In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Problems in Youth Sports

The January 25th incident is now all over the national news: The video of Holy Family University men’s Basketball coach John O’Connor elbowing sophomore player Matt Krauchuk in the face, bloodying his nose and then knocking him to the ground during a practice drill. When Krauchuk was down, O’Connor is shown kicking him to get up, screaming, “Got a little blood on you? GOOD!”

Apparently the team had suffered a hard loss the night before and, according to O’Connor, he was simply trying to “teach” his players to “take pride in what you do!” Krauchuk apparently missed the pride lesson and instead took offense, reporting the incident to the AD, and then pressing assault charges on the coach.

O’Connor, being overwhelmed with “guilt” and “remorse” for his words and actions, “apologized” to Krauchuk in person and on national TV. “‘IT’ was an accident” the coach claimed, “‘IT’ was unintentional and I’m sorry ‘IT’ happened.” I’m sorry too because this so-called apology sounded nothing like an apology. Apparently the coach’s abusive behavior (“IT”), seemed to happen all by itself, totally out of his control. “Well judge, I didn’t really hit him, he just happened to run into my fist with his nose and then when he fell to the court, he bumped into my foot!”

According to his players, the coach’s overly physical behavior was “normal.” O’Connor even described himself in this way as, “I’ve always been very “HANDS-ON” with my players.” Translation: “I’ve always been physically abusive!”

I have two problems with this whole incident:

First, you don’t have to be physically abusive to teach athletes how to excel and develop mental toughness. It’s Neanderthal thinking to believe that you build character and mental and physical strength through physical and emotional abuse. If you’re a coach AT ANY LEVEL and you still subscribe to this “teaching philosophy,” then I suggest you come out from under the rock that you’ve been living under all these years, open up your eyes, ears and mind, and allow yourself to learn what really works when coaching living, breathing, feeling organisms! Is winning and losing a sporting contest that important that you allow it to trump human decency and teaching young adults how to be good citizens in the world? In his behavior, O’Connor modeled a total and complete lack of respect for his players.

Second, What kind of character, integrity and good morals are you modeling for young people as a coach and supervising adult when you act that way and then, when you’re caught, you refuse to take responsibility for your behavior. “IT was an accident and unintentional!?” You know the expression, “IT happens!” In fact, when confronted about this exact point on national television, O’Connor made it very clear that he didn’t actually believe that he had done anything wrong! He didn’t really feel that he had blatantly stepped over a line! He was just seizing upon an opportunity to teach his players to “work hard and take pride in what they do.” I suppose that this is why he never really accepted responsibility.

The whole affair is sickening and my best guess is that the way it was handled reflects a much deeper problem with the school’s athletic administration and maybe even beyond. I do know that for a number of weeks after Krauchuk had reported the incident, the AD hadn’t done anything! I can only assume that the main reason that the AD finally fired O’Connor was that after the news media had gained access to the story, she felt boxed into a corner and had to do something! As far as I’m concerned, school administrators and ADs who knowingly collude with this kind of coaching abuse, who sweep it under the rug, are abandoning their jobs to protect and safe-guard their students and, in this way, are just as bad as the direct perpetrator!



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