Assistant coaching is a ‘labor of love,’ but some struggle to make ends meet

 - A man poses for a photo wearing a Pomona-Pitzer track jacket and baseball cap. A man poses for a photo wearing a Pomona-Pitzer polo shirt and baseball cap.
Left: Pomona-Pitzer cross-country and track & field assistant coach Kyle Flores works other jobs on campus in order to earn income for six months of the year. Right: Pomona-Pitzer men’s tennis assistant coach and interim head coach Eric Barnard teaches private lessons in order to supplement his income. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

For Chris Hynes, an assistant coach for the Pomona-Pitzer volleyball team, the workday doesn’t end when the Sagehens leave the court.

“Chris watches countless hours of our opponents and draws out charts for every hitter and their tendencies in each rotation. He even watches whole games of other teams in our conference playing each other,” volleyball captain Vicky-Marie Addo-Ashong PO ’20 said. 

Assistant coaches “just really care, and it’s so evident in the amount of work they put in for us,” she said.

But despite his key role in the team’s success, Hynes — like many other assistant coaches in the P-P and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletic programs — has to work other jobs to supplement his income. 

“We are compensated at the county-mandated minimum wage, and that is a difficult way to meet your standard of living,” Hynes said. 

According to coaches and administrators, both 5C athletic departments are looking at ways to better compensate and value their assistant coaches, who often love their jobs but say their time and effort, especially outside normal practice hours, sometimes goes unnoticed.

“I think that we bring a value that is probably underrecognized at this school,” Hynes said.

P-P assistant coach Kyle Flores logs 15 to 20 hours a week during cross country and track seasons — meaning that for the other six months of the year, he has to find other ways to make money.

Coaching doesn’t provide “enough hours to sustain an average lifestyle and to pay the bills that I owe in Southern California, [so] I work other jobs on campus,” he said, including being a monitor at the Rains Center, a ball-runner at soccer games and a scoreboard operator at sporting events.

It’s “stressful knowing I have to sign up for these events in order to make ends meet,” Flores said, adding that he’s lucky if he’s able to work 40 hours a week between coaching duties and other on-campus jobs. But even so, he’s on campus “from 6:30 a.m. till 9:30 p.m. on a given day with all of the jobs that I sign up for.”

Compensation has improved over time, data show

A TSL analysis of nationwide athletic department data published by the U.S. Department of Education found that on average, the P-P and CMS athletic departments compensate their assistant coaches more than most other schools in the conference, but less than some of the other top Division III athletic programs across the country.

In the 2017-18 school year — the most recent year for which data is available — CMS men’s  team assistant coaches made $12,011, and P-P men’s team assistant coaches averaged $10,224. 

CMS women’s teams’ assistant coaches averaged $7,509 in the same year and their P-P counterparts averaged $8,126 that year. These salary discrepancies for men’s and women’s teams were common across the schools analyzed by TSL.

Men’s teams’ assistant coaches at some other schools with premier DIII sports teams, like the University of Chicago, Middlebury College and Johns Hopkins University, make closer to $20,000 per year, while women’s team assistants at such schools often crack $15,000, based on 2017-18 data. 

For comparison, the head coaches of CMS men’s teams averaged $40,392 in 2017, and women’s teams’ head coaches made $45,730 on average (though that included salaries for two separate softball coaches), according to Department of Education data. 

At P-P, men’s teams’ head coaches made $47,113 and women’s teams’ head coaches averaged $40,591.

“I think that we bring a value that is probably underrecognized at this school.” — Chris Hynes, P-P assistant volleyball coach

CMS Athletic Director Erica Perkins Jasper stressed that looking at averages doesn’t tell the full story, though, as assistant coaches work a wide range of hours and have a variety of responsibilities. 

Some might be teachers or have other full-time jobs, helping out at practice for just a few hours a week, she said, while others could work up to 40 hours a week during the season as they pursue a future head coaching gig.

“Most assistants get into it for the love of the game, and with a long-term goal of maybe becoming a head coach,” Jasper said. “You can work really hard, and when you start out you’re probably not making a ton of money, but long-term, you can make a living wage, whether it’s as a head coach or as an athletic director.”

And although an assistant coaching job that pays minimum wage might not generate enough money on its own to make a living — especially in a high cost-of-living area like Los Angeles — the field has made huge strides in recent years, Jasper said. 

Decades ago, she said, it would have been inconceivable to have a full-time job in collegiate athletics. When Jasper landed her first head coaching job in 2002 at Georgia Southern, she said she made just $10,000 in her first year, then $25,000 the following year.

“A lot of people view college coaching as a career, whereas probably 20, 30 years ago, it truly was a labor of love,” she said. “Even if you were a head coach, you might also have a second job.”

Indeed, salaries have increased over time, according to the Department of Education data. In 2002-03, the first year on record, P-P men’s team assistant coaches made an average of $4,590. Women’s teams’ assistants at that time earned just $1,873. 

