Coaching – Where do we draw the line?

By: Matt Daley

We have discussed in class many ways a coach could help positive youth development.  I have played for many different coaches and most of them have left me with a positive reflection on the time spent with them. Some coaches have left me with a bad impression of them and their coaching style. Growing up, I had one coach who no matter how good you played or how much we won by, had something negative to say. This made a few players very upset and some players ended up quitting. It felt like you could never be successful. No matter how hard you worked, you were failing. There were no positive moments and I felt very worthless. There is a line where coaches have to realize that negativity has to stop.  Coach Mike Rice of Rutgers University Basketball team does not know this line as he is only negative in his coaching.

Earlier this year head basketball coach from Rutgers University, Mike Rice, was fired for his behavior while coaching. He was caught physically and verbally abusing his players in practice. He was caught on camera kicking, pushing and throwing balls at player’s heads. He also used anti-gay slurs while talking towards his players. In a video that shows the coach in action during practice, you see countless times where Coach Mike Rice grabs players and abuses them both physically and verbally. When the new director of player development witnessed this behavior, he immediately brought it to the school and demanded that something was done. After seeing the footage, the school officials suspended and later fired Coach Mike Rice. I find it interesting that the school had to agree on a settlement to pay the coach after ending his contract. In my opinion the firing was for a good reason which would result in no settlement. The coach bullied one player so hard that he could not handle it any longer and transferred schools. This type of treatment could be very negative for any athlete at any age.

As a coach at the university level, the job requires you sometimes scream and curse at players in order to demand the best performance. It is the coach’s job to know there are always different personalities on a team. Some players will respond better to being yelled at, but others will play even worse.  The coach needs to know his players and the limit of what he can say. Personally, I respond better to criticism so I have been yelled at by coaches my entire life. Things that have been said to me vary from being called “a chicken s***” or being told I need to “grow the f*** up”.  These both were said in context of how I was playing basketball and I responded by working harder so I would never hear those things again. Others may react differently to this type of treatment.  These don’t even compare to the type of things Coach Mike Rice of Rutgers was saying.  There is a line that can’t be crossed in a player-coach relationship.  You should never insult the player on a personal level. Coach Mike Rice was calling people “faggots” on a daily basis. This would have nothing to do with basketball, but just the person in general. One of Mike Rice’s players said that he respected the coach, but if he could say one thing to him today it would be, “I love you coach, but you need to change”. This coaching style was obviously not working and the players were not responding.

Youth development does not stop for a university student. Young student athletes are still viewing their coaches as “a role model” or even “a father figure”. College students are still developing and need positive role models to steer them on the right paths. Most players will go on to be coaches themselves so almost everything they learn now will impact them in future. This type of behavior by a coach could impact the players personally and as coaches. This will continue on until someone finally stops this behavior.  Mike Rice attacks each of these players on a personal level which could cause internal psychological problems. College students are still trying to figure out what they are going to be in the future and what type of person they are. Having someone constantly attack you could affect those thoughts and affect you as a person in the long run. The player could completely lose any self-confidence and cause low self-esteem.

A basketball team in university becomes the closest thing to a family. You spend large amounts of time with teammates and coaches and develop strong relationships. Being abused on your team could be experienced similarly to being abused at home by your family. Alyssa already wrote about third places and how important they are for youth development. Third Places are supposed to be a safe environment where the youth can get away from everything else going on and enjoy an activity.  I know for me, the basketball gym is that place. When I am feeling angry, sad, or just need to get away from something going on, I will go play basketball. It has always been a positive place for me and I still use it while being in university. Mike Rice made it nearly impossible for his players to make basketball their third place. They would constantly take physical and psychological abuse when at practice. This makes the gym no longer a safe place. It would more likely make basketball a negative environment where they do not want to return to.  This type of abuse in your “third place” or “safe place” could have serious impacts on youth.

Coaches are one of the most important keys to being successful as a basketball player. In most situations they know what needs to be said or done to the player to get the best performance. But it can easily be taken too far if the coach does not understand the players or how they feel. If the players are verbally and physically abused on a daily basis, then they will lose respect for their coach along with any possible positive outcomes from playing. Coaching at the university level still needs to be about developing the players in a positive way. My coach always talks about becoming “men”. It is not only about basketball or school but about getting prepared for life. Verbally and physically abusing players is bullying, not coaching.

Further Reading:

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6 Responses to Coaching – Where do we draw the line?

  1. r3cwk says:

    What’s interesting is that during the certification to coach, there is very little focus on harassment towards athletes and how to prevent it. There are some discussions on how intimate relationships with athletes should be avoided but very little on the appropriate social conduct around teammates. I think this is due to the argument that some “verbal flogging” can work on certain athletes as you mentioned above. Negative comments can push someone to avoid hearing any further comment, or it really cements what is a bad or a good performance, but it’s a very fine line. What can be determined as inappropriate? Obviously if it produces a negative response from the affected athlete it’s considered harassment, but should it be similar to hazing? An athlete can still believe that those comments are alright but it’s still not morally right?
    It can be very difficult for coaches to see this fine line especially if athletes are encouraged to avoid being weak, it can close off that opportunity for athletes to use their voice and speak up about problems, one of the aspects of youth development. But this Mike Rice should have been more aware of the situation. Even if no one outright told him his coaching techniques were inappropriate, he should notice the drop out rate and the reactions he gets from onlookers.

