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We're Part of the Economy Too: Job Security for Rugby Coaches during COVID-19

By Kerri Heffernan

My pay for coaching is a little less than half of my annual salary. This is a real hardship for me. (D3 Coach)

I am an independent contractor, and I get paid once a year for coaching both fall and spring seasons. I don't believe that my payment will be cut this spring, I'm still waiting to hear back from my campus rec director. (D3 NSCRO Coach)

I am a salaried employee at my university. And the University is continuing to pay me for coaching. (D1 Varsity Coach)

I’m a volunteer coach. (D1 Club Coach) The current news about employment is sobering, as according to a financial planning survey conducted prior to the coronavirus outbreak, one fifth of all US workers are unprotected. Half of adults are expected to be living paycheck to paycheck this year and 53% do not have an emergency fund that covers at least three months of expenses. More than half of businesses won’t extend severance pay to all employees, according to a different survey from RiseSmart, a human resources consulting firm. Perhaps most under-reported, is that younger workers, those under the age of 40, are the most likely to be laid off in the event of recession. (Iacurci, 3/16/20) Far too many collegiate rugby coaches fall into the financially at-risk group detailed above. Most college rugby coaches are seasonal, part time employees. Many work multiple jobs, live pay-check-to-pay-check and are under the age of 40. Their employment status ranges from full-time salaried employee with a contract, hourly wage worker, independent contractor, and ‘at-will’ employee. With the exception of the handful of full-time salaried coaches, most coaches occupy employment categories that leave them with no protection from lay-offs and unable to access University sick leave policies. The shuttering of rugby programs due to COVID-19 is likely to be financially devastating for many coaches and underscores their vulnerability, especially coaches of women programs who are less able to access financial support from male alumni groups. While collegiate women’s rugby has existed since 1974, the relationship with university athletic departments has been tenuous. We often think about the ways this tension impacts athletes (the inability to access fields, health care, safe travel options) but stories emerging after the cancellation of the collegiate rugby season reminds us just how vulnerable coaches are in terms of job security. I’m an “at-will” employee, meaning [the University] can let me go at any time, for any reason or no reason. All the work I’ve already done in preparation for our season, and all the work I still have to do staying in touch with students, ordering new equipment and uniforms, setting up for the early return for fall will mean nothing to them. My pay for coaching is a little less than half of my annual salary. This is a real hardship for me. (WRCRA Coach at a D3 Women’s Program) In times of hardship many coaches are left to their own devices. I’m a volunteer coach, and the team is a contracted independent organization of the University. They don’t background check me, or even know who coaches the kids. The University chooses not to get involved with any clubs - sport or not. It’s our reality. I love the sport. I love my kids. (Coach at D1 Club Program) Perhaps this lost season is a time to consider the tremendous value of all these coaches who labor for so little. Volunteer coaches have been the backbone of rugby since its introduction to the US. However, after decades of laboring for the love of the sport, isn’t it time to consider ways to reward and protect coaches? I worked at a university for 20 years. In any conversation or meeting with academic or athletic administrators, the most common refrain was “what are the other Ivy’s doing?” In my experiences, university administrators don’t lead, they follow. Change is most often slow and cautious, influenced greatly by what ‘peer institutions are doing.’ The best way to initiate change was to gather a chorus of voices and make a reasoned argument (over and over) to convince administrators that your approach was the norm. I can’t help but think we need a similar approach to address the employment vulnerability that so many coaches face. This is not to suggest that volunteer coaches are not critical, rugby will always rely on volunteer coaches particularly at the youth level. What we are suggesting is that coaching is a profession and coaches should be compensated fairly for their labors. For that to happen, coaches must see themselves as professionals and join with others in advocating for fair treatment. We’re here, we’re paying attention. The Women’s Rugby Coaching & Referees Association (WRCRA) is set up for advocacy but we can’t help if we don’t know you exist. We need to hear from coaches to better understand how they experience coaching as a profession (Are you paid? Unpaid? Embraced by the university or school? Operate outside institutions?) and the unique circumstances each faces as a coach. We’re working on a way to capture this information and then advocate on behalf of our membership. Stay tuned for more information as we launch the Coaches Bank this spring. The answer to tough times is always, stick together. The WRCRA membership is a chorus of voices. We are inspired by the voices of our members and the work they do every day on behalf of women’s rugby. We want to amplify those voices and increase the number in the chorus. We envision a future where well paying coaching positions are the norm, jobs that allow coaches facing difficult times to say: I am a salaried employee at my university. And the University is continuing to pay me for coaching. (WRCRA Coach at D1 Varsity program).

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