Over the past week, I have had sessions with three middle school age athletes that focused a great deal on the communication methods used by their coaches. One client, an eighth grade soccer player told me that his coach is always yelling at the players on the team whenever they do anything in practice or a game incorrectly. Both he and his parents stated that they don’t agree with this coaching style and are seriously considering trying out for other teams for next year. Another, a seventh grade girl, a softball player, told me that her coach consistently gets right up in a players face when they come to the dugout in between innings and berates them about their mistakes. She stated that the coach rarely gives compliments because she has stated that she expects the players to “do it correctly”. The third client, a 15 year old basketball player, competes on a travelling basketball team that goes to competitions all over the Midwest. His dad asked to meet with me alone to get my opinion about the coach’s tactics. He shared that when they joined the team, the coach only raised his voice at players about behavioral issues. But, as the season has progressed, he has noticed that the coach is constantly yelling at players when they make a turnover, miss a shot or commit a foul. He is now taking players out of the game almost immediately after making a mistake and gets upset at them on the bench.
If you have read previous newsletters, you know that I am a strong believer in educating coaches, parents and athletes about gaining an understanding about why they are on the team, what their goals are and what is expected of each other. I have stated numerous times that I believe a coach should have a preseason meeting where he/she discusses their philosophy and makes sure that they have a clear and well understood communication channel set up between everyone. Is it inappropriate for a coach to yell? It really depends on the situation. Whether you are the athlete, parent or coach, there is a really good chance you will get frustrated at some point in the season. What will you do when that happens? As a coach, I feel you have to really understand this situation and have a game plan for yourself.
There is a big difference between raising your voice at your players so they can hear you across the field and yelling at them about making a mistake. I have had this discussion with numerous coaches over the years. Most have told me that when they get frustrated with a player, they try to back off and think about what they should say to that athlete. Many coaches have told me that if they understand the psyche of that particular athlete, they will know what to say and how to say it to get the athlete to succeed. Sometimes raising their voice can help get the athlete’s attention. If that is accomplished then they communicate to them in a calmer voice and make sure the athlete is looking at them in their eyes while they are speaking. Many coaches have shared with me that screaming and yelling at the athlete is a great way to destroy their confidence and lose them. I totally agree with this philosophy.
I have always believed that good coaches are good psychologists. Bad coaches need to see a psychologist. As a parent, if you have a coach who is a yeller, you have to decide your strategy. If your child is old enough to be comfortable to speak to the coach about this, I would encourage them to speak with the coach first. Find out how the conversation goes and decide if you need to be involved. If this doesn’t work, or if your child is either too young or too scared to speak with the coach, I think you have a responsibility to discuss this issue with the coach. In most situations, this can resolve the problem. However, if the coach feels that yelling and berating an athlete is the best way to motivate them, it is probably time to look for another team. Whenever I have had this discussion with a coach who yells, I always ask them if their teacher yelled at them in the classroom for giving the wrong answer on a test. That often makes them think a little about their behavior. If they have to start yelling to get their point across, or if they are so frustrated with the team that they feel the need to yell and berate their players, they need to think hard about why they are coaching. Your thoughts.