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Are high profile coaches intent on making a mockery of the claim that coaches’ foremost concern is the proper development of their athletes? These are just a few of the more recent cases that prompted that question:
• A prolific college football coach previously thought to be the model of integrity confesses to failing to report transgressions by several of his team’s star players, and did so only when his duplicity is about to be revealed.
• A prominent Big 12 basketball coach makes a money grab for a long-term contract in excess of $15 million at another college only days after reassuring one of his, now former, players that he could count on him being his coach the rest of his career.
• A misguided football program directed off-season training regimen lands 13 athletes in the hospital after causing a stress-induced muscle injury capable of causing kidney damage.
More cynical observers among us would ask what took so long to question big-time college sports coaches’ motives, and ultimately their values. These types of incidents, they point out, are hardly new. Perhaps not, but what’s disturbing is that such actions seem to be accepted, unless the perpetrators get caught. Since when did cheating, lying, even abusing, become justifiable? And what are the implications when the bottom line—winning, and the rewards that stem from it—dictate coaches’ actions and safeguards them from consequence for indiscretions and dereliction of duties?
Mounting anecdotal evidence suggests that such models are ill-serving the high school and youth coaching ranks. Stories surfacing from around the country and from local sources are disturbing. The case of the high school coach who also oversees a summer traveling team offers rival schools’ athletes spots on the roster in an attempt to coerce them to transfer. Or the tale of woe told by a youth basketball coach who blamed poor officiating and the opponent’s overly physical play (not apparent to objective observers) for her team’s loss. Where are the morals, the sportsmanship, and the self-responsibility? The slippage in ethics and standards of conduct seems to have seeped into all levels of sport.
So what can be done to reverse this trend? Better not hold your breath for media or the culture at large to make wayward coaches pay a steep price to even consider operating in an untoward manner. Instead, change must start with you—administrators and coaches. We recommend these seven steps to ensure that your program is on, and stays on, the right path:
1. Reflect on and then reassert in writing the values that your program will insist upon.
2. Connect those values to tangible player development objectives that span from the psychosocial growth to technical performance enhancement.
3. Identify specific behaviors to model, teach, and reinforce that are consistent with the achievement of those value-based aims.
4. Explain this coaching foundation and provide examples for parents at a preseason meeting to make clear your primary motives and to prepare them for practice and in-game decisions that seem to run contrary to the win-at-all-cost approach that prevails in many programs.
5. Reject the easy route and otherwise stand strong when situations arise in which you could abandon or compromise the program’s core principles. Be accountable!
6. Use publicized incidents of coaches’ and athletes’ wrong-doing as teachable moments to help athletes appreciate the need for better decisions and actions in similar situations.
7. Acknowledge with equal or more enthusiasm evidence of players’ personal growth as you do their athletic development. Consistent achievement of such outcomes takes work—and administration-coaching staff teamwork—that should be reinforced.
The American Sport Education Program applauds groups like the Pennsylvania athletic directors that see the need for proper education on such significant subjects, and are seeking to mandate ASEP’s Coaching Principles Course. The alternative to such positive, proactive measures is to simply go with the flow. But we’ve seen where that approach leads. And what’s the value in that?