Irish Grassroots Football

That’s Not Coaching. It’s Abuse.

Here I go again, giving out about adults on our side lines, I won’t stop until we change a mindset that is preventing our kids from developing.. I know most adults don’t set out to harm kids and usually have the right intentions but so many let the game become about them and to be honest the leagues have not helped in the way the game is structured. The question, is winning more important to me than the welfare of my players? Win at all costs adults, is what I’m talking about. Those wanting to win more than the kids themselves.

So Imagine you’re undertaking a fairly difficult task: assembling a piece of furniture from you know where or filling out an application for a new job, the night before the interview or standing on the top of a ladder painting the edges of a window sill. Do you think it would help if several people shouted at you during the process?

I’ve heard coaches call players “pure shi@!” in front of other players. I’ve heard adults us a derogatory terms to describe an opposition player and in most cases their own.

The question is, would you shout at your child as he/she tried to work out a question whilst doing their homework. Would you scream at them as they attempted to cycle their bike for the first time. Exactly, then why shout at them as they try to figure what to do next before the receive the ball or when they look up to see what’s on and it is that exact moment that they will decide what to do but it is also the same moment that adults will shout about 4 to 5 different different instructions. Every year kids drop out of sports for good, because they don’t have the right person to nurture their talent. If you want to coach, then become one. You won’t find a great athlete who coached himself to greatness.

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” John Wooden

Recently I heard a coach’s attempt to motivate his players during halftime team talk, he gathered them around him and told them that they were s-h-i-t-e, he pointed at some and berated them with negative words. All to often this seems to be happening, clipboards flying, bottles thrown, equipment being kicked, insulting players and referees, and singling out several players to the point of tears. What I find more shocking is that most of these kids parents are standing on the line and there is never any intervening from them, we just except it because this is now the norm.

Why are we still allowing this?

We parents may not condone it, but we’ve learned to accept it. We put up with it because parents worry that if they question it, there will be repercussions for their kid.  Less playing time, most fear. Why do people feel that the choice is putting up with it or denying the kid a sports experience. Its funny how people start to justify it in their minds.

Really we should know better, and more parents have to be prepared to step in and question the coaches actions. let’s not forget, most of the people involved haven’t a notion on how to coach kids.

Maybe the screaming and shouting worked for pasts generations, even if it was in less numbers. In fact I don’t think it was as bad as it is know; when I played football our parents never game to the game, so we only had two adults either side watching the match, two people screaming at you seems like nothing compared to 30 adults + that now come to most games.

“No-one likes to be criticised. Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player – for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing: ‘Well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Schools across Ireland have adopted some of the tough anti-bullying rules to which our own children are accountable. Shouldn’t we demand the same from our coaches? – could you ever imagine a schoolteacher behaving in such a manner during class time.

What I’ve noticed over the last few years of coaching — and yes, this is based on casual observation — is that the best teams with the best coaches seem to be have the calmest sidelines or least the ones that are trying to develop the kids in the correct manner. Rather than shouting specific instructions at players — and chastising them for every mistake — these coaches have already taught their players what to do, they have been working on a plan. The game is there time to show the coach what they have learnt at training that week. They trust these kids to take responsibility. Sure, the kids make mistakes, but there is a lot to be said for playing without fear. There is trust amongst the team. They play better, learn to be instinctive, and — gasp — have more fun. FUN is what it’s all about, that’s why kids get involved in the first place.

Will it take someone to be scape coated for people realise that some of the shouting is actually bullying. It’s time we woke up to this and put a stop to all the abuse on sports fields all across the country. We all know that in the heat of the moment we might accidentally drop an F-word and get a little irate, this passion is sometimes hard to control. That isn’t what I mean. It’s the constant verbal abuse, every week at every single game and it generally comes from adults who haven’t a notion about coaching.

Stand for nothing less than Zero tolerance.

When you call a kid a name or belittle him, that’s abuse. Plain and simple. It should be treated as such. If you cannot coach without screaming, don’t coach. I appreciate how much time and effort it takes. I coach kids, too. But if you can’t do it without tantrums, kicking every single ball – find something else to do. This is abuse. Parents may not be aware of the long-term effect coaches like these have on their child, but there are effects. Study after study has shown that verbally aggressive language doesn’t motivate. In fact, it harms.

“Football is all about decisions, players will make the right or wrong ones. Whats important is that a coach is able to distinguish the two. The brain is brilliant at remembering our own errors and talented at pointed out others errors too. It bookmarks failure and highlights the disappointments. It takes some effort to think about and convey what others have done well and what others are strong at. As coach we should be striving to compliment every single one of ours players at least a couple of times in a match. The right amount of both at the right times.”

