As I entered the locker room to address my team before a tournament game last weekend, for the second time in as many weeks I was over-powered vocally by a coach from the adjoining locker room screaming and cursing out his team. Both times myself and my team were basically forced to listen to a curse-laden tirade while we were attempting to get ready for our own games. One of them even went so far as to kick the exit door open on his way out. These incidents led me to contemplate a few issues after our own games and evaluate the lessons being taught by these coaches.
1) What lesson is being taught to these kids? One of the only things continually crossing my mind was: “I really wouldn’t want to play his team – if that’s the way he acts and ‘controls’ himself during tense situations, I can only imagine how the children he is coaching will maintain their control.” Kids are like sponges, they pick up on the smallest things leaders they respect do. While I can’t say for certain whether or not the players in those locker rooms respected the coaches, I can almost guarantee they are absorbing poor behavioral habits in times of difficulty/stress. If a coach completely loses his cool when something doesn’t go right, how can he/she expect a player to maintain composure when something happens to them during a game?
2) Why do parents put up with this? In our area, the cost to play midget hockey is substantial – usually falling in the $2,500 range for non-Tier I (AAA) programs. With that much money on the line, I don’t see how parents could be willing to put up with actions like these and continue to allow their children to be exposed to this sort of behavior coming from an ‘adult.’
3) What are the long-term effects of this learned behavior? It is easy to see the short-term effects coaches who are out of control can have on a team, but the long-term effects are much harder to quantify. Habits, no matter how small, play an enormous role in the long-term development of people. One of the best simple habit examples is the age-old saying: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Imagine the long-term impact and difference between consistently practicing that habit versus: “A candy bar a day keeps the doctor away!”
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place to raise your voice to make a point, but I don’t think there’s a place in our game to degrade and personally attack youth. I definitely have things I struggle with handling, as I’m sure every coach does. This is OK – nobody is perfect. I’m sure there have been instances where I was out of line with my actions. My simple hope is that you and I, as a coaches, take the time to evaluate our interactions with our teams. Make sure they’re appropriate. The kids are watching you. Coaching is a position of leadership. Let’s make sure we’re leading them in the right directions – not only in hockey….but in life.