All too often in sports, we see athletes having temper tantrums. Sometimes it is after a play, sometimes it is on the sidelines, and sometimes it is in the locker room. After all, athletes are human, have feelings and can get upset just like anyone else. Unfortunately for them, in today’s society, professional athletes are under the microscope, especially during an athletic event. What they say, how they act and how they perform is constantly being evaluated on sports talk shows, on television, in the paper and all over the internet. And if that athlete is a star, their personal lives are scrutinized without much privacy.
Kids today are no different in many ways than they were 30 years ago. They still have sports stars as their idols and role models. Athletes are looked up to and admired because of their ability to perform and succeed under pressure and when the game is on the line. Tom Brady, Alex Rodriguez, Tim Duncan… it doesn’t matter what sport, if they are a star their beliefs and actions are always being discussed and evaluated. Growing up in the late 1960’s my friends and I used to try to imitate our favorite football player, Chiefs wide receiver, Otis Taylor when we played football. Perhaps my most memorable radio show over the past 15 years that I have hosted was when I interviewed Otis and discussed his career.
So what happens when a professional athlete gets frustrated during a game? How can kids learn from this and what can you take as a youth coach to assist you in your coaching? Recently, Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro running back had an extremely frustrating game. Johnson, who was one of the top running backs in the NFL last season, was constantly getting stopped at the line of scrimmage or being thrown for a loss during the Chiefs loss to Jacksonville on October 7. Three times during the game, Johnson tossed his helmet in anger when he got to the sideline. He pouted on the sideline and wouldn’t look at his running backs coach during a conversation on the bench. His behavior was discussed at length on talk shows and on the internet. So what can we learn from this as young athletes and as young coaches?
Obviously, Johnson was extremely frustrated. He is used to gaining over 100 yards a game and is having a difficult time adjusting to getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. His behavior on the sidelines represents a build up of that frustration because he wants to succeed, not fail. However, this behavior is not acceptable, not just to his teammates, but to young athletes as well. Sports greatest lessons are learned when we fail and how we adjust to it. Winning is easy to handle. When things don’t go our way, it is easy to fall into a rut, feel sorry for ourselves and point fingers at others.
When coaching young athletes, discussing what happens when things go wrong is just as important as talking about technique. I have never met an athlete who wants to compete and fail. However, half of the teams that play will lose, so how we deal with it is just as important as learning how to run a clean pass route. When you have an athlete who displays a poor attitude during a game, it is your responsibility as a coach to use this as a “teachable moment”. Talk to the athlete and discuss the situation with them. Ask them why they are upset. Ask them if they know what to do get control of their feelings at that moment. If you have emphasized the importance of proper sportsmanship during practices and team meetings, then remind them. Numerous times I have heard about athletes who are the stars of their youth or high school team and “get away” with poor behavior because they are the best player on the team. I believe the rules apply to all athletes. As a coach, you are doing that athlete a bigger favor by discussing why this behavior is inappropriate, instead of letting them keep playing because they are the star. If you do, you may help them become more successful as their athletic career continues.