Good Coaching or Not

As I write this, the world as we know it is on a bit of a hold, because March Madness has taken over. Not everyone of course is totally focused on basketball, but this annual event does generate a lot of interest. Brackets and betting pools are everywhere, there is always a grand upset or two, and one really gets to see how competitive players can be, when a single loss sends the team home. And, there are always some fascinating story lines.

One of the things that draws my attention is when a coach ferociously attacks a player, when the player screws up or is seen as loafing a bit. There are always a small number of these over-emotional coaches who go over the top. With flaring nostrils and a look that can kill, they publicly make it very clear that the player is hardly worth the price of his skin at the moment. And in that moment, it is apparently OK for the coach to behave this way.

Would it be as OK for a professor to publicly lambast the same kid in front of a class, when he did lousy on an exam?  We it be as OK for a boss to come at a young man for dropping the ball on the job, in a similar, overcharged manner? Probably not. But then again, this is competitive sports and if lighting up a kid to get him to play better is the coach’s strategy, well so be it.

Context does change things, at least a little. Many times the coach and the player have had that discussion. Players know if they are dragging, coach is going to be in their grill. The coach has probably advised the players (and maybe the parents) that he can be emotional and he will not allow any player to not do his best.  Many parents obviously accept that their kid may  be verbally assaulted in front of thousands of fans. And the fans are often OK with it, because coach sure knows how to fire a player up when he is dragging. And coach has a great winning tradition, which is obviously good for the players and the school.

So, if on over the top verbal attack is such a great strategy, why don’t all the great winning coaches use it more frequently. Why don’t professors, parents, and bosses do the same? I don’t hear too much about how professors or parents act, but I can say from experience that when a boss too frequently behaves in a verbally abusive way, she or he ends up doing some explaining to HR, and then may times ends up with a coach of their own. It is considered disrespectful behavior that will not be tolerated. I have seen and worked with too many great bosses who bring out the best in their people in other, much less dramatic ways.

There are some coaches and bosses, who with direct eye contact, privately tell the player or worker his performance is letting his team down and they deserve his very best effort. The quiet glare does most of the heavy lifting, instead of the loud and abusive humiliation. There are other ways to inspire players to step up their game, besides personal attacks

Personally, I am not a big fan of the yellers and screamers. I don’t care for what it models. If the only way a coach believes he can inspire is to scream and attack, he needs to expand his tool kit. Because what if that behavior imprints on the kids, that the only way they can inspire others in challenging times, is to scream at and belittle them. My experience, even with coaches, has shown me there is a better way.

Finally, I do not subscribe to the theory that the screamers are bad people, whether on the court or in the workplace. They just get too caught up sometimes, and “lose it.” I also think that some “voice modulation” is sometimes needed to get someone’s attention. That said, I believe a much fewer number of people would ever tolerate that more extreme behavior, if the coach (or the boss) consistently failed to win. And it is a slippery slope to say a certain kind of behavior is OK, as long as we win.

So, if you lean toward the philosophy of “winning at any cost,” including over the top behavior, you must realize there usually is a cost – and it often comes due long after the immediate game is over. 

Take care and Inspire On.

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