Most of us love sports. What I remember best was the fun I had with teammates, the joy of sweating, of competing, of having a mutual goal, playing for each other, shaking hands afterward. I still find this enjoyment today when playing 5v5 with my mates. Children will remember fondly those coaches who demonstrated balance in their coaching, who tried to teach the skills, rules and sportsmanship, who instilled confidence in them, who encouraged them when they made mistakes, who never ridiculed to the point of making someone cry or feel demotivated.

When a coach corrects or criticises, it should be done without malice or creating fear. Far to many children are turning their backs on sports due to their coach. Let’s make this a hard, firm policy in all our sports programs at every level. Let’s put these coaches in the spotlight with zero tolerance for any type of ridicule, humiliation or abuse. It’s time people got educated on what development in a sport actually is!!

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

Stop the Abuse

Don’t sit-back and excuse any short of abuse. Some simply don’t know better because their child doesn’t share or has become immune to the bullying. Worse, many shrug it off because they think that is an acceptable way to coach. It’s no longer the norm, kids of today are completely different to those of yesteryears. We need to shift the mindset of the past to one of player centred coaching, the future.

Could you imagine a game, where a player makes some horrible mistakes which lead to several goals and instead of ridiculing or the custom moans and groans from the sideline, we said nothing but only words of encouragement. No coach pulled the kid off or shouted at him for his/her mistakes. Kids know when they make mistakes, worse you can do is highlight it in front of all his team mates and opposition players, still is the ultimate ridicule. Mistakes are bookmarked in a players brain, criticism from team mates and/or coaches are also bookmarked, in big red writing.

We have become so absorbed in winning that the process is warped. We enter into coaching to help the kids progress, to assist the team because the last guy decided to leave at the last moment. Once we start, we become so involved with winning and not losing that the process of participation, character & player development, player safety become less important. Modern day coaching requires continuous learning, this is what the kids expect and what you should expect of yourself. That is the game, it’s challenging and it expects you to keep up with the modern methods and player development. Learning is imperative – it’s quite simply the entire process.   

Psychologist Dr Alan Goldberg writes:

Unfortunately when coaches subscribe to this creed, when they put their needs to win in front of their athletes’ well being and learning, then serious problems develop. Interactions with coaches who believe that the end always justifies the means, that the outcome of winning is far more important than the process of teaching and playing, do significant, long term damage to young players. When winning is more important to the coach than the experience of his/her  players’ participation, then EMOTIONAL and sometimes PHYSICAL ABUSE are the end result.

There are a lot of coaches who may vehemently disagree with me and defend their treatment of athletes as good, solid coaching. They explain that they’re just making their athletes mentally tougher and physically stronger. You know, it’s the old “if you baby them, praise them too much or falsely build self-esteem, then you’re really hurting the kids because you’re making them weak” argument. Or, “I may occasionally put my kids down in the process of coaching, but I only do it strategically to get them to tough it out and prove me wrong. Deep down, I really do care about them.” Then there’s my favourite: “This is a very hard, dog-eat-dog, competitive world where bosses yell at their employees and everyone has to learn to deal with getting his self-esteem regularly stomped upon. I’m just teaching these kids how to handle it now!

Here are my thoughts on this kind of “good” coaching: If it looks like a duck, flies like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, IT’S A DUCK! ABUSE IS ABUSE, REGARDLESS OF WHAT KIND OF SPIN YOU PUT ON IT! ABUSE IS NOT GOOD COACHING, EVEN WHEN IT RESULTS IN WINNING!

Athletes who play for coaches who are more concerned with their own needs than those of their players, may occasionally experience outward success if they manage to stay in the sport long enough. These athletes may be part of a winning team or championship effort. They may even win gold medals. However, the emotional and psychological price that these athletes end up paying in the long run for their “success” is an extremely high one. The damage that abusive coaches can do to preadolescent and adolescent athletes oftentimes haunts them well into adulthood, negatively shaping their future performance experiences and relationships both in and out of competitive sports. Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, identity issues and recurring performance problems are often the result of this kind of negative coaching. Abusive coaching is a serious epidemic in our society and it’s time that responsible adults, i.e. other coaches, level-headed parents and competent professionals step up to the plate and drive this garbage out of the ballpark once and for all.

Football is known as “the beautiful game”. If the game leads to stress, then it isn’t really “beautiful” in any way. Fact is – the game does not cause stress in those who play it – it is the expectations of the coach that do!

To conclude: We need to change the mindset of adults all over the country, sport is about participation, learning, teaching, developing and having fun. Winning comes with great teaching, the very best coaches see winning as losing and losing as winning, – we learn from both.

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