Former Indiana basketball player Todd Jadlow’s new book, Jadlow: On the Rebound, alleges that former Indiana University coach Bob Knight punched him, broke a clipboard over his his head, and regularly engaged in bullying and intimidation tactics. Further physical and psychological allegations include:
- punched him in the back of the head with a closed fist
- cracked a clipboard over Jadlow’s head
- dug his hands so deeply into Jadlow’s sides that he left bruises
- grabbed and squeezed player’s testicles
- routinely called players f*****g p*****s
- threw tampons at players
- aggressively grabbed players regularly
- tried to force Jadlow to stop a facial tic (an involuntary movement) from occurring in front of the team
- humiliated players by making them run sprints barking like dogs
Jadlow ended his list of Knight accusations by stating “If he did those things today, he would be in jail.” This list, of course, doesn’t include the countless times where Knight embarrassed IU during games by throwing chairs, choking players, and using coarse language toward reporters. The point is that even if Jadlow has exaggerated some of his accusations, there is already ample evidence of Knight’s aggressive coaching methods.
While it should be noted that Knight coached in a different time when coaches got away with a lot more than they do today, Knight was easily the most visible coach to use intimidation and bullying tactics. And yes, a good number of his former players have sworn by his coaching philosophies and techniques, some even calling him a father-figure (Stockholm Syndrome might help explain this, at least in part). Using Knight as the example, the deeper question for all of us is what do we find acceptable leadership and role modeling from coaches?
Coaching to WIN
Proponents of Bob Knight’s coaching tactics point to the bottom line – his success on the court. For some fans, winning is all that matters, and coaches are encouraged to do whatever is necessary toward that pursuit. Others with a less absolute view of winning and losing take into account varying levels of ethics, integrity, and morality; prompting a more critical view of the methods used to coach athletes.
The tolerance formula when evaluating coaches is most easily understood as the inverse relationship between winning and tolerance. Generally speaking, when coaches are successful, more tolerance for their methods is witnessed (Knight would be a perfect example). Interestingly, though, is the fact that coaches who use positive modeling and don’t bully can still be successful, meaning that bully-coaching styles don’t provide for an on-field advantage, anyway. What this means is that coaches can experience success by means of positive role modeling, using open and inviting dialogue, teaching resiliency skills, and motivating players to reach their full potential through inspiration, not fear.
Coaches should be respected for their leadership and the efforts they make to run a successful program. Coaches should not, however, need to resort to bullying and intimidation in order to get the most from their players. Of course, there will always be some disagreement when it comes to how we define “bullying,” but it’s safe to say that punching players, grabbing them in the privates, and calling them derogatory names certainly fits the criteria.
To frame Knight’s coaching actions more objectively all one needs to do is map up his behaviors against other leadership positions. For example, can you imagine a teacher, business manager, doctor, lawyer, or civic leader grabbing, choking, or punching people? Of course not — in fact, you couldn’t even realistically see another coach do those kinds of things.
Raise the bar…
While we do still occasionally hear stories of coaches today who use Knight-like coaching tactics of bullying and intimidation, most coaches seem to have raised their game by employing more responsible, civil ways of developing rapport and trust with players. Jadlow is right — Knight would likely be arrested today if he did half of the things Jadlow alleges he did, especially if he were a youth sports coach.