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Coaching is now about more than just coaching

It appears the behavior off the field of football players and athletes is rapidly plunging toward the level of a snake's belly. If you watch the headlines in newspapers, websites and television it's easy to notice the many misdeeds of athletic stars across the country. No, it's certainly not only the athletes, but this is a sports column.

It used to be that high school athletes were considered the best behaved kids in the school. Many still are, but there have become too many exceptions. Now we read and hear of teenaged community heroes getting in trouble as if they were in competition with their professional brethren. Without getting into all the gory details, trust me, the stories are out there.

I was discussing this observation with a friend, and he commented that it's a miracle that anyone even wants to coach anymore. I couldn't help but agree. There are a lot of problems that creep up for coaches to deal with other than preparing their teams to play. It used to be just getting fired and injuries were a coach's biggest concerns, but social issues are now at the top of the list. Like moving vans and torn ACLs, he may as well start saying, "it is part of the business."

Most coaches, like most teachers, come from what I call a "do as you are told" background.

Unfortunately, way too many players, and students, come from a "do as you please" upbringing. Authority has become a dirty word to many young folks, and old ones too. They have difficulty accepting anyone telling them what to do.

Today's coaches and teachers are trained and encouraged to consider where their clients come from. They are expected to take a kid's background into account and meet him somewhere in the middle of a very wide spectrum of expectations. Hardliners would call that "watering down." There is what the coach needs to have a chance to succeed on one end, and a general desire for society to have fun on the other. It seems that following directions and having law and order does not correlate with having fun anymore.

The problem as I see it is the middle has moved more toward the let's have-fun-side. The old militaristic style of coaching has gone the way of a teenager without a cell phone. The more a coach expects it seems the less he gets. Not too long ago it was the other way around.

Often the coach finds himself bending his principles just to have enough guys to field a team. A coach that is unyielding in his demands these days better have a bevy of super athletes at his disposal. He will often find himself reaching into the pack to get another one to replace those gone astray.

Don't get me wrong. I like to have my way as much as the next person. Luckily, I grew up not always getting my way, so I'm used to limits and having to do as I'm told. I just gripe and grumble when I can't do my own thing. I've yet to go out and shoot up the town or rob a bank.

I hate to sound so negative, but my observation is that for whatever reason, when many kids are expected to conform to even a minimal set of standards, they just can't, won't, or don't handle it well. It used to be if you were on the team that was a pretty good sign that you were self-disciplined enough to accept conformity. The sad part of this story is that is no longer necessarily true.

The next time you watch your team get beat and wonder if they even practiced that week, they may not have. The coach may have been on the field with them for a few hours, but he could well have been distracted. He might have been spending much of his valuable time refereeing who's mad at whom over who stole the quarterback's potato chips. Or in this day and age, his car.

Web posted on Thursday, November 18, 2004

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Updated: 04-Nov-2010 10:01


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