The Search for Coaching Good

The Search for Coaching Good

By David Benzel
A year ago Spike TV aired the final episode of its “revolutionary series” Coaching Bad, a reality television program that addressed “the growing epidemic of coaches with uncontrollable anger issues spreading across today’s sports landscape.”

It’s become clear that there’s been a fundamental change over the last fifteen years in how some coaches and parents see the youth sport experience. On many teams, and in many families, sports are now a vehicle used to get somewhere, instead of an experience to enjoy. The journey has become far less important than the potential destination. The goal of sport scholarships and/or pro contracts now overshadow the personal growth and human development that we have typically associated with playing a sport.

Sports parents and athletes alike have had their perception of sports’ real purpose rerouted by the media’s coverage and glorification of the pro athlete lifestyle. This leads to more performance pressure and a job-like approach to practice and competition. Through this approach the fun of sports gets forgotten or overridden by the pursuit of a pot of gold “at the end.”

Hidden Remote interviewed Coaching Bad Executive Producer John Irwin to get his thoughts on the reality show. “The pressure to be a winner in our society and to have our kids become successful has pushed that anger to an all-time high. We hear the stories all the time about parents fighting on the sidelines and coaches going crazy on refs and their players,” he said.

In some cases, parents turn a blind eye to the extreme behaviors of coaches because they so desperately want their children to succeed and think a coach’s behavior can help their child reach higher levels of success. A frequent misunderstanding of the true nature of motivation by parents (“Push my kid to greatness!”) leads to an acceptance of a drill sergeant approach by a coach, regardless of the potential emotional abuse that might come with it.

Irwin said that the series shows the personal stories of the coaches featured, “We get a glimpse of how they have adversely affected the lives of young athletes, in some cases crushing their dreams and morale,” he said. “By the end of the show we see remarkable realizations and improvements from all of them. It’s very inspiring!”

There is no question that youth sports in America is leaving a trail of walking wounded in the form of emotionally scarred kids who have received strong messages of personal rejection by both coaches and parents. It’s happening in every sport.

Albert Einstein summed it up when he said, “If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”

When parents observe or sense that a coach is relying on ridicule, embarrassment, personal attacks, or physical abuse in attempts to get children to do what he or she wants them to do, it’s time to notify sport administrators and demand a change…..OR, leave the program immediately. It’s a matter of respect for the value of every young child regardless of their abilities or differences.

We all know the world is not fair, and that coaches may hold some children in higher regard than others, but there is a difference between pushing children to be their best and pushing them too far. The difference is in the love and respect shown by the coach.

Does the coach demonstrate behaviors that earn a clear “yes” to the following questions?
1. Can this coach’s character be trusted to be stronger than his or her ego?
2. Does this coach truly CARE about each child as a human being, regardless of talent?
3. Is this coach truly competent at coaching children, not just knowledgeable about the sport?

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David Benzel is the Founder and Executive Director of Growing Champions for Life, Inc., which provides parents and coaches with practical tools & positive strategies for helping athletes reach their full potential while enjoying the youth sport experience. David is also the author of “From Chump to Champ – How Individuals Go From Good to Great”