For those of you who are not familiar with the way Mike Rice treated his players at Rutgers University, it is about as bad as you can imagine. (View the OTL report here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbaYqcMMZ6A) I heard the description of his behavior prior to seeing the videos, and I was still shocked when I saw them. Mr. (I refuse to call him coach) Rice would throw basketballs at his players, shove them, hit them, get in their faces and scream slurs and obscenities at them. One tape even shows him intentionally throwing a basketball at a player’s head. It may seem shocking that someone who behaves in this manner was able to coach at a high level and keep his job for such a long time, however the structure of college basketball allows it to happen. This article will investigate some of the underlying issues in sports that allows such a coach to rise to that level unchecked by his players and superiors.
Yelling is not coaching
As shocking as his behavior was, it has been even more shocking that people are defending him. “My coach treated me like that and I turned out O.K.” “Our society is getting so soft.” Those are all common defenses of Rice’s behavior that have been used recently. The thought that “yelling is coaching” is in and of itself incorrect. In fact, constant yelling is often a sign that a coach is insecure in what they are teaching, or their teaching methods. They cover this up by acting in such a way that their players would never question them for fear of punishment.
Quality coaches use the athletic field as an extension of the classroom. Imagine if a math teacher yelled, screamed, and threw things at their students when they got a problem wrong. That would never happen! In the classroom, teachers try different methods or try explaining the material in different ways to reach their students. Coaches should react to mistakes in a similar manner. This is not to say that a coach being forceful or raising their voice is never appropriate. There is a time and place for a coach to get on their players (mostly for lack of effort mistakes), but if a coach does it constantly, it loses its effectiveness. If they are abusive like Mike Rice, the message gets lost in the hysterics of the punishment.
Just because someone’s middle school coach yelled at them does not mean that it is the right way to coach. The profession of coaching needs to move beyond this stereotype and show that real coaching is very similar to instructing in a classroom.
The coach is the center of the team
To call college sports “amateur athletics” is a bit misleading these days. Forbes Magazine just named Louisville basketball the most valuable in college basketball at $36.1 million. When amateur athletics turns into a big time money maker, it is easy to see how winning takes center stage.
With such high turnover among college basketball players, the one constant is the coach. If a university believes they have a coach who can win them games, regardless of his methods, it can mean big bucks to the university. Unfortunately, coaches of youth and high school teams see this as an example and believe that this is the way teams should be structured, when in fact, youth and high school athletics should be structured for the benefit of the players, not the coaches.
You can win by being abusive
Mike Rice was able to become the head coach at Rutgers despite his teaching techniques because he won basketball games at Robert Morris and was able to convince the administration at Rutgers that he could do the same for them. While we don’t know for sure if he behaved in the same manner at Robert Morris or in his jobs as an assistant coach, it is unlikely that such extreme behavior just began out of the blue as soon as he got the job at Rutgers. People in the college basketball world were likely aware of his methods prior to him getting the job at Rutgers.
There are many ways to win. One of them happens to be to scare and threaten your players so they do what you want. Many coaches, including the all time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, coach by intimidation. They may be very good technical and tactical coaches, but their motivation technique is often not sustainable. Athletes become motivated only to avoid punishment, not to improve. Under this type of motivation, athletes become afraid to make mistakes and typically do not perform well under pressure, because they have pressure of the game, and the pressure of avoiding punishment on them.
This type of motivation also does not teach athletes to compete and improve for the benefit of themselves and the team. They only work to avoid the wrath of the coach. While many people say they are learning “great life lessons” by enduring this abuse, all they are really learning how to do is take orders and avoid punishment. They are not learning how to be leaders, how to compete, or how to be intrinsically motivated.
There is no doubt that there are other coaches in the country who behave in a similar manner to Mike Rice, just like there are those in the public who believe that these methods are acceptable. As a coach, you should use the athletic field as an extension of the classroom and try to develop independent thinkers, leaders and problem solvers. Cornerstone’s Silver Certification class shows coaches how to develop an “athlete centered” coaching philosophy. Check out our curriculum at www.cornerstonecoachingacademy.com/silver-certification.