IN THIS ISSUE:
On September 28, 2003 conservative radio talk show big-wig and newcomer to ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Rush Limbaugh opened his rather large mouth and proceeded to put both his feet and those of his co-hosts in it. He tried to make the case that the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback, Donovan McKnabb was overrated and was only getting media attention because of the color of his skin. “The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,” the bigoted, know-it-all concluded. “There is little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.” With those words, not only did Limbaugh reveal a hint of the inherent racism and stupidity that runs thick through his blood and psyche, but he continued a long standing tradition of “let’s criticize and tear down those who can, because I certainly can NOT!” Let me explain: There are thousands and thousands of “experts” in this country, heroic legends in their own minds, who, when given half a chance will gladly “educate” you about how much they “know” about everyone else. Usually what they “know” involves searing criticism and put-downs. It’s all about what’s wrong with this one and why that one will never make it and all the evidence that “proves” that another one is a loser. The irony, of course, is that with all their “knowledge” of others, they are totally ignorant about themselves. These “ex-spurts” never take the time to really look at themselves in the mirror. It is also very interesting that the individuals these experts tend to criticize aren’t just your basic old Joe Schmoe on the street. No way! The person or people that our experts choose to knock down are most often doing things that they could only dream of, things that they have zero aptitude for! Nowhere is this more visible than in the wonderful world of sports. From beat writers for insignificant dailies to those who write for the most visible sports publications in the world, from local radio talk show hosts to the “heavy hitters” on TV’s major sports programs, THOSE WHO CAN’T, CRITICIZE! What’s up here? Sure, the highly visible professional athlete is fair game. After all, he does get those big bucks and therefore he should have to prove his worth every waking moment. However, this game goes on at all levels in sports. THOSE WHO CAN’T, CRITICIZE THOSE WHO CAN! Do the criticizers feel that badly about themselves that they have to rip apart those who threaten them? Are they living empty lives, devoid of meaning and filled with personal frustration and failure? Are they simply small-minded, jealous people? In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter I’d like to explore the minds of those who so readily put down those around them and the impact that this criticism may have on all of us.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Who are you to tell me what I can’t do?!!!!”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Racism & Bigotry 101 – Teaching children limitations.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Who’s the adult here?”
DR G’S TEACHING TALES – “Maintaining your integrity.”
“Who are you to tell me what I can’t do?!”
From the very first day of varsity practice, the head coach took it upon himself to emotionally torture the freshman goalkeeper. Yup! That’s what it was: TORTURE, because there’s no way you could confuse what he was doing with coaching. While the kid was easily good enough to make the varsity team, the coach treated him like he was the most incompetent, uncoordinated creature to walk the face of the earth. I know that may be hard for you to believe, but the very person whose job it is to build the athlete up and make him feel good about himself seemed to look for every opportunity he could find to knock this athlete down. He would embarrass him in front of the rest of the team. He’d make nasty little remarks like, “what do you expect from a freshman?” or “Great save!” dripping with sarcasm after the poor kid let a ball through his legs into the goal in practice. The coach would yell and scream at him whenever he screwed up to the point that this poor kid was nearly paralyzed with a fear of failure whenever he had to go into a game. When the upper classmen picked up on the coach’s demeaning comments and began to berate the kid, the coach let them do as they pleased, smiling all the while. Now you certainly might expect the opposing fans to get on an athlete’s case. Maybe even the opposing players. We know that we can also count on the media to do a job on a kid’s self-esteem and self-image. But the coach (and his own teammates)? Is it wrong for us to expect that the one person in charge of an individual’s personal, mental and athletic development would understand the tremendous importance of his responsibilities and build up rather than tear down his charges? You would think an educator handling something as fragile as an early adolescent self-image would be a bit more sensitive and caring? Afraid NOT!
Hang on. I’m not naive here. I know the sad state of middle and high school sports in our country. I know that the majority of these coaches are exactly like this player’s coach. At best, they are incompetent, insensitive and totally unaware of the negative influence that they have on their players. They think that getting in an athlete’s face and being a “hard ass” is the best way to build character and mental toughness. At worst, these individuals are mean spirited and sadistic, acting out their own frustrations, personal failures and damaged self-esteem on the athlete and his/her teammates.
