GOOD COACHES TOUGH, NOT ABUSIVE

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Kelly Greenberg resigned as Boston University women’s basketball coach after allegations that she derided her players’ characters, not just their performance on the court.
Last week, Kelly Greenberg resigned as women’s basketball coach at Boston University after an internal investigation revealed that some of her interactions with players were “incompatible with the expectations and standards of university employees,” according to the school’s official statement.

Also last week, Butler women’s basketball coach Beth Couture was relieved of her duties after several former players made allegations of verbal abuse and mistreatment.

The news about both women comes a year after Rutgers fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice when he was caught on video berating his players, using anti-gay slurs, kicking them and throwing balls at them.

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AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Beth Couture, fired as Butler coach, was accused by players of making emotionally abusive comments.
Each of these incidents has sparked a conversation about the relationship between coaches and athletes, about what kind of behavior is acceptable for coaches, what crosses the line and how much of the blame might rest on the shoulders of the athletes.

Playing college basketball, or any college sport, is an unpredictable, life-changing adventure. Incoming freshmen are just 17, 18, 19 years old — kids, really. Their minds and bodies are still developing. And yet there they are, going through the fire, trying to hold it all together through punishing workouts and tests of emotional strength, all while juggling schoolwork. (Yes, the vast majority of student-athletes really do study.)

Throughout this process, there is one person above all others who is ultimately responsible for guiding them: their head coach.

We often describe coaches as hard-nosed, strong-willed, disciplined, controlling, precise. Perhaps this language is why so many people seem to believe that coaches walk a fine line between tough love and emotional bullying, sometimes blurring the distinction on a daily basis.

It’s a dangerous assumption to make.

The difference between a demanding coach and an abusive coach is not a thin line that someone can drift over if he or she loses focus for a second before peeling back to the other side. It’s a wide gap — a mile wide — and it takes a long time for a coach to get from one side to the other and back again.

Some people believe there should be zero tolerance for a coach whose style drives numerous athletes to quit the team or the sport. Others believe the problem is with the athletes themselves, that today’s players are too coddled, too soft. This latter argument seems rooted in the belief that one of the main objectives of a coach is to separate the “weak” from the “strong” — to determine who is truly ready for the demands of big-time college sports. According to this survival-of-the-fittest mentality, if an athlete can’t stand the heat, regardless of the temperature, then he or she doesn’t deserve a spot on the team.

But arguing that it’s a thin line between right and wrong does a disservice to good coaches everywhere. Good coaches know how to be demanding yet supportive, disciplined yet understanding. They appreciate the balance between challenging a player physically and bolstering her emotionally, the push-pull of breaking bad habits and building better ones.

Good coaches are like magicians, turning self-doubt into confidence. They don’t try to separate and chase away those perceived as weak — because dividing the weak from the strong is herding, not coaching.

Good coaches shoot arrows around the feet of their players, keeping them on edge while teaching them how to dance.

No good coach would ever shoot an arrow at a player’s heart.

Sit in a room filled with former college basketball players, and they’ll rattle off stories about all those times when their head coaches turned red with anger. They’ll tell of basketballs whipped into the stands to prove a point, of profanity-laced tirades about stupid passes into traffic, of endless sprints and drills that bordered on torture.

There are thousands of players who have had their IQs questioned by an exasperated coach in the heat of the moment.

That was the dumbest play I’ve ever seen!

You’re killing us right now with your decision-making!

Get your heads out of your asses!

What all these “tough love” stories have in common is that the criticism, the disapproval, was specifically about basketball and their performance as players — not a laundry list of their perceived flaws as people.

The players who accused Greenberg of emotional abuse said she would often call them into her office, behind closed doors, and attack their personalities, questioning their overall character. Several of them claimed she would tell them, “You’re worthless.”

Some people might see little difference between “You’re playing like an idiot” and “You’re worthless.” But one is an arrow landing near the feet, while the other is an arrow straight to the heart.

It’s not just semantics.

All coaches set hurdles. The best coaches empower everyone to clear them.

