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Do coaches yell more than they used to? DO THEY??????

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Recently University of Kansas officials began looking into allegations from players and their parents that football coach Mark Mangino… well, the Kansas City Star didn’t say exactly what, but it’s widely believed that it has something to do with his temper, which is on display in this oft-seen YouTube clip of Mangino going ballistic (in a possibly NSFW way) on one of his players who drew a taunting penalty after running an interception back for a touchdown.

[youtubevid id="zmAYpAzNB34"]

Rated “R” for language and threat of violence. No nudity.

So Star reporters Dave Helling and Diane Stafford, riffing off of Mangino, proceed to write a story called, “Aggressive coaching is a growing problem, but how much is too much?” I know reporters don’t write the headlines. But the story promises exactly what the head says — a look at the growing problem of semi-abusive coaches.

Except that there is zero evidence in their story that there is a “growing” number of semi-abusive coaches.

One problem I have with stories like the one in the Star, and with the coverage of youth sports in general, is that it’s always either-or. Either coaches are violent hooligans destroying the fragile psyches of young children, or they’re don’t-keep-score weenies pussifying America.

Of course, both kinds of coaches are out there. I’ve seen no scientific evidence determining what percentage of coaches are hard-asses vs. bleeding hearts, but I do know that since I was a kid, leagues are far more upfront, at least on paper, about making teaching children and getting them to enjoy a sport a greater goal than winning. That’s why I have a hard time buying sentences like these from Helling and Stafford, who, to be fair, are only regurgitating what they’ve been told:

Yet the problem of overly aggressive youth coaching is growing in America. Indeed, three out of four young players quit organized sports before the age of 13, according to one survey, blaming overly aggressive coaching more than any other reason.

“The win-at-all-costs mentality that’s filtered down from professional sports has colored youth sports,” said Jim Thompson, founder of a California-based organization called the Positive Coaching Alliance, which counsels coaches at the high school level and below. “Youth coaches are imagining in their heads that they’re an NBA coach or an NFL coach.”

A survey by the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance gave youth coaching a C- grade in 2005, calling the lack of focus on effort, skill development, positive reinforcement and fun “unacceptable.”

“Youth sports has lost its child-centered focus, meaning less emphasis on the child’s experience and more emphasis on adult-centered motives, such as winning,” the group concluded.

The Positive Coaching Alliance and Citizenship Through Sports Alliance do some wonderful work, but if they believe youth sports has “lost” its child-centered focus, they’re not looking at the same world I see. If anything has changed, it’s not that coaches yell more. It’s that youth sports has grown more professionalized as a result of parents willing to pay big bucks to get their kids, the centers of their lives, everything they could possibly want and need for that elusive college scholarship or pro career.

The story of the reaction to Mangino and others allegedly like him is not that coaches yell more. It’s that a coach who motivates through fear and yelling stands out much more than he or she used to — a point Helling and Stafford make later on, thus contradicting the thesis of their story:

Complaints about overly aggressive coaches aren’t limited to big-time college programs. Raytown South basketball coach Bud Lathrop lost his job after more than 40 seasons [in 2003] after stories surfaced that players were paddled for missing free throws.

At the time, some of Lathrop’s fans defended his approach, which they said was considered perfectly acceptable 30 or 40 years ago. …

Every management guru in America preaches that collaboration is the best way to get good work out of the “team.” Even the military, the bastion of top-down, do-as-I-say leadership, has tried to tone down the archetypal drill-sergeant abuse.

Yet society generally casts a more permissive eye on successful coaches who behave badly. Bob Knight and Woody Hayes were legendary for outbursts, physical and verbal, although it eventually got both in hot water.

Yeah, about that hot water. Hayes, Ohio State’s legendary football coach, was fired in 1978 after punching an opponent who was forced onto his sideline after returning an interception.

[youtubevid id="HmoIjMr1BZs"]

Woody Hayes, losing his shit.

Knight, the legendary Indiana basketball coach, was fired in 2000 after he violated a zero-tolerance policy put on him after numerous controversial incidents regarding his behavior.

So let me ask this. If aggressive coaching is so much more of a problem, why are aggressive coaches being tossed out? Why are youth sports leagues emphasizing to their coaches the importance of teaching over winning? Which is it, Kansas City Star — are coaches being allowed to run wild, or are they being told to hold their temper? You’ve got a serious mixed message when you’re trying to send a firm one about the prevalence of abusive coaches.

Of course, as I mentioned before, it’s not an either-or situation. A lot of youth coaches, whether they yell or not, are focused on winning. Often, the parents whose kids are on that coach’s team emphasize it as well. Indeed, a recent study by a University of Washington professor found that children whose coaches emphasized mastery of skill rather than winning had less “sports anxiety” and were more likely to stay with a sport.

I think where reporters like those at the Star get the mistaken impression that coaches are yelling more is because there is so much emphasis from organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance to make sure ALL coaches are creating a positive environment. By the way, that’s not as simple as praising everyone. In the coed fifth- and sixth-grade team I coach, sometimes you have to give ‘em a carrot, and sometimes you have to be more forceful about what you want. Some kids respond to the carrot, and some kids need the stick. What I try to do is make sure they know I’m doing what I’m doing because I care for them and want them to get better. I don’t use a paddle.

Does winning matter? To me, no. But I know from my experience that if kids never win, or don’t win much, that’s as discouraging as an environment that is only about winning.

The big problem with youth coaching, and where organization like Positive Coaching Alliance prove valuable, is that because coaches are drawn from the ranks of parent volunteers, you have people who don’t know how to coach. So, they draw on who their old coaches were — yellers, like back in the day.

The next time someone writes a story about yelling coaches, I’d like to see either a study showing that indeed more coaches are abusive, or something that reflects the reality of youth sports today — where some coaches yell, and some don’t, where some kids are in professionalized programs, and some aren’t. Just because Mark Mangino yells doesn’t mean most coaches do, or that just because he yells he represents a growing trend.

The story really is that if a coach does cross the line toward abuse, parents, players and others in the outside world are much more likely to call the coach on it.

Written by rkcookjr

November 19, 2009 at 11:33 pm

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