So the young goalkeeper was fed a steady diet of negativity and put-downs. No matter what he did, no matter how hard he worked, he couldn’t get the coach to change his negative opinion of him. How was this kid supposed to know that he wasn’t the real problem here? How was he supposed to believe that he had tremendous talent, ability and potential? How was he supposed to know that it was the coach himself who was the total screw-up? Why didn’t someone tell him that no one, and I mean NO ONE can tell you what you CAN and can not do! NO ONE. Who knows what’s in your heart? Who knows your level of determination? Who can measure your refusal to quit? Who can really assess your “reboundability?” YOU better than anyone!
Unfortunately, and not unexpectedly the kid took in the poison that his coach was feeding him. He gradually lost his confidence and aggressiveness. Slowly but surely he became more and more preoccupied with how people were viewing him when he was on the field, rather than where the ball was and what he was supposed to be doing. He stopped having fun when he was in goal. He became plagued by self-doubts. He couldn’t stop worrying that he was going to mess up if he was put in a game and that the coach was then going to yell at and embarrass him again. His game focus was totally off. Freshman year ended the way it began, painfully and disappointing. He was absolutely miserable and started to entertain thoughts of quitting.
But a funny thing kept going on in the back of this athlete’s head throughout all the abuse. Somehow, someway, somewhere in the far corners of his mind he just refused to give up on his dream to play Division I ball. Despite the fact that he felt like a total failure and wanted to quit, he refused to give up on that dream. And as a result, he responded to the humiliation and jeering from his teammates and coach by getting more determined and working harder. He stayed after practice and did more training on his own. On off days he worked even harder. When his teammates saw how hard he trained they laughed and poked fun at him. Of course, “Mr. Sensitivity” fed into this, the miserable creep. What the hell did he really know anyway? In reality he was just some unhappy, totally inadequate man who had to try to make himself feel better by picking on those smaller and weaker than himself. He wasn’t a coach! He didn’t deserve the title, He was nothing more than a bully. But as bent and demoralized as the kid was, he simply refused to break. He refused to quit. He just kept on keeping on.
Truth be told, he was a warrior. He was a real fighter. Sure he was intimidated. Sure he was beaten down. No doubt he was flooded with doubts and negativity. However, given all this, he refused to give in. He fought even more. He pushed himself towards his fears. He would get physically punished in practice and beaten up by the older, bigger kids. He’d go home after practice with huge, painful bruises all over his body. Yet the next day he was back out there for more. In many ways he didn’t even know that he had a warrior’s heart. He had been too beaten down to realize it at the time. However, not being aware of your warrior spirit doesn’t change the fact that you’re a warrior.
At the beginning of sophomore year, the coach picked up exactly where he had left off, demeaning, belittling, and continually criticizing him. He rarely got playing time and when he did, the coach always found a way to make him feel terrible about how he had done. He began to believe that no matter what he did, he could never make the coach happy. Of course this was truer than the athlete could ever imagine. Only miserable, unhappy, totally inadequate people pick on others. This coach was a bully and bullies are frightened, inadequate little boys inside. (I don’t mean to be sexist here, but I’ve never run into many female coaches who are this abusive to their athletes. They certainly exist, but in far less numbers). How could this athlete possibly hope to make the coach happy when the only thing that might have worked had to do with the coach having a personality readjustment? Midway through sophomore year the kid broke his right hand and had to sit out the rest of the season.
Out of sight, out of mind. Now that the kid couldn’t play the coach virtually ignored him. Another sign of a “great” coach: he makes his injured athletes feel important and an integral part of the team. Of course, even though he wasn’t playing the keeper still found himself at the brunt of the coach’s demeaning, belittling comments. The kid was hurting but spent the entire off-season lifting weights and training on his own. Two weeks before the start of his junior season he broke his other hand in a game for his club team. When the season started his coach make some stupid comment about the kid being afraid to play. Otherwise how else could you explain why he always seemed to have something wrong with him? The keeper added this nasty comment that was not burdened down by the weight of intelligent thought to his long list of hurts and did everything he could to get himself back in playing condition. He managed to get in goal a few games that season and even played well for some of the stretches he was in. The coach refused to allow the kid to build his confidence off of these good games and kept him at back-up most of the time. Apparently it didn’t matter to the coach that the keeper that he was starting in front of this kid wasn’t as talented.
