Saturday, November 12, 2011

Being a Coach Is More Than Just Training An Athlete

The following represents some well-intentioned opinions I have in regards to coaching. Over the last several days I have given consideration to what the responsibilities of a coach are, and should be. The situation at Penn State has caused me to consider this as well my recently observing the behavior of a coach of a local soccer team. When I think of the ideal coach,people like Arthur Lydiard and John Wooden readily come to mind. Both of these men conducted themselves in a way that earned the respect of athletes and coaches alike. I recall reading recently that Lydiard believed that it was of the utmost importance for a coach to be honest. John Wooden believed that developing good character in his players was as important as achieving success in basketball. Character as you may know, refers to moral strength and integrity. It's a huge understatement to say the athlete lives in a vastly different society then the one that existed 45 years ago.In recent decades records and performances in several sports have been tainted by drug use and athletes have been more frequently apt to get into trouble then they once did. Would it be a stretch to assume that good character is not as prevalent in our athletes as it once was? I don't think it would be. I believe this is due in part to a few things. In society, I have observed the cultivation of a me first,gotta do what's right for me mindset. Not surprisingly,it has found it's way into the sporting world. You see it in the ads that promote the win at all costs attitude where you read things like, 'you may have finished in second place but it still means you are a loser.' Of course money plays a major factor in problems that develop in pro sports,major college teams,the Olympics and top level running of all distances, from the 100 meter run to the marathon. Personal integrity has often been compromised and sacrificed in an effort to achieve success.One last factor that I will mention that has had a profound effect on the development of character among our youth has been the huge increase in the number of broken and dysfunctional families, as well as the children that have been effected by the alcohol and drug abuse of their parents. I don't make this statement as a casual observer but as someone who spent 8 years working at a child and adolescent psychiatric hospital.The overwhelming majority of kids who found their way into the hospital were in there due to bad parenting.
So what does coaching have to do with all this? I say plenty. Coaches should be role models for good character and behavior. Let me recount some examples I've witnessed of coaches behaving badly. I saw a soccer coach recently tell his 10 to 12 year old players that a player for the opposing team was a cheater. The motivation for his saying this was that he disputed some of the calls that this athlete was involved in. His assertions were baseless and it was totally inappropriate that he expressed his feelings in front of these kids. All I could think was,what kind of example was he setting,not only for this match but for the whole season? Another one,how 'bout the male coach for a girl's college x-country or track team who views his team as his personal dating service? I've seen that occur before and there is no way it can be justified as being appropriate conduct by a coach.We now look at the Penn State fiasco and we see troubling behavior in two areas. One concerns the head coach who was told of the abuse and reported it to his Athletic Director and later claimed he did all he thought he needed to do. He said this despite the fact that after his report the perpetrator was still on campus. What kind of character is this coach exhibiting here? Was he more concerned with maintaining the status quo and a multi-million dollar football enterprise then protecting the welfare of children? A child sex offender was still around and he was OK with that? The other concern relates to the reaction by the students and faculty at Penn State as well as some in the media who defended the coach by saying he did enough and should never have been fired. I can't find the words to describe how ignorant that kind of thinking is.
Yes, coaches must be role models for good character and behavior. Whether they like it or not,they occupy,especially among the younger ones, a special position in the lives of their athletes they oversee that is in many ways parental. What coaches say and teach, as well as how they act, is observed and often copied and emulated by their athletes. Honesty,sportsmanship,discipline,dedication to a goal,and courtesy are attributes that a coach must not only exhibit but instill in those who are under his care.

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