    -Amelie R

  2. b3emf says:

    I have had an array of different coaches over my years in sports and for me the ones that I learnt the most from where the ones who had a more aggressive approach to coaching, not aggressive in the sense that they would physical abuse you but they would yell and try to push you past you limits. I think sometimes this can be interpreted the wrong way by parents or other athletes , for instance one of the parents of an athlete from another team reported my coach to the league because they thought his behaviour was unacceptable when all he was doing was trying to make me a better athlete because he knew I could be. I think every athlete is different when it comes to how they need to be coach – for sure not every athlete finds being yelled at helpful but sometimes athletes need to realize that coaches are just trying their best to motivate you. This does not mean coaches should yell derogatory remarks towards their athletes or abuse them in anyway there is a clear line in society that should not be crossed that is especially important to follow when you are a role model.
    Sam B.

  3. s30c5 says:

    I think a coach is someone who you can look up to and rely on when you need advice. Sport is an outlet for many like Matt mentioned for himself, and I think having a supportive coach is very important for youth development and professional teams. Like mentioned in the developmental assets youth need other relationships with adults and a coach could be that person.

    Mike Rice definitely was not one of those coaches I would consider to help make sure youth developmental assets are being met. Although, in the video Matt posted a player said he was doing it to make them better. From a female perspective, I don’t think that kind of verbal and physical abuse would get to far on a women’s team, well at least not one I would be one.

    From experience I mostly have had very good coaches who I at least felt comfortable around and enjoyed having them as my coach. For myself I do like to be criticized enough to make myself push harder. However, some people just cannot handle it and that is why I think coaches need to know their players as individuals and how to treat them when it comes to criticizing them. I had a synchro coach get asked to stop coaching because she was very strict with us and never really let us fool around while at practice. That year I was very discipline and had a lot of respect for that coach, as she knew I had goals and was pushing me in the right direction. I think that it was a little much that they had to let her go. The better option would have been to make sure she understood that some athletes were a little more sensitive then others to her rules.

    I agree that verbal and physical abuse needs to be monitored in sport and especially in youth sport. Youth are learning and developing and sport needs to be a positive place for them to do this.

    This was a great topic to mention as I think it may get tossed under the table quite a bit in sport.

    Caleigh R.

  4. a74tu says:

    Great post Matt, In regards to development I feel that times have changed and youth today experience a much different way of learning as youth in past generations. In the case of coaches today it is important to note that chances are they too were once athletes and have experienced a much different developmental process. The coaches today may use these verbal motivators the same way, they as youth experienced them. In this method there seems to be a discrepancy to what is acceptable. With the change in youth today I feel it is essential to account for these transitions of the development and create a place that enhances self-efficacy and does not hinder it.
    Youth are much less receptive to criticism and of course we can incorporate the “helicopter parent” who intervenes at every opportunity into this equation.
    Ultimately if the youth do not respond to this it is up to the coach to recognize that and make the necessary changes to his method.

    Scott A.

  5. c4956 says:

    As stated in Matt’s post, it all depends on the players. While some athletes might respond positively to what some might consider verbal harassment, others may not. That’s why I think that these days, coaches should learn to be man-managers as well as knowledgeable coaches. I have always responded better to coaches who express their ideas in a mutual way with the players, meaning that they avoid the “my way or the high way” approach. This lets the athletes know that they can speak their mind and ask more questions instead of probably being pushed into a corner mentally. Just like the “third place”, If athletes can’t fully express themselves in any way while on the court, field etc. they won’t be playing to their full potential and could possibly lose confidence or interest.

    While I’m not saying that all coaches should not adopt the “hard” coaching mentality, it is their job to know what kind of players they have at their disposal. A coach is only as good as the results that the team obtains. A coach who is very narrow-minded and stubborn with his coaching tactics might succeed with one group of players, but not another. That’s why I think coaches should be very adaptable in order to get the best out of all of their players.


  6. jbuote says:

    Great post Matt,
    Great point made and I also feel that coach’s should know how to behave and act in a sports team context and to not be abusive to the players that are supposed to look to him for advice and education about the sport. I also looked into the Mike Rice incident and I could not believe that this was taking place in highly competetive sport. By that level you would think that a coach knows how to behave in a professional manner.
    This was absolutely astonishing to me. I myself have had similar experiences with my share of strict coaches in hockey that nothing is ever good enough for them. This type of coaching behavior does the complete opposite of what a coach is supposed to do. Motivate you and enhance your game play through the education and relationship between the coach and athlete.
    I am not saying that a coach should sit back and let their players do what ever they want during practice and of course their will be times where a strict coaching behavior must be demonstrated to get a point across. I think once these behaviors turn abusive and hurtful towards the players thats when the line is crossed and action should be taken by the player. This will just make the sport not enjoyable for the athlete and could potentially turn them away for ever. Great topic Matt.
    J-Jamie B

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