This week we witnessed yet another sad example of poor sportsmanship in youth sports, this time after a high school football game in Alabama when coaches John Holladay and Matt Hopper exchanged blows. Unfortunately, adults acting out at youth and interscholastic sports is nothing new anymore, as we now have 10+ years worth of terrible sport psychology stories dating back to the infamous “hockey dad” brawl that left one mad dead.
In the Alabama football coach fight, student athletes, coaches, and parents got to witness two grown men momentarily forget all the responsibilities they signed up for when they decided to coach as the men quickly threw punches and kicks at each other. Apparently settling the score on the field wasn’t enough for these guys, as they completely disregarded the impressionable youngsters they coach and instead modeled immediate, haphazard “problem solving methods” by settling their dispute through pugilistic means.
What could have possibly happened to prompt these coaches to engage in an all-out battle on the field immediately after the game? We’ll probably never know that answer, but really, does it matter? While it’s understandable to become angry toward another person, it’s equally confusing how something could be so terribly bad that these coaches couldn’t have taken their differences elsewhere rather than fighting in front of the teenage kids that they coach. Sportsmanship, anyone?
Aside from the terrible on-field display by these coaches, they also missed a golden opportunity of teaching kids how to use a negative event in a positive way. Whatever happened in the game that prompted the coaches to fight could have been used to help kids better understand how to use negative life events to motivate themselves to improve in the future. This “teachable moment” that could have helped kids understand things like how life isn’t always fair, or how bad calls are sometimes made in games, was instead lost in the melee between the coaches as the final whistle sounded.
Today’s Youth Sports Coach
Increasingly more coaches today are non-teacher coaches, meaning they are not employed as educators in their schools and may not have the leadership skills necessary to role model and lead kids (even if they are good with the X’s and O’s). In fact, most schools across the country today report anywhere between 65-100% of their coaches are not employed as teachers, leaving a very different prototype interscholastic coach than even a generation before. Many believe it’s more than just a coincidence that as more non-teacher coaches began taking over coaching positions in schools, we have also seen a spike in the number of coach incidents, including physical aggression and boundary issues with kids.
Coaches who are not teachers are certainly not bad people, nor are they guaranteed to have more problems than teacher-coaches. The issue, however, centers around the necessary training coaches need to mentor and role model for kids — not just help them win more games. It goes without saying that the fight in Alabama should have never occurred, and we can assume that if the two participants had thought for even a second about the great responsibilities on their shoulders they certainly would have taken their disagreement to a location far away from the kids they coach.
Youth sports are intended to help kids grow through healthy competition, sportsmanship, and respecting the game. Unfortunately, some coaches miss this message and allow their own agenda to supersede the basic tenants of amateur sports. It’s important that we teach kids about safe and healthy coping when it comes to bad calls on the field, and the bulk of this responsibility falls squarely on the coach. The Alabama coach fight should serve as an example for all coaches about the importance of keeping emotions in check, and finding safe and healthy ways to vent frustrations over tough games.
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