At the start of senior year the kid was approached by a Division I coach who had seen some snippets of his good games last season as well as a few good ones during the club season. The coach was impressed by the kid’s work ethic, attitude and warrior spirit. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see this. All you needed was the ability to open your eyes! While it wasn’t a top D-I program, it was Division I! So the kid who would never amount to anything according to his lame high school coach signed a letter of intent to play college ball. The warrior had won out! Interesting enough, the kid’s senior year was an outstanding one in goal. Why? He stopped trying to please the coach. He realized that it no longer mattered what the coach thought since he was now all set to play at the next level. The less he worried about the coach, the better he played. The better he played, the less the coach could say. Of course, when the kid went off to college the coach couldn’t even wish him well. What do you expect from a miserable, frightened little boy masquerading as an adult?
Just remember, NO ONE can tell you what you CAN or can not do! NO ONE!
“Racism & Bigotry 101 – Teaching children limitations”
How did I grow up believing that I could do anything that I set my mind to? Where did I develop the fascination with expanding the performance potential of the human organism? How did I ever end up with such a high tolerance for failure and an almost obsessive determination to do whatever it takes to succeed? And where did my terminal optimism come from? Why is it that I believe that handicaps exist only in your mind?
They say that good or bad, “all roads lead to Rome.” What does this mean for you as a parent? Probably that your kids will grow up and blame you for everything that’s wrong with them. I’m mostly kidding here, but you know the drill. You were too strict. You weren’t strict enough. You were too much their friend and over-involved. You were too distant and uninvolved. You toilet trained them too early, or maybe it was too late. You were too darn protective of them. You didn’t set and reinforce enough limits and left them too early to fend for themselves. Let’s face it: A parent’s job is a no-win proposition. No matter what you do in relation to your kids, you’re going to make mistakes and be wrong some or even a lot of the time. That’s life. That’s part of the joy of parenting.
In our society it’s fashionable for a lot of us to look towards our parents for the roots of the bad in our lives. I’m depressed because I was deprived of love growing up. I’m angry because my dad was abusive. I’m anxious because my mother was a worrywart. I can’t enjoy my successes because both of my parents continually criticized everything I did and now, no matter how good a job I do, I always feel like it’s just not good enough. Think of a problem that you currently struggle with and I’m sure you can easily trace it back to your parents and something that they did or didn’t do to you during your growing-up years. Do our parents ever get any credit for things that we do well?
Of course, the “blame the parents” game is a bit simplistic in trying to understand human behavior. There are so many complicated factors that determine who we are and what we grow up to become. Sure some of them are directly related to our interactions with our parents as kids. There’s a lot of good and bad that we might have directly learned from them whether they had wanted to teach it to us or not. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that. We all come into this world with inherent characteristics and traits that can’t be easily explained away as learned or inherited. We are all born with a unique set of resources, strengths, sensitivities, vulnerabilities and response-abilities that help shape our lives and how we respond to the teachings of our parents and others in our life. Many of us are also tremendously influenced by our relationships with siblings. Biochemical factors in the brain also determine a great deal of our behaviors and who and what we become. Let’s not forget the influence of chance or luck while we’re looking for explanations.
Despite all the factors that feed into who we are and what we become, the one I’d like to briefly focus on now is the more obvious: learned behaviors that we absorb from watching our parents interact with the world. As you well know, modeling is the most powerful form of teaching that you have available in your parenting repertoire. It’s never what you say that has the impact in shaping and changing your kids’ behaviors, it’s always what you do. Modeling makes the parent-child world go round. Good or bad, it’s the primary modality for passing along the culture to the next generation whether it’s an expansive, the-sky-is-the-limit approach to life or a more constrictive, that’s-impossible-for-me headset. Modeling is also the primary modality that we use to teach tolerance or intolerance of others.
