Successful coaches prove profession offers paths for all generations

In 2016, the International Coach Federation commissioned a global study on coaches and found that a majority of new coaches begin their careers in their mid-40’s.

But, the IFC also discovered there was a wide range of ages in the coaching profession – from 20-somethings to those nearing retirement.

So the question begs, does age really matter when it comes to coaching others? The answer seems to be not necessarily. Coaches can be, and are, successful at any age.

The winning coach of Super Bowl LIII in February was either going to be the youngest ever to win the NFL’s penultimate game (Sean McVay) or the oldest (Bill Belichick).

Belichick’s record as a coach is exceptional. His six Super Bowl titles are unmatched in the NFL. Many see him as the greatest coach in NFL history. He is 66.

Meanwhile, McVay, 33, is seen as the brightest young coach in professional football. At 30, he became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. He led the Rams to the Super Bowl in just two seasons.

Younger coaches are said to be more relatable to players better, are more up-to-date on the technology of the game, have more stamina to put in the long hours required and can influence players more effectively.

Older coaches, on the other hand, can bring added experience to their teams, have a greater depth of wisdom for the game, command additional respect and provide a broader insight into the intricacies of running a program.

The coach at South Carolina’s McBee High School, Johnny Kline, was hired to lead the town’s football team at the ripe old age of 25 after only two years of high school coaching.

The 2011 graduate of Rock Hill High School (S.C.), one of that state’s top programs, played collegiately at Newberry College and served as a student assistant for one year.

Following two seasons at a nearby school where he was co-defensive coordinator and then head junior varsity coach, Kline was hired in May of 2018 and was thought to be the youngest high school head coach in South Carolina at that time.

“Some people called me crazy but I just knew there was something about this place that attracted me.” Kline said. “I just felt comfortable here and have since day one.”

He began coaching recreation and travel baseball with his father when he was in high school in Rock Hill but discovered football was his passion. Kline learned the importance of offseason workouts growing up in the small town known as “Football City, USA” because of the dozens of players from there who have played in the NFL, including former No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney. He has implemented a year around weightlifting program at McBee.

“I bring high energy. I’m always on the go. I’ll tell kids we’re going to outwork everybody and they feed off that,” Kline said. “I have an easy job connecting with the kids. I tell them it wasn’t that long ago I was in their shoes.”

Armando Jacinto, 55, an assistant athletic director at Spring High School (Texas), spent 23 years as an assistant football coach before becoming head coach at Travis High School in Austin, Texas.

He had also been a head coach for a middle school basketball team for a couple of years and an assistant and head baseball coach for six years. Jacinto was comfortable in those roles while he waited for his next opportunity.

“I knew if I ever got in a position of leadership that I would remember what I looked for in a head coach as an assistant,” he said.

After being an assistant football coach for over two decades he said there were several leadership traits he promised his himself he’d exhibit when he became a head coach – visibility, approachability and accessibility.

“I tell my coaches all the time I’m going to be these three things. That’s what I wanted from my head coach when I was an assistant,” Jacinto said.

Another Texas coach, Blake Sandford, 53, was a 20-year assistant in football and a head coach in baseball before taking over the program at Early High School (Texas).

Sandford always wanted to be head football coach but enjoyed coaching under others- some of whom he considered friends- and making an impact with his players as an assistant.

“I was working with some really great head coaches and I really liked working beside them,” he said. “It didn’t necessarily matter if I had the title of head coach. It mattered more what we were doing with our kids to build relationships.”

Like Jacinto, Sandford also said he doesn’t forget what it’s like to be an assistant coach and that their ideas matter.

He discounts the notion that older coaches don’t have the stamina to keep up the teenagers of the new millennium.

“We don’t coach with our hands in our pockets. You will not seeing us standing around. All of our coaches believe we’re going to have energy,” Sandford said. “We don’t think we have to compete (with younger coaches). Our deal is based on making relationships with the kids.”

The benchmark age for retirement in the U.S. is 65 years old.

Many American workers call it quits by the mid-60’s but some stay employed into their 70’s.

Coaching is a profession in which someone could conceivably keep doing until then assuming they are in good health.

After Kansas State’s Bill Snyder retired at the end of the 2018 season at the age of 79 years old, Ohio’s Frank Solich became the oldest coach in college football at 74. Pete Carroll, Seattle’s head coach, is the oldest in the NFL at the age of 67.

Sandford said one of the things younger coaches will learn is how to represent the team and school in front of the community, business people, other teachers and the administration.

“I feel like that’s one of the most important things I do anyway,” Sandford said. “Be an advocate for our kids and our school district.”

Young or old, Sandford and Kline both agree – coaches play an important role in teaching their players “the value of what life is outside the field.”

“Build great men. Be the best,” Kline says, he stresses to his team.

The Anti-Aging Benefits of Coaching

Sarah Daren, a writer on the Today Show, blogged at the Coaches Clipboard there are some benefits to coaching into the senior years.

  • Keeps your mind sharp. Being a coach is a mental exercise. The constant problem-solving and leadership you must display helps keep your brain active. The social and physical aspects of coaching can provide an additional boost to your brainpower.
  • Exercise is key for people of all ages, but it is especially important for older people. As the body begins to age and slow down, staying fit can be challenging, particularly if you’re retired.  Just three hours a week of physical activity can help offset these normal effects of aging, and can increase lifespan by approximately five years.
  • Stay involved with the younger generation – As a coach, you get to pass on the wisdom you’ve gained over the years. You’ll also gain the benefits younger generations have to offer. You may learn new things, stay up to date with what’s important to young people, and stay involved with members of the community of all ages.
  • Boost your emotional health – Many seniors struggle with emotional health after they have retired. Lacking challenge, older people often feel that they have no meaningful contributions to make, which can lead to problems like isolation and depression.