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Coaches: Stop(!) Paying for Club Expenses Out of Pocket

We’ve all done it. The boat has a broken rigger, sheers a bolt, or a critical piece of hardware is lost. You want to get the boat back up to usable status ASAP, so you go over to WestMarine (always use stainless steel hardware!) and purchase $5 in hardware. No big deal.

We need to stop doing this. The dirty not-so-secret in our community is that many clubs are partially floated on the financial backs of coaches.

Innumerable times I’ve heard coaches brush off expenses like replacement parts, equipment, even capital improvements to the facility with the mindset of, “Well someone has to do something, or we’re not going to be able to row tomorrow.” All too frequently those who are responsible for the strategic management of the club (boards of directors, administrators) turn a blind eye to the day-to-day “band-aids” that coaches apply to almost everything to keep people out on the water. Those band-aids usually cost something, and after a while those tiny little fixes really start to add up. Those who are actually responsible become reliant on coaches as walking slush-funds to keep things running.

This is also a problem within university teams, despite having dedicated accountants and budget oversight. If budgets are tight, and a coach has to make a decision between keeping an eight rowable for the race that weekend (because perhaps their job depends on it), or wrangling with the budget office to approve the expenditure, they are going to drop $500 out of pocket on a new rigger.

True story: I knew a frustrated college coach who decided last minute to put a brand new eight on his American Express card. Thankfully the school was able to reimburse him in a timely fashion, but what if they hadn’t? An extraordinarily patient athletic director may accept and reimburse the cost, but not the 1-2% interest payment on a $60,000 rowing shell.

Your job as a coach should not include making interest free loans to the school/club.

In fairness, responsibility also lies with coaches in this dynamic. Sometimes coaches don’t even take the steps to request reimbursement (I’ve been guilty of this). Some coaches may be embarrassed for asking to be reimbursed for $5.00 of hardware, thinking it is not a “big deal.” Besides the costs adding up, we as coaches are contributing to the problem by allowing administrators and membership to complacently assume that “someone is taking care of the problem.” How can we expect oversight to address the problem if we keep fixing it before it is a problem?

Here are some pro-tips for coaches to consider in order to turn the tide on this issue:

  1. Establish with your club what expenses should be reimbursable:

  • An expense needed to maintain safety (based on previously established club safety guidelines).

  • An expense that allows athletes to train, compete or access the water.

  • An expense that sustains the stated mission of the rowing organization’s culture and community.

  • You would not otherwise make this purchase for yourself.

2. Get receipts and request for reimbursement on everything. Be prepared to argue a few times. Just as much as it is your right to ask for reimbursement, it is oversight’s responsibility to occasionally challenge it. If your request is reasonable, there should be no hard feelings either way.

3. If a member complains to you that something is broken or needs to be fixed “immediately,” in all sincerity ask them for a donation to get it fixed. Tell them you will do the work if they go out and buy the parts/materials.

4. You should be stocking up on spare parts at the beginning of each fiscal year. Don’t wait for things to break. An additional benefit of tracking receipts is creating a record of what is breaking/wearing out and the associated costs. You can better anticipate those costs year to year AND undertake better preventative measures to reduce those costs. My current club orders about $10,000 worth of parts at the beginning of each fiscal year so we’re not constantly ordering and reordering. We know what wears out and what needs to be frequently replaced. This practice saves a tremendous amount of time and money.

5. Keep a petty cash box available. This of course is tricky when it comes to who will have access, but it can save a lot of time and headaches.

6. Encourage the club to hire a professional accountant or retain an accounting service. Often times the treasurer becomes the de facto accountant. Treasurer and accountant are not the same job and that assumption can result in errors and process lags. The right accountant/service can pay for itself on savings and efficiencies. Any club with more than 50 members and its own facility should have a dedicated accountant/service.

What about travel expenses? This answer is more debatable. I personally believe all travel expenses for coaches to attend regattas should be covered. Not just hotel and transportation, but three square meals, plus small incidentals like coffee etc. If you wouldn’t otherwise incur the expense on your own while traveling for the club, the rowing organization should cover it. Not everyone agrees on this point however. You should establish what those are going to be ahead of scheduled travel dates.

Finally, there are going to be some expenses related to coaching that the club will simply not reimburse.

Items like personal tools that you keep handy in the launch with you, gear like jackets, hats and sunglasses not otherwise provided by the club, and incidentals that you feel you need, but the club regards as a professional choice, but not a necessity to do your job. I am not legally qualified to provide tax advice, but I would suggest you consult your tax preparer on how items like these are tax deductible.

As coaches we should hope to raise the level of organization and professional conduct within our community. We are best situated to hold rowing organizations to standards of management, oversight and diligence, particularly when it comes to day to day financial operations. If administrators and boards of directors were to more regularly feel the pinch of broken equipment, leaky launches, docks covered in poop, and bay doors that don’t open, we might be more enabled to provide better coaching services, and an overall enhanced experience for the rowing athlete.

Madder Consulting offers professional and managerial counseling to all rowing organizations and coaches at any level. Reach out to me at if you just want to discuss your clubs situation, and how I may be able to help.

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