I grew up in a white, middle class neighborhood. My father made his living in a small men’s clothing store he owned called Harry the Hatter’s. The store was in the north end of New Bedford, Massachusetts, an old fishing town and catered to a population that was predominantly Portuguese. In fact, many of my dad’s customers had just come over from the old country and didn’t speak English. As my dad frequently explained to me, this made them “greenhorns.” When I was a kid I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around this expression. They didn’t look green at all to me and I couldn’t see any signs of visible horns. I wasn’t quite sure what the heck he was talking about. I guess that’s because one of the things that we’re not born with are the instincts to be bigoted and racist. Those you have to learn from someone.
I was brought up under a cloud of racism and bigotry in a climate of anti-semitism. Now, I don’t know if the anti-Semitism was the reality of the times, my father’s well deserved paranoia having lost many of his relatives in the Holocaust, his personal experiences having to deal with prejudice or what? It was probably a little of all of the above. However, what I did know was that I always felt weird being Jewish, like there was something very wrong with me. My father apparently took his feelings of persecution and turned them around because he seemed to have very strong, negative feelings about anybody and everyone who wasn’t Jewish. Then again, my father didn’t really like or respect many people, Jews and non-Jews alike, and oftentimes even yours truly.
There was the French guy who worked for him who was “cheap” and “stupid” because “that’s how the French are.” There were the African American customers who’d come in and would trigger all kinds of internal alarms in both my parents because they were black and “couldn’t be trusted.” I never could quite grasp my parents’ level of nervousness just because someone had a different skin color from theirs. Then there were the WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), my dad’s nemesis, who were said to be pompous, exclusionary and cold. These were the people who were said to openly act like Jews were alien beings. Let’s not forget the Polish customers who were “just plain stupid.” There was the effeminate man who also worked for my dad for a time. He was “just a queer” and represented “those people.” And let’s not overlook all the FAT people! For reasons I could never quite grasp, overweight customers drove both of my parents bonkers. These customers would leave the store and before the door even closed I heard both my mom and dad complaining about how damn FAT they were and “can you believe how anyone would let themselves get like that!” Sometimes I wondered if my dad’s store should have been called Harry The Hater’s instead of Harry The Hatter’s.
Now let’s see if we can figure this one out. Why did I grow up painfully shy and almost paralyzing self-conscious? Hmmm…That’s a tough one. How come I was always paranoid that someone was going to embarrass and humiliate me for something stupid I said or didn’t say or how I looked? I’m not sure I’ll ever figure that one out. Wait a minute! Could it have to do with something involving my mom and dad? What’s that saying again? “All roads lead to Rome.” Let’s blame mom and dad for all of that and how I am today.
The fact of the matter is that I did grow up in a household that did the opposite of celebrating diversity. I was taught to be suspicious and afraid of differences. I was taught that differences in people can and will hurt you. I was subtly encouraged to depersonalize individuals by lumping them into general ethnic or racial categories, each possessing specific, noxious behavioral traits. I was educated by a very bright, cultured man to be fearful, close-minded and stupid. Isn’t that what racism and bigotry really are. They are behavioral products of fear and STUPIDITY. Just because someone is different from you is ample enough reason to fear and then hate them? At least my dad wasn’t teaching me an out of date concept. It seems that this same idea is alive and well today. It’s the very same principle that fuels all the heartache, oppression and bloodshed around the world: Israel; Palestine; Afghanistan; Iraq; Northern Ireland; Chechnya; Everywhere. People are dying every day because of their religion, ethnicity, skin color or beliefs. It’s the old, “My God and beliefs are right and yours are flat out wrong and the work of the devil.” My God will help me defeat you and your non-believing followers.
Can we ever hope to put a stop to all of this mass stupidity? Why are so many of us so very small in our thinking and actions? Why can’t we see the bigger picture? Whether we like it or not, we are all in the same boat together. The world has gotten progressively smaller and smaller with time and we need to learn that we are all more simply human than otherwise. So where’s the hope? It rests with you, the parents of the next generation. It rests within the lessons that you teach your kids on a daily basis, lessons that go far beyond the playing fields and arenas of children’s games. Understand one important principle here: If you’re a parent, then you can’t NOT teach. Everything that you say and do with your children, in front of them, with your kids hovering in the background is a form of teaching. The more important issue is will you be aware of what you teach. Will you be a conscious or unconscious teacher? Will you teach openness and acceptance or close-mindedness and intolerance? Will you teach your children to think of possibilities among people or limitations? Will you as a parent help contribute to the solution or be a part of maintaining the problem? Whether we’re talking about promoting teamwork and fair play on a Little League team or tolerance and acceptance of differences among different races and religions, your job is still the same: One to not be undertaken lightly.
