SPORTS: Coach turnover impacts SCHS athletes

Adjusting to a new coach is difficult for many athletes, and adjusting to a new team and work environment is often challenging for coaches as well. SCHS’s recent surge in coach turnover and plethora of new additions to its coaching staff in the recent year has had a large impact on the athletic community, which many believe has positively affected teams’ dynamics.

As a newly-hired athletic director, Nelson Gifford looks to foster a long-term plan that will better the athletic programs at SCHS. With many new coaching changes over the past year, Gifford still looks to keep SCHS’s core values in mind, something he believes is crucial.

“My goal is to not try to change what Santa Clara has but to enhance the community that’s already built here,” Gifford said. “That was the thing that stood out for me when I got here, is that Santa Clara’s culture and community is very strong and very positive.”

Since entering SCHS’s athletic program, Gifford’s goal has been to increase athletic engagement and recruiting new team members across all sports. He said that 33% of the student body participates in athletics. The 2022-2023 school year brought record numbers of athletic participation and in order to accommodate the growing number of athletes, many new head and assistant coaches were hired, which Gifford believes will provide athletes with optimal support and necessary leadership.

“One of our program goals and department goals is to grow participation and grow numbers,” Gifford said. “Well, the kids have come out, but the next part is, as we break down numbers, how do we add more coaches?”

In addition to hiring new coaches, Gifford noted that the athletic department is brainstorming ways to provide lessons and workshops for coaches in order to build their leadership and coaching skills. He hopes that this, in turn, will improve students’ athletic skills and confidence.

“We’re also talking about trying to do more formalized instruction, like a class, training or seminar where we can walk coaches through the program,” Gifford said. “We’re still working on that because we recognize that one of our purposes is to support students by supporting coaches, and the better job we do supporting coaches, hopefully the better job the coaches can do in supporting the students that they work closely with.”

According to Gifford, the new head coaches on campus – hired within the past year – include varsity boys water polo coach Jean Kendall, varsity baseball coach Pedro Martinez, badminton coach Benjamin Rowe, swimming coach Jessi Mankin and wrestling coach Bronson Herrera. Other coaches include girls badminton assistant coaches Yann Chan and Colby Hughes-Gosalvez, assistant JV girls soccer coach Khan Pham and assistant varsity football coach Adrian Castillo.

Sophomore badminton player Martyna Kaminska feels new badminton coach Benjamin Rowe’s efforts to improve the team, such as more intense and purposeful practices, have paid off.

“Right now, we’re doing actual drills, and he (Rowe) is actually teaching us different shots, techniques and footwork,” Kaminska said.

Although Chan and Hughes-Gosalvez are young coaches, Gifford does not believe a coach’s age impacts their ability to lead a successful team.

“We’re seeking lifelong learners,” Gifford said. “We will hire 25 year olds, 55 year olds and 75 year olds. It doesn’t matter. As long as you’re here to coach and learn and get better you’re going to fit.”

Kaminska credited the small difference in age between the coaches and players as the reason why she has bonded so well with the new coaching staff and feels the dynamic between coaches and players has brought an immensely positive impact to the team.

“I think with their age because they’re all really, really young, I think you get that better communication with them,” Kaminska said. “It was a little scary at first, but then you actually talk to them, you open up, they open up and you form a really good relationship with them. It’s like a little friendship.”

Assistant badminton coach Yann Chan also mentioned the small age gap positively affects his relationships with athletes.

“I feel like I’m able to better understand whenever they’re talking about something. I don’t feel very disconnected because if, say they’re talking about something school-related, then I’ll probably be able to also understand,” Chan said.

Kaminska finds the new coaching staff approachable to seek advice from and appreciates that they often provided helpful insight during games. Additionally, swimmer freshman Jace Vu also appreciates that her coach, Jessi Mankin, is very relaxed and approachable.

“She is very nonchalant,” Vu said. “She’s really chill. She’s open to talk about any topic.”

Chan explained that although it is important to provide athletes with high-quality coaching, frequent coach turnover can have a negative impact on athletes.

“I think consideration also has to be taken in what the coaches are teaching as well, the material and how they adapt to what kids specifically need, like as personal needs, in terms of coaching,” Chan said. “I think it’s best to keep the same coaches once you start learning from them for a period of time until you really learn to a certain point.”

Chan has always loved coaching and credits his father for inspiring his passion. During high school, he coached basketball for a nonprofit organization. Chan plans to use his experience in coaching to achieve his goals for SCHS’s badminton team.

“The first thing that comes is player improvement, and that’s what we put most of our efforts toward and making sure they have fun,” Chan said.

Alongside the joy of coaching and playing, Chan understands both the positive and negative sides of the sport and the obstacles that come with it, which includes the struggles of adapting to new coaches.

“Coach turnover is definitely one thing that affects them (the players), and they’ve been very understanding of what we’re trying to do and kind of allowing us to play that role,” Chan said.