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SPORT SUPPORT: Tom Beckett and the Pandemic


Sharing insights.  Listening to one another.  Creating connections.  Those are the reasons we began the series of Zoom conversations known as “SPORTS SUPPORT: Creating Connection for High School Athletic Directors” as it became all too clear that the pandemic would continue to disrupt school, sports, and so much in our everyday lives.

Tom Beckett, PCA National Advisory Board Member and Yale Athletic Director Emeritus, capped off our series in May by doing all of that.  Tom shared his insights.  Tom listened.  And, Tom created connections.  Tom graciously offered to talk one-on-one with any Athletic Director in New England about the challenges they are facing in these times, about why he supports PCA, and how you can develop a powerfully positive culture for your students.

Tom opened our conversation the way that all great leaders do, by expressing thanks to the Athletic Directors who joined us from public and private schools all over New England.  Tom thanked the Athletic Directors for the important work they do making sports fun, upbeat, competitive,  and challenging.  He also thanked them for striving to be their best.

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If you would like to talk with Tom, please contact Beth Maloney and she can connect you.

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“You are not alone,” Tom reminded everyone on the call that every Athletic Director in the country from Notre Dame to Yale to the high school in the next town is facing uncertainties, just like each of you.  Tom shared that he had reached to his former Ivy League colleagues to talk about how they are approaching this challenging moment in time. Andy Noel, Director of Athletics at Cornell, is asking his student to be leaders in this time and sharing their willingness to lead with his administration. Athletic Directors should ask students to be accountable, to help build a safe culture, and to be proud of what they accomplish in this pandemic.

“Be proactive in your communications, even if it is to say you don’t know yet, but that you are considering options,”
Tom advised.  Knowing that students and their families are all so uncertain about whether there will be sports or even in-person school in the fall creates anxiety.  To keep anxiety as low as possible, communicate.  Tom’s advice: “Share what you do know.  Keep the lines of communication flowing, in both directions, with your coaches.  Listen to what your coaches are reporting to you from students and their families.”  And, finally, know that it is difficult for everyone because the situation is fluid.

As the hour ended, the discussion turned to equity in sports.  During the pandemic, restrictions limiting access to school facilities have halted educational athletics while private athletics continue for those who can afford it. This is an important topic we can discuss at another SPORT SUPPORT session.  Having discussed how to celebrate graduating senior athletes, how to support coaches, and how to prepare for the rising freshman, sophomores and juniors and an uncertain fall during May, we will continue to offer these sessions on topics that matter so that we have the opportunity to share insights, listen to one another, and create connections.  Join us.

To find helpful resources from Tom Beckett and others, follow PCA/NE’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.   Our content will lift you up, make you think differently, and will be what you want to share with your coaches, parents, athletes or your entire school community so that together we can do sports right.

Q&A With Tom Beckett

Q: How do you find great coaches?

A: Tom shared it is hard to have an exact formula for finding coaches, but that the most important factor is that your coaches care.   Citing Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that students “don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Tom suggested that coaches who connect with their students make the biggest impact.

Q: How do you retain great coaches?

A: To retain coaches, Tom recommended Athletic Directors connect with coaches and “fill their tanks,” and give three specific pieces of advice: 

1) It is most important to “value your coaches—show them that they are appreciated and respected and that you value their opinions and input.” Tom’s advice on how to show a coach you value them: “give your coaches responsibilities within the organization, give them opportunities to grow.”  Model that, and coaches should do the same with their students.

2) Be a mentor to your coaches. “Be a colleague, they know who the boss is and they want to know you care.” Find ways to have regular, quick conversations, and to share the positive things you hear.  Encourage your coaches to come by and talk to you informally.  Know that your coaches are “wired to win” and that you may need you to help pick them up when they lose.

3) Be honest with your coaches. Be honest about your program, scheduling, assistant coaches, and how they are doing.  Coach evaluations should never be a surprise—share good news and share the truth regularly, and schedule regular evaluations.

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