So how did I end up faring with all my lessons in bigotry and racism? Truth be told, I really wasn’t such a good student. I didn’t get real good grades with my parents for my college girlfriend who was Irish Catholic, although they did threaten to disown me if I married her. And they never really appreciated the times when I pointed out to them that they were being racist, sexist, “fatist,” homophobic or just plain bigoted. Somehow there was something so inherently wrong in their teaching that I just couldn’t tolerate the lessons. Bigotry, racism, sexism and any “ism” are such potential-limiting concepts. They are all about “can’t,” “never” and “impossible”, words that I truly loathe. Toleration of individual differences is expansive and frees up the human spirit. Intolerance does just the opposite. It ties you up in knots and makes you a prisoner of your own stupidity.
As I write I’m trying to figure out why I’m telling you all this and what this has to do with sports and mental toughness. I guess it’s all just part of the bigger picture that parents need to keep in mind when they get themselves involved in their child’s sport. These are the things that are really important in life, NOT whether your kid’s team wins the State Championship. Sure winning’s a hoot. It’s tons of fun for all involved. However, it’s NOT real life! It’s just PLAY. Can you teach your children this? Can you teach them about tolerance, human value and potential? Can you teach them to expand their minds and horizons by embracing differences? Can you help them see that the sky is the limit, not the ground? Can you teach them that skin color and appearance are not nearly as important as what’s inside?
When I was younger I remember feeling disdain for those who struggled to speak English because it was their second language. I was just young and mostly stupid back then. Now I marvel at their attempts to master a second language and feel like a total idiot that I can only speak one.
“Who’s the adult here?”
She was easily the best player on his squad. She was versatile, talented and highly competitive. Better yet, she knew how to score goals. He had had his eye on her for a number of years as she came up through the ranks of the youth soccer programs. In fact, he had even tried recruiting her several times, although unsuccessfully. Now that he had finally gotten her on his squad, he was going to make really good use of her. He had no doubts that this kind of player was really going to make a difference for him and his entire team. They were going to go places now. He could even see them making it all the way to States and maybe, just maybe, winning. She was that talented. He couldn’t help but think what a State Championship would look like on his coaching resume. He knew that he shouldn’t be jumping that far ahead, but he couldn’t stop himself from thinking about this just being one more steppingstone for him on his way to coaching in college.
How do you as a coach keep your own expectations in check? How do you make sure that you keep the needs of your athletes as individual human beings in front of your own needs for them to perform and produce for you? Simply put, how do you maintain your professionalism in such an emotionally evocative and trying profession as coaching? Let me state the obvious: It’s NOT easy!
Some of what makes coaching tough is the sheer competitiveness and “fishbowl” quality of the profession. Because outcome and performance, won and loss record are so often used as a measure of a coach’s effectiveness, it is very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and the more important job that coaches have. The bigger picture is that you as a coach are truly responsible for the emotional and physical well being of your athletes over the course of the season. It’s your job to not only teach physical skills, technique and game strategy, but to help your athletes feel good about themselves and their teammates. The coaching jobs of building character and self-image are frequently lost or overshadowed by the need to get your athletes to produce. This is further exacerbated by the reality that when your athletes or teams don’t produce enough, you will most likely be the one who’s criticized and negatively evaluated. In fact, everyone around you is watching what you do and drawing conclusions about your “effectiveness” as a coach based on your record.