Reprinted with permission: ESPN

Written by Kate Fagan
Joined espnW in Jan. 2012
Spent three seasons covering the 76ers for the Philadelphia Inquirer
Played women’s basketball at University of Colorado from 1999-2004

5 Things Parents Can Learn from Friday Night Tykes

ImageFriday Night Tykes debuted Tuesday on the Esquire Network.  

“Friday Night Tykes” provides an “authentic and provocative glimpse into an independent youth football league in Texas.” An Esquire Network spokeswoman added, “We believe ‘Friday Night Tykes’ brings up important and serious questions about parenting and safety in youth sports, and we encourage Americans to watch, debate and discuss these issues.”

Twitter exploded as well as the comments page on the network page dedicated to the reality show: 

“I’m not sure what Friday Night Tykes is going for but it comes off like a tragedy.  These coaches need to get a life and a grip.”

 “If you would like to lose faith in humanity and be terrified for children’s lives all at the same time, may I recommend             ‪#FridayNightTykes?”

 “This ‪@ESQTV show on youth football is basically child abuse. I can’t believe what I’m seeing…”

 What can we, as parents of athletes, learn from such a revealing show?

Friday Night Tykes exposes 5 things we can discuss.  Brace yourself.  We can gain some positives as well as negatives:

 1.  Coaching:

There are 3 styles of coaching:  Authoritarian, Authoritative, Indulgent           

Indulgent:  coaches holding low expectations, low demands, high praise given for little accomplishment, catering to the wishes and             direction of the child. The focus is on the comfort of the child and the child’s returned affection. They would be considered “soft”             coaches. Children coached in this style will not develop the character or skills necessary to participate in organized groups productively. 

 Authoritarian: highly demanding, restrictive, punitive coaches. They demand compliance without attending to the legitimate needs,             age appropriateness of expectations or concerns of a child.  The focus is on performance and status.  This style would be considered “hard” coaching and is fear based. A majority of children will break-down emotionally and/or physically and not achieve             longevity in the sport under this style of coaching.

Authoritative: holds developmentally appropriate high expectations, demands and standards. With an understanding of             children, these coaches teach, guide and lead with respect. They hold the child responsible for character developed and closely             monitor progress, objectively providing feedback on performance and providing measured and consistent consequences to correct             actions. The goal is to develop inner strength, maturity, and longevity of excellence.

The best coaches are demanding. They push hard to get more out of an athlete than they thought they possible. They may get angry and yell, but they balance that with care and belief in their athletes. There’s a high degree of understanding of the developmental age of their athletes and what an individual athlete can handle mentally and physically. Parents should ensure their child has a coach with the most authoritative style possible. With that said, finding an Authoritarian or Permissive free coach is difficult.

2Age appropriateness: 

Elementary:  Kids should be exposed to as many opportunities as possible and allow kids to follow their interests. It’s a time to play,             have fun, explore, and discover while building fundamental and foundational muscle and skill, character, mental, emotional and             social development. Development should be incremental and increasingly focused through age 14. 

 Middle-school:  Kids will be going through a transition from 13-15 years both physically and mentally. They will be evaluating the ownership of what they are interested in pursuing as their bodies go through puberty and change. The focus at this stage is to allow kids to decide if they will remain in or narrow the focus of a pursuit. At this point, the finer skills of a sport ought to be the focus.  Attention to mechanics, character, strategy is essential over performance and winning.

High-School:  By this point, a child’s body and mind are ready for the rigor of training and performance. They are also emotionally             developed enough to make personal decisions about matching their level of investment and intensity with their goals.

Pushing kids to perform too early only serves to undermine longevity in a sport. Many young phenoms never make it in their sport past puberty due to burn-out or physical or mental development that limits their ability to progress to the level they expected. So, it’s wiser to keep perspective on what’s age appropriate. They succeed far better, far longer. 

 3Character:

It IS important to develop tough-minds and strong character in kids. In general, our culture has become one that errs on the side of             being permissive and indulgent. We have gone off the deep end by calling anything less than coddling and immediate gratification, child abuse. As adults, we need balance, common sense and good judgment. We need to arm our kids with survival skills by developing courage, perseverance, reasoning, responsibility, commitment, endurance, grit, ambition, determination, self-control and a myriad of other character traits we can teach them through athletics. Pushing them, holding them to high standards, holding them accountable, letting them experience negative consequences are essential to them being successful. They need to learn that reward is on the other side of hard work. BUT, these are best taught in incremental, age-appropriate degrees with an authoritative style. 

