In Attitude, Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair

“I DIDN’T do anything wrong, coach! That wasn’t MY ball. Billy should’a covered that one! I hear what you’re saying coach, BUT, I was in position. I did everything I was supposed to. You should talk to the defense about that. They were the ones who really screwed this thing up.”

If there’s one thing that frustrates good coaches and drives them to distraction, it’s having an “un-coachable” athlete or two on their team. What’s an “un-coachable” athlete? It’s that individual who feels that he/she is never wrong, that the coach is unfairly picking on them whenever any kind of critical or even constructive feedback is given and the player who simply refuses to take any responsibility for his/her mistakes or failure.

The “un-coachable” athlete is usually a finger pointer, blaming teammates, opponents, officials, weather conditions, the crowd or even the alignment of the sun, moon and stars whenever things go wrong! “The sun was in my eyes and I slipped because the field sucked! Let’s face it, that’s why we lost and I’m telling you, that ref was blind as a bat, cuz I was safe!”

Whenever the coach tries to provide this kind of athlete with any constructive feedback, even if it’s mild and necessary, the “un-coachable” athlete becomes highly defended. If he/she doesn’t argue with the coach outright, they make it perfectly clear through posture, facial expression and voice tone that they think they’re right and the coach is wrong!

How do we understand the highly defensive, blaming stance of this type of athlete? On the surface, this athlete comes across as a know-it-all, someone who feels that they have all the answers. They present as overly confident, even to the point of being obnoxious. However, this self-assuredness is nothing more than a shell, a mere facade. When you scratch the surface of this hard outer shell, underneath you’ll find an individual with painfully low self-esteem and a poor self-image. Deep down the “uncoachable” athlete is an emotionally wounded kid.

Typically the “uncoachable” athlete’s self-assessment of his/her skills is terribly skewed. He/she thinks that they’re far better than they actually are. This overly-generous self-assessment goes hand in hand with their low self-esteem. Because they feel so badly about themselves deep down, they need to present themselves as much better than they actually are. This also explains why they have such a difficult time taking responsibility for any of their mistakes and failures. To own that you’ve done something wrong or failed takes a certain degree of ego-strength, something that the “uncoachable” kid does not really possess.

The really sad thing about the highly defended stance of this kind of athlete is that they continuously and unknowingly put themselves in a position where they won’t be able to learn. You can’t get better at anything unless you’re willing to look carefully at what you’ve done wrong. Your mistakes and miscues form the foundation of learning and developing as an athlete and a person.However, if you’re constantly unwilling to honestly look at yourself, then you will inadvertently rob yourself of the opportunity to really get better.

If you’re a coach and working with this type of athlete, then the best advice I can give you is to try to always keep in mind that this highly defended behavior comes from a place of weakness, not strength. By keeping this perspective it might be that much easier for you to maintain compassion and empathy for that individual. Otherwise this type of athlete tends to alienate most coaches by their seemingly over-confident, “I have all the answers” presentation.


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