Quick example: Brady Little, the manager of the Boston Red Sox was just let go for not bringing the Red Sox that elusive World Series Championship. The hapless Sox stole defeat from the closing jaws of victory once more, losing to the Yankees yet again after having a 5-2 lead going into the eighth inning of the final game in the series where a win would have landed them in the World Series. Little made the decision to keep star pitcher Pedro Martinez in the game. Martinez had pitched brilliantly up till that point but was beginning to tire. In that fateful half inning the Yanks beat up on Pedro scoring three runs to tie a game that they eventually went on to win in the 11th. Despite leading the Sox to a very successful season, Little let the big one get away and for this he paid dearly. Of course Sox management is saying that there were other factors that contributed to his being let go. Let’s be real! Let’s call a spade a spade. He’s gone because he lost. PERIOD! END OF STORY!
Now maybe on a professional level the powers that be don’t care a dime if you build character or self-image in your athletes. They don’t care if you’re honest, trustworthy and a good communicator. They could care less if you promote team work and good sportsmanship. They are only interested in the bottom line! You win you’re successful. You lose, you’re out of there! Seems like it would be an almost impossible task for you not to use that very same narrow measuring stick to evaluate yourself. However, effectively coaching college, high school, middle school and younger athletes requires that you do the unthinkable: You put the individual’s mental and emotional health before the outcome of the game that you’re coaching. In other words, you need to care about and coach the whole kid, not just the performance part of him/her. Would you believe that when you consistently do this, you’ll more often times than not get the outcome that you secretly desire?
There was no question that this kid was every bit as good as he had hoped. She was so good in fact, that the coach naturally raised his expectations of her both in practice and games. He began to demand more from her in training. He was harder on her than everyone else. He pushed her much more. He was more critical of her play after games, even when she had a great game. His rationale was simple. This kid had a tremendous amount of potential and he was going to put her in a position so she could begin to really tap into that potential. The one thing that got lost in all of his demands was this little girl’s need for positive feedback. She was, after all, only 13, a vulnerable, needy, impressionable young adolescent. I don’t know if the coach had an awareness of what he was doing to this little girl. I don’t know if he was aware of how much harder he was on her than others. I doubt if he even had a clue that he had become hypercritical of her. I bet he didn’t realize that he was being awfully stingy with the positive. Interesting enough, when the girl’s mother complained several times to him about his unfair treatment, the coach responded by talking about the girl’s potential and that his behavior was simply a product of the fact that this girl had a chance to do great things on the soccer field.
Remember, as a coach you are not working with automatons out there. These are living, breathing, feeling organisms that you’re dealing with. Want to motivate your kids to success? Want to get the very most out of them? Then treat them with respect and caring. Build an honest relationship with that athlete where it’s very clear to her that you care more about her as a person than you do about her performance. This kind of relationship will pay big dividends for you in the long run.
The coach noticed that at times the kid would cop an attitude. She’d get sullen and moody when he asked her to do things. She’d withdraw. Soon he noticed that her play became inconsistent. At some points in the game she was brilliantly there and then, for what seemed like no apparent reason to him, she’d suddenly disappear. She’d let balls go. Her touch was off. She’d lose 50:50 balls, behavior uncharacteristic of someone with her talent level. Watching this kind of sloppy play the coach wrongly concluded that the kid was simply slacking off, so he got on her case more. He yelled at her. He angrily challenged her. He even benched her and used her teammates and playing time as a stick to punish her with. Think about trying to solve a problem with something that contributes to the problem. Like throwing gasoline on a fire just because it’s a liquid and liquids are supposed to extinguish fires.
The girl’s unhappiness grew and her confidence fell. Both mother and daughter became more and more dissatisfied with how the coach was handling things. The girl began to think seriously about quitting the sport. The fact the she and the coach continued to butt heads didn’t help things any. The more inconsistent her play, the harder he was on her. I don’t think he had a clue that he was driving her out of the game. Fed up with what she saw as the coach’s abusive, demeaning behavior, the girl’s mother decided to take things into her own hands. After all, she had given the coach ample enough chances to address the problem. He simply continued on his merry way with the attitude that the mother was a typical problem parent, butting in where she shouldn’t be. Knowing how much her daughter still loved the game, the mother got her a tryout with another team. This team had a coach who was far more in tune with his players’ psyches. He was more sensitive to their feelings and needs. He was a demanding, yet fair coach who had a reputation for motivating by building his players up rather than tearing them down.
