When coaching approaches the line

May 23, 2002, midnight | By Stephanie Hernandez | 18 years ago

The good, the bad and the ugly of team sports: what happens when coaches get angry

The bottom line is simple: the playing field of the high school sport is nothing like a high school classroom. In the classroom, patient teachers are expected to develop well-rounded students. But on the field, coaches are expected to produce champions.

In the heat of an intense practice or important match, professionalism between an athlete and a coach can sometimes take the backburner to a coach's cutting temper. When athletes fail to live up to their potential, they may face the brunt of berating comments or scathing criticism, leading to clashes between the lackluster player and the disappointed coach.

According to junior Felix Ruiz and senior Angelique Banks, their respective coaches' scathing critiques negatively affected their confidence, state of mind and performance. They said the raised voices and rolled eyes went too far. Other students, such as senior Michael Immerman, say that coaches should do all they can to motivate athletes, public tongue-lashings included.

A hit to the heart

The varsity football team had one goal this year: to hit the .500 mark. It succeeded. But last October, before Blair started praising its traditionally mediocre football team for finishing the season 5-4, Ruiz was wondering if he could stomach the last three games of the regular season because run-ins with coach James Short had begun to affect his game.

Ruiz says Short constantly told him his performance during practices and games was inadequate and threatened to bench the fullback if he did not improve. Ruiz felt the coach's "in-your-face and in-your-ear" attitudes reduced his confidence in stressful situations. "I got depressed because I felt like nobody on the field," he says.

According to Ruiz, his performances in the last three games of the season suffered because his thoughts were clouded with feelings of resentment and bitterness. "I let all my anger and frustration build, because at the time, I felt like I was giving my all and getting put down," he says.

Short says that because Ruiz refused to accept his advice, any attempts he made to groom the junior into a starter were blocked. According to Short, he intended to provide constructive criticism for Ruiz, not decrease his level of performance as an athlete. "I'm tough on my athletes; there is nothing wrong with that," he says. "But I'm always fair."

Ruiz and Short settled their conflict at the end of the season. The junior plans to return to the team this fall.

Like Ruiz, who struggled on the varsity football team this year, Banks struggled to make the girls' varsity basketball team last year. But she never made it through try-outs. Banks says that during her JV practices, varsity coach William Lindsey would incessantly criticize her shortcomings. "Even when I was trying my hardest, he still put me down," she says.
According to Banks, Lindsey left her feeling as though she would not be able to please him regardless of what she did or did not do. "During try-outs, I felt nervous," she says. "It affected what I felt for the game. It wasn't fun anymore."

Nothing personal

Lindsey likes to win. During his 21 years at Blair, Lindsey's winning strategy has led him to a state championship and over 300 wins. Lindsey says he has developed an individual style and technique toward coaching that balances his demanding, vocal, in-your-face presence with a subtler approach designed to develop competitive players to lead a top-level team this fall.
Coach Bryan Nance admits to having a tough approach towards players and has no qualms about loudly vocalizing his displeasure with an undedicated athlete. But he recognizes that there are limits to the amount of criticism an athlete can take, and he feels he has never ceased to be observant of those limits.

Immerman, co-captain of the varsity wrestling team, feels that coaches who continually remind a student of his inability to perform at an acceptable level are hoping to help and are not hurting an athlete. "It's intended to motivate, not to embarrass," he says.

Next year's varsity football captain, junior Chris Giovenello, agrees with Immerman and says that coaches who invest time, energy and emotion into their teams are better than those who adopt a laid-back philosophy toward competition. "I'd rather have a coach who yells at me and is mean to me than one who pats me on the butt and says good job," he says.

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Stephanie Hernandez. Stephanie Hernandez is a senior and the Opinions/Editorials editor for the paper. She took honors classes throughout her freshman year and transfered into the CAP program her sophmore year. She has won several awards throughout her academic career, including two plaques from her junior high … More »

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