4.  Boys:

Boys gain validation through physical conquests.  Providing boys with demanding physical play, challenge and contests is essential             to their well-being.  Boys must be given ample opportunity to be physically aggressive in safe, structured productive pursuits.   So, challenging boys extremely hard and showing them they can break through perceived limits, discomfort, fear, and desire to quit is positive.  If boys are neither guided nor given opportunity for this, they will find destructive, harmful ways to vent their aggressive nature.

5.  Living Vicariously

When we had kids, we parents shifted our attention and priorities to the needs of our babies. Many of us gave up the personal lives             and pursuits we had to attend to raising our kids. As they grow and need us less and less, we have the opportunity to shift back to our own pursuits more and more. Our kids need us to do this. It allows them to grow in independence. It allows them to watch our model. It takes the pressure off them to accomplish things for our personal needs of accomplishment and allows them to enjoy the satisfaction of what they accomplish on their own. The perfect balance for an athlete is to have a coach and parent who all invest the same level of intensity. If any one of the three wants success more than the other, it’s out of balance and won’t ultimately work.  Athlete, coach and parent must all be working in sync for the same goal and degree of investment.

Does Friday Night Tykes have any redeeming qualities?

 

 

The Difference a True Coach Makes

The Difference A True Coach Makes

If you stayed awake to watch the last minutes of the 2011 Oscars, you got to see an extraordinary display of the difference a true coach makes. In this case, the team was not comprised of athletes but vocalists, and the coach, a choir director, but what was demonstrated was how one person can create champions on a field, court, pool, hillside, or on risers.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve sat through a few elementary chorus concerts, including those my own children participated in, and while painting a supportive, proud face, truly, most have been nothing short of painful to experience. This past Christmas. I attended my daughter’s concert. The chorus walked on stage in an undisciplined, uncertain manner, stood awkwardly and sang with lips pursed so tightly, they couldn’t be heard and what we did hear, was okay. Just okay.

Then, there’s the PS22 Chorus that sang the closing song at the Oscars.

How could a group of fifth graders, from Statton Island have turned in a performance that blew up the notion that the performance level we should expect from kids will be painful and awkward at best? These are not kids with stage parents who’ve invested in private lessons since infancy. These are not kids cherry-picked to create a super-chorus. These are normal kids, attending a regular public school. In fact, they’re from an area where life is tough and where they don’t have a thing handed to them. How could this group have performed magnificently, with poise and skill so beyond others their age while another group, at another public school could not.

The difference is the coach.

A great coach has the magical ability to identify raw talent, draw out the best in someone’s head, heart and body, and magnify the potential as both an art and science.
They have a very special concoction within them that makes them a great coach.

• Passion: A great coach is an energy giver because they believe in the goal and the individual talent and work done everyday to achieve the goal. They are a never-ending source of positive motivation that’s unwavering even in the face of obstacles.

• Leadership: Great leaders create the environment for their team to succeed as individuals and/or as a group. A great coach’s focus is on the success of those they coach, not on themselves so they provide the place, the tools, develop the culture that has high standards, provides the resources needed to achieve the expectations set, and inspires and encourages each to push beyond what was ever thought could be achieved. There’s a strength and resolve about what needs to be done and unwavering guidance and encouragement to do it.

• Relationship: Great coaches build trust. They come armed with the expertise that demonstrates that they know what they’re doing and they prove it by drawing out great performances. They show up with commitment that lets everyone know they’ll work harder than the athlete to make the goals a reality and they’ll do whatever it takes to make things happen. They connect with an athlete not only on the performance level, but also in the head and definitely in the heart.

• Magic: There’s the secret potion that creates a chemistry between themselves and an individual or team that is able to take the raw talent possessed and magnifies it in a way that makes someone better than they have ever been, and achieve more than they ever thought possible. It’s a special art.

Gregg Breinberg, Mr. B. is a true coach.