As a coach it’s important to keep in mind that not all parents are troublemakers. Sometimes a parent’s concerns and problems are legitimate and need to be closely addressed by you. When you avoid taking care of these kinds of problems you risk losing that athlete and their family. It’s always a good rule of thumb to keep an open mind when dealing with unhappy parents. It’s always a very good rule of thumb to take an honest look at yourself before assuming that the parent is the one with the problems.
The girl’s tryouts with the new team went well and, not surprisingly, she was asked by their coach to join them. This was a no-brainer decision for her and her mother. A year later, it proved to be one of the best decisions that she could have made for herself and her soccer career. Needless to say, when she and her mother first approached the coach to let him know that she was leaving his team he responded with shock and hurt. If you as a coach keep your eyes and ears open, these kinds of situations will NEVER come as a surprise to you. Then again, if you keep your eyes and ears open, chances are pretty good that you’ll rarely find yourself in this kind of a situation.
After the initial shock had worn off the coach tried everything he could to get his star player to stay. He promised he would change his ways, that she’d get more positive attention from him, that he wouldn’t use her playing time as a tool to punish her, that he’d get off her case, etc. Of course nothing he proposed could get the girl to change her mind. It was too late. Both she and her mother had had quite enough. She was out of there!
Now as a coach you have to understand that over the course of your career, you’re going to make some mistakes. You’re going to do the wrong thing a few times. You’re going to fail. Remember, this is sports and life we’re talking about here. Failure is a natural part of the learning process and, if you’re smart about your failures they’ll serve as the foundation upon which you build your later successes. Unfortunately, this coach was not evolved enough to understand that he had screwed up badly. Instead he clung to his feelings of hurt and anger that this player would “reject” him. Before she left, he told her that she was making the biggest mistake of her soccer career. That’s an appropriate thing for an “adult” to say to a 13 year old in this kind of situation!
Worse yet, when his team went up against her and her new team, he actually instructed her former teammates to ignore her, cheer against her and do whatever they could to throw her off her game. In fact, during the game you could hear this coach loudly trash talking at this little girl. HELLO!!!!!! Who’s the adult here? Are we keeping what’s important in mind? Are we conducting ourselves in a professional manner? How old are you?!!!!!!!! Interesting enough the girl’s former teammates ignored their coach’s request to act infantile. Instead they talked with her before and after the game, hugging her even though her team had just beaten them! At least a group of adolescents had enough class and good sportsmanship to act maturely and appropriately.
What’s the point? Step outside of yourself. See the bigger picture. Remember what’s really at stake here and it’s definitely NOT whether you have a winning season or not! As a coach you’re and educator. You’re a teacher. Be a conscious one! Be aware of what lessons you’re imparting to your “students” on the athletic field. Try to keep your own issues out of your coaching. Be a professional. Inspire, build-up, motivate and challenge. YOURS IS AN IMPORTANT JOB! DO IT WELL!
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales
“Maintaining your integrity” (author unknown)
A while back, there was a story about Reuben Gonzolas, who was in the final match of his first professional racquetball tournament. He was playing the perennial champion for his very first shot at a victory on the pro circuit. Up match point in the fifth and final game, Gonzolas made a super “kill shot” into the front corner to win the game and thus the tournament. The referee called it good, and one of the linemen confirmed that the shot was a clean winner.
But after a moment’s hesitation, Gonzolas turned and declared to the referee that his shot was not clean and had instead skipped into the wall, hitting the floor first. As a result, the serve went to his opponent, who then went on to win the match.
Reuben Gonzolas walked off the court to stunned silence; everyone was speechless. The next issue of a leading racquetball magazine featured Gonzolas on its cover. The lead editorial searched and questioned for an explanation for the first ever occurrence of this kind of event on the professional racquetball circuit. Who could ever imagine it in any sport or endeavor? Here was a player with everything officially in his favor, with victory in his grasp, who disqualifies himself after winning match point and then loses.
When the reporter asked him why he did it, Gonzolas replied, “It was the only thing I could do to maintain my integrity. Winning is not that important (that it should cost me my integrity.)”
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