The Texas A&M University Coaching Academy provides valuable resources for current and aspiring coaches to make a difference on and off the sidelines.
The pounding cadence of the basketball’s bounce and the slaps of running feet echoed across the packed gymnasium. As No. 12 drove hard along the baseline, a wall of opposing players stopped his dribble. He performed a quick shot fake and then passed the ball to a teammate who effortlessly landed it in the basket to win the game. It worked just like it had in practice.
Although athletes ultimately make the plays that decide a game, an effective coach puts a team in a position to win. Better still, a coach who is engaged in his players’ development can put those individuals in a position to succeed in life. Educating coaches to both win and motivate is the guiding premise of the Texas A&M University Coaching Academy, part of the College of Education and Human Development.
Established in 2013, the goal of the Coaching Academy is to prepare and support 21st century coaches at the public school, university and practitioner levels. (Practitioners include volunteer youth, adult coaches and those who coach at private schools.) The academy provides support for Texas coaches at every level to facilitate their success.
“Whether a full-time coach, a classroom teacher with coaching responsibilities or a parent working with their child’s team, all coaches need support so that they can do the best job possible for their student athletes,” said John Thornton ’75, academy director and a second-generation coach. “The Coaching Academy’s resources will help them become more effective coaches.”
Thornton knows from experience that the path from accomplished student athlete to successful adult coach is well-traveled. A dual-sport athlete in high school, Thornton played basketball and football at Holmes High School in San Antonio before focusing on basketball. He went on to play forward at San Antonio Junior College, transferred to Texas A&M and later led the Aggies to a Southwest Conference Basketball Championship in 1975. These milestones paved the way for Thornton’s career in coaching and later as an athletic administrator.
Two special people inspired Thornton’s career: his father, Bill Thornton ’50, was an important role model; and his high school basketball coach, Paul Taylor, greatly influenced his life.
“Coach Taylor encouraged me to dream big and work hard,” Thornton said. “He was my coach, but also an inspiring adviser and mentor.” It was Taylor’s example that spurred Thornton to consider how he might better support coaches at all levels.
“Effective coaches make a tremendous impact on the lives of their players that extends beyond the court, field or track,” said Thornton. “While the coaching discipline enhances the skills and strategies of a given sport, the lessons learned through competitive athletics develop character, work ethic and personal identity. The relationship forged between players and their coaches is an integral part of that education.”
Former Texas A&M defensive tackle Kirby Ennis ’13 learned this powerful bond at an early age.
“When I was 11 years old, my football coach guided me to become the man I am today,” said Ennis. “He helped me expand my understanding of the game, learn plays and develop discipline. He also demonstrated compassion and tough love when I needed it. He was like a father to me, and the reason that I want to become a coach.”
When a knee injury during his senior year ended Ennis’ dream to play professional football, he enrolled in graduate school at Texas A&M to focus on the transition to coaching. “I took coaching classes and met with Coach Thornton to develop strategies for entering the profession,” said Ennis. He received his master’s degree in health education in December 2014 and plans to apply his experience, education and passion to teaching and coaching.
“The Coaching Academy is a great resource for students who want to become coaches,” said Ennis. “Coach Thornton’s reputation and networking skills in the profession help students define opportunities. The academy will elevate Texas A&M not only as a place where student athletes can compete, but also where they can prepare to transition from player to coach.”
While the Coaching Academy creates opportunities for Texas A&M students, it also supports the interests of high school students exploring the possibility of a coaching career.
The academy has developed partnerships and continues to make inroads with school districts and certifying agencies to help students prepare for, find and get jobs in coaching. Reciprocal arrangements in which the academy hosts high school students on the Texas A&M campus and offers student leadership programs related to coaching and teaching on high school campuses are already underway.
“Many of our students want to become teachers and coaches,” said Kevin Ozee ’94, director of athletics for Arlington Independent School District. “Most teacher/coaches receive classroom and experiential instruction for the teaching aspect, but they may only have player experience to draw from for coaching. It’s beneficial for them to learn early on about coaching in the same way they prepare to become teachers. The Coaching Academy is working toward making this possible.”
The academy is also developing seminars to support parent coaches who often shape a child’s lifetime view of exercise, sports and competitive athletics.
“We hope to elevate the technical and interpersonal skills of coaches at every level,” said Thornton. “We provide effective player support to transition players into coaches, and to help good coaches become better coaches – at whatever level they choose to coach at.”
Many Aggies who share Thornton’s vision for the academy give generously to support both operating funds and endowments.
“I am concerned about our student athletes who want to remain engaged in sports after graduating but whose choices are limited because they won’t be pursuing a professional athletics career,” said Steve Morris, a member of the 12th Man Foundation Board of Trustees and a founding donor of the Coaching Academy. “I first heard John speak about the Coaching Academy about a year ago when he came to talk to the 12th Man Foundation Board. I knew John’s reputation as a basketball player, a coach and as an athletic administrator, and I immediately understood his vision. I decided that I wanted to be part of it. Coaches make a powerful impact on athletes and on their communities. With education and support, these future coaches can be intentional in planning their post-college careers.”
The Coaching Academy has captured the attention of former students and friends who see value in its mission. Five donors contributed a total of $200,000 to provide operating funds for the first two years of the program. Additional donations could help supplement its $150,000 annual budget and create and endowment to sustain long-term growth.
“The Coaching Academy expands opportunities for our students by providing training, hands-on experience and continuing education activities for coaches in our community,” Thornton said. “I look at young men like Kirby Ennis, and all that he has to offer young people, and I am excited about the role the academy is playing to help our student athletes transition from players to coaches. From my perspective, this is a win for everyone.”
To help disseminate research data for real-world applications, you can enhance the coaching academy with an endowed gift of $25,000 or more. Visit: give.am/CoachingAcademy