Too Many Coaches Send The Wrong Message

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Screenshot_2015-09-21-21-21-03It’s a scene that could be straight off of the big screen: A high school football team is boarding a school bus for travel to an away game. Testosterone-fueled tension fills the air as one boy approaches another near the back of the bus.

“Get outta my seat!” the all-star running back snaps at the second-stringer.

“No way, jerk! It’s not your seat!” the pudgy linebacker barks back.

Mr. All Star, losing his patience and fearing that he’s beginning to look foolish in front of his friends grabs the seated boy and raises him to his feet while snarling in his face, “I told you, get outta my seat!”

What happens next sometimes depends on whether you’re at the movies or actually on the bus. In the movies, the coach would immediately take charge. He would firmly and without reservation explain to the two boys that they need to look out for each other, not tear each other down. He would explain the old story about what happens to a house divided. Then Mr. All Star would find a seat elsewhere and the entire team would understand that there was no room for arrogance or dissension among them because they are a family.

Ah, the movies; where everything turns out all right in the end. But it would be tough to sell tickets to a movie if the story ended the way it frequently seems to in real life. Who would pay to see the coach yell back to the angry and humiliated second-stringer to “get over it”, while Mr. All Star receives nothing more than a sideways glance of disapproval?

Things like this happen every day in locker rooms and on buses and on high school football fields all over America. A school can have the most thorough and stringent anti-bullying policy around, but if coaches aren’t willing to address the issue when it arises or worse yet, sweep it under the rug with a chuckle and a “boys-will-be-boys” attitude, enforcement becomes almost impossible.

It’s not just bullying policies that are being ignored by coaches, either. Infractions against the use of alcohol and tobacco as well as lagging academic scores are often overlooked when a starting player is involved. Make no mistake about it, the message that we’re allowing to be sent to our sons is being received by them loud and clear: The win has become more important than how we get there.

If less than one percent of all high school football players go on to enjoy careers in the NFL, then we need to begin selecting high school football coaches who understand that their time with the boys is as much about teaching character as it is about how to throw a perfect spiral or how to run a post pattern. Since many coaches also teach at the schools where they coach, perhaps it’s time that administrators start asking these double-duty staff members what their coaching philosophy is (or if they have one at all) and what they expect their players to come away with at the end of the season other than a winning record.

Our children can learn some of life’s greatest lessons through high school athletics. Let’s make sure that the people we’re selecting to help them learn those lessons are mentally, morally and psychologically equipped to do so.

{This article was originally printed in the “My View” section of The Buffalo News on October 19, 2007 under the title, “Too Many Coaches Send the Wrong Message”.}

** As an aside: I received a lot of public push-back after this article was published almost seven years ago. Local high school coaches called me out in writing, blasting me for not knowing what I was talking about and saying that instances like the above “don’t happen in real life”. Though I had no way of addressing their comments back then, I can say now that the above was a real incident that did actually happen. Sadly, even with all of the anti-bullying education programs that have been put in place since then and the abundance of lip-service given to them, not much seems to have changed in almost a decade. There is still bullying being endorsed and perpetrated by high school coaches in America, as evidenced by the article below:

JV player beaten for wearing opponent’s colors while coaches watched http://a.msn.com/02/en-us/AAeaoqw?ocid=se

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