At CMS, assistants on men’s teams made $4,883, and those on women’s teams averaged $1,710 in 2002-03.

Still, Jasper — who worked her share of “side hustles” when she was a new coach, teaching tennis lessons and helping at summer camps — said increasing coaches’ pay has been “something on my mind from the day I started.” It all comes down to budgeting, she said.

In the meantime, she said the department is working to ensure assistant coaches receive mentorship opportunities and feel valued for the integral roles they play on their teams.

“My head coach was a huge mentor for me, and my assistant coach who was a little bit younger and a former great player was kind of an unbelievable go-between between the head coach and the student athletes,” Jasper said.

How could donors, admin prioritize coaches?

Before Megumi Abe became an assistant coach for the CMS track and cross-country teams, she worked in management consulting at Bain & Company. Abe started coaching two years ago because she wanted to look into whether working in higher education and with young people would be the right career path for her.

She said she enjoys her job, but the difference in salary from her white-collar job has been shocking.

What does that really say about the priorities of society?” Abe said. “I do think it’s an industry-wide issue, that the people who develop and mentor our young people are valued as low-skilled labor.”

Abe thinks alumni may be motivated to make splashy donations to big-ticket items like infrastructure projects, but wonders whether increased awareness of the difficulties coaches face could change where their money is going.

“It’s really easy to build Roberts Pavilion at a very high cost and those are the kinds of things that attract new stories and new students and alumni dollars and fundraising and giving and that’s just the financial realities of being a university,” she said. “Sometimes, it makes me feel super hopeless that that could ever change. … The only way things like that will ever change I think is if people vote with their feet. Right now, it figures into no one’s college decisions whether or not faculty and staff at those universities are treated well or not.”

Abe, a Caltech graduate, said her alma mater was able to secure a grant from the NCAA to fund an assistant coaching position — something that other SCIAC schools could also make use of. The NCAA’s Coaching Enhancement Grant funds two-year, full-time assistant coaching positions. Ten DIII schools currently benefit from it.

“Through that external money [Caltech was] able to make that person’s life a little more sustainable,” Abe said. “So I know that such efforts are underway, but that’s not always the norm.”

She said the CMS athletic department generally tries to be supportive and administrators help coaches find ways to make money during the off-season, like helping out at other sports games.

CMS head swim and dive coach Charlie Griffiths, once an assistant coach himself at Denison University, also appreciated the role that assistant coaches play in sports.

“Everyone on our coaching staff has a valuable role to play with our team,” Griffiths said in an email to TSL. “Multiple workouts are often taking place at once, requiring a coach to focus on one group at a time. Our coaching staff includes swimming assistants and a diving coach and it is also important to note CMS’ strength and conditioning staff and athletic trainers, who keep us fit and healthy.”

Head coaches want more money for assistants

Across Sixth Street, P-P administrators and head coaches say they’re also searching for ways to increase assistant coaches’ compensation.

“Sagehen assistant coaches are essential to every program’s success and key contributors to providing a great experience for our student-athletes,” interim Athletic Director Jennifer Scanlon said in an email to TSL. “We are always looking at ways to improve our department and want to provide the best possible experience for our student-athletes. As part of that, we are currently working on gathering benchmarking information for assistant coach positions at peer institutions.”

A group of head coaches convened in the Rains Center on Thursday to discuss how they could help improve the lives of the assistant coaches who work for them, according to Valerie Townsend, P-P’s head volleyball coach.

Topics included increased compensation and a better workplace environment that would incentivize assistant coaches to stick around, she said.

“It’s still a work in progress, but all the head coaches realize the value of our assistant coaches and we want to do whatever we can to show our support of that and try and move forward in helping our assistants with their position here and being able to help our programs,” she said.

Eric Barnard, an assistant coach serving as the interim P-P men’s tennis coach this year, said he’s also heard of a growing movement to pay assistants more.

“The consensus is that for Pomona-Pitzer to be held to this elite status, you probably have to match some other schools where there are some more benefits for assistants,” Barnard said. “So it is really nice to be part of this community — the head coaches and interim athletic director are really behind the assistants.”

As Barnard pursues his dual passions of tennis and acting, he said he’s had to teach private tennis lessons on the side to supplement his income.

But he said he feels lucky because many of his actor friends earn money waiting tables or working other odd jobs, and “it’s just not fulfilling to them.”

Despite the long hours, Barnard said he “doesn’t ever feel like he is wasting his time” on campus. And he said he doesn’t feel financial stress from his current situation.

“Tennis is a great way to pay the bills,” he said.

Flores, the P-P assistant cross-country coach, hopes to one day become a head coach for a Division II or III program, so he’s willing to endure the low pay for now.

“I love it here in Claremont, but being an assistant coach can never really be a long-term career choice,” he said.

Meghan Bobrowsky contributed reporting.

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