Current Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann has come under fire for reports of previous student athlete verbal abuse and humiliation, and this, ironically, comes just after former Rutgers head basketball coach Mike Rice was removed from the school for similar charges just a few months ago. In both cases, each has been accused of using derogatory language, threats, insults, slurs, and just about every other psychological mental toughness intimidation technique in an effort to improve on-court athletic performance. Is this approach the best way to get athletes to play to their potential? Or are we seeing a massive (and long overdue) paradigm shift toward a “new age” type of coach who relies less on head games and intimidation and more on human techniques we know work (based on sport psychology studies), like positive reinforcement, encouragement, empathy, and support.
Similar to how we are currently seeing a change in the ways gay athletes are being viewed and accepted, I expect that we will soon see even greater attention toward the means in which coaches lead and mentor the student athletes they coach. For example, I don’t think a coach like Bob Knight would make it today like how he did in the 1970’s and 80’s, even if he is an X’s and O’s basketball genius. In other words, I think it would be nearly impossible to defend grabbing a player by the neck today under any condition — even if you are a good coach.
This future change in coaching style does not imply coaches will no longer be able to yell, scream, and let their players know who the boss is — instead, it will inject a much needed new approach that helps coaches understand that you really can be a nice person, coach through positive reinforcement, and encourage players while still winning on the field/court! Throwing balls, calling players racial/ethnic/social slurs, and making threats is completely out of line, uncalled for, and should soon turn into an antiquated means of coaching from a generation long ago.
The situation at Rutgers stinks any way you look at it – the video of Mike Rice was appalling, and current AD Julie Hermann’s actions were so atrocious that her entire team at Tennessee once petitioned to have her removed! The silver lining to all of this, hopefully, will be that we learn about treating players with respect rather than taking out our own unfinished business on them (yes, if you feel you need to intimidate your players, you likely have unfinished business).
Coaches at all levels, not just college and pro, have the potential and capacity to make big impacts on the kids they coach – we need to have more coaches embrace this idea rather than haphazardly coach through intimidation and potentially ruin sports careers of young people. As the old saying goes, you’ll attract more bees with honey than you will with vinegar – hopefully more coaches in the future will keep this in mind when developing their own coaching philosophy.
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