This is exactly why I don’t watch regular television…
Last night I caught the first several minutes of 20/20. The piece was about that Rutgers coach (Coach “Super Insecure and Cannot Hold My Composure Guy” or something like that) as well as the rise in angry, abusive coaches not only on the collegiate level, but in club and youth sports as well as professional sports. Having played sports for the larger part of my youth and well into my twenties, I am acutely aware of so many aspects of this problem and just had to say some things on this topic.
I have had a wide range of experiences as an athlete, most of them incredibly positive. While there are certainly things I would change, what I would not change or take back are the moments and the experiences that have shaped the person I am today. Spending time with teammates (huddles, road trips, fifteen passenger vans, bread stick eating contests, winning together, losing together, running together because we lost, laughing and living together for nine months out of the year). The influences good coaches have had on my life including the invaluable and not always tangible lessons like being on time, respect, leadership, hard work, pushing yourself, someone believing in you. The travel – all over the United States and several overseas trips that can be attributed directly to my involvement in competitive organized sports. To be clear, I had an incredible experience as an athlete and had the opportunity to be coached by all kinds of coaches. I have had tough coaches, and unfortunately I have also had abusive coaches. I am a pretty tough person, so I am not just crying wolf here, let me tell you what I mean.
Tough coaches are people who are interested in the overall development of the team and the athlete. They take their position as the coach or leader as a responsibility being entrusted to them, even if it is their job to win. Tough coaches push you where you need to be pushed because they know you have just a little bit more. Tough coaches make you tired during drills and make you finish the drill because you can finish the drill. Tough coaches yell. Tough coaches might throw a clip board (not at you), stomp their feet (in their chair), twist and contort their face out of frustration or even walk out of the gym during practice because they need a timeout. Tough coaches care about their players and their staff and their programs. They may be difficult to work with, but they are not tyrants. Tough coaches are passionate. Tough coaches care when a player breaks a team rule. They may call them and the assistant coaches into their office so that the player can then call their parents on speaker phone to tell them that they broke the rule. Tough coaches then set an appropriate consequence like, perhaps, making the player wake up at 5:00 a.m. to workout with the Offensive Line whilst listening to Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne (that may or may not have happened to me in college). Tough coaches make sure you are there at 5:00 a.m. Tough coaches make better athletes and have better teams.
Abusive coaches are interested in power. While they may say they are very interested in winning. The winning is really only an excuse and is actually secondary to the need for power. Winning represents power to an abusive coach and they will do anything to achieve this feeling of power. Abusive coaches are not interested in building players up, they are interested in tearing their players down – another way they can feel their power. Abusive coaches keep you in drills longer than necessary to prove a point. They put you in drills that you will not finish – ever and then they don’t let you out of the drill until you are broken. They look to embarrass you or shame you in front of your teammates, other coaches, parents and fans. Abusive coaches do not yell, they go into rages and may rant within one inch of your face singeing your eyebrows and getting spittle on your face because you have “an attitude problem.” Abusive coaches attack your physical appearance, your character or your ethnic or cultural background. They say things like “you suck!” even if you are only ten years old and a girl and they are late twenty/early thirty year old men. Abusive coaches suck. Abusive coaches are bullies. I had abusive coaches.
If you are a parent of a young athlete you know which kind of coach your kids play for. Your job is to instill in them the positive aspects of sport. The love of sport, the importance of working as a team, the importance of listening to their coaches and understanding the value of following good leadership, the reality that not all of us are equal as athletes – especially in the physical sense – but that all of us can contribute our abilities to the team regardless of what others may say. Your job as a parent is to have a no-tolerance stance for abusive coaching. If you have an abusive coach, change teams. If you see an abusive coach – say something or report him/her. If you are afraid that your child may not have a chance or that they aren’t playing for the best team, get over it. Trust me when I say that if you child is good enough or is the future professional athlete that you think he or she is then they will be a professional athlete regardless of what team they play on when they are six. Your job is to encourage your child in their sport and be able to discern that even though they may not be “having fun” that they still enjoy the sport, seek to get better, want to put in the work and are not being damaged by their experience. Your job is not to over identify with your child and place your own desires or own shortcomings on their shoulders. There is a plan for them just as there is a plan for you. Those plans may not be the same.
As much as this is a hot topic and certainly a trigger for me, I can assure you that although I did have tough times as an athlete and did encounter abusive coaches, I do not hold grudges against those coaches nor is it anything that has discouraged me from allowing my kids opportunity to have their own experience in sports – or not. I love sports and I will always be thankful for the time I had as a competitive athlete. My experience was over all a positive one and I had parents that were looking out for me. I was never touched, hit or shoved by a coach (thankfully, I may have shoved back). My parents did encourage me to quit when they thought it was too much, but we made a decision together to continue and I assured them I could handle it. And I did.
I have always been passionate about the development of young athletes and about the emotional care of collegiate and professional athletes. I think one day I may just do something about it.