, have to continually show that they are capable of coaching today’s players.


So what changed?


Well, everything.


Parents now question coaching decisions based on what is best for their kid. Where they used to tell their kid to work harder and listen to their coach, they now advocate for their players and expect their kids coaches to prove that their decisions are correct. And of course, even when there is proof, it is still called into question when the answers to the questions are not the answers that are desired.


Kids question everything their coaches do because that is the world they were brought up in. They’ve heard their parents and others question everything their coaches do, so it makes sense that the kids now do the same. Kids are no longer inclined to believe in their coaches but rather are more likely to question, everything they say.


We all know in the world of business the customer is always right. Well, in athletics the athletes and their parents are the customers. When the customer is unhappy, the business expects its employees to make changes to keep the customer coming back. 


How much longer can we expect people to want to coach? 


We are’nt just talking about highly-paid professional coaches, or moderately-paid college coaches, or underpaid high school coaches. We are also talking about the volunteer coaches at the grassroots level. 


Can you really expect people to want to dedicate their time and effort when they are constantly under pressure to prove that they are worthy? 


About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.