Is It Worth the Win?

11 Feb

State Champ Pic

A message for coaches and some insight for parents


We are coming to the end of the winter sports season. That means playoff time for most sports teams.


For some, it’s a ramp-up of practice times, intensity and emotions. For others, the goal is to keep going with the consistency that has been a mainstay of their program all season. For all coaches and teams the ultimate goal is to make it to the state finals or championship round.


It can be a really tough time…


You may have heard about the varsity high school basketball coach who resigned a couple weeks ago after admittedly slapping one of his players. A community was left shocked and saddened; a team of young boys was left confused, stranded and vulnerable; and undoubtedly, a now former coach was left ashamed and astonished at what his actions have caused.


Similarly, you might remember the legendary Ohio State Football Coach, Woody Hayes, who watched his career abruptly end at the 1978 Gator Bowl, after he punched the opposing team’s (Clemson) nose guard, Charlie Bauman, in the face. An iconic and winning coach who also brought about his own demise.


So how does this kind of thing happen to grown adults who are qualified in what they do? And what can coaches do to prevent themselves from going over the edge?


Pressure to perform comes in all shapes and sizes – from the winningest coach to one with a sub-par record. (Of course, we could apply this to the stress of working with and guiding all kinds of students, children and adults – think teachers with disgruntled parents, administrators with disenchanted teachers and police forces engaging with angry protesters.)


But back to coaching…


First, I believe there are some absolute truths that every single adult needs to understand, accept and embrace when it comes to coaching and working with kids:


  • Never confuse your own self-worth with the results or performance of your team.
    • Coaches use practice time to prepare their athletes for ‘taking the field’ (or floor, or court, or mat). At the end of the day, those kids are out there on their own, as they should be – groomed and ready to play. Great coaches have trained their teams so thoroughly that their athletes become ‘relaxed-focused’ – they know what to do, when to do it and can draw back on the words and wisdom of their coaches in their own minds.
    • Because we are all human, we need to learn to accept both with winning and losing. If the win means more to you as a coach, than it does to your kids – and the best gauge of this is if you still haven’t recovered from any given loss, while they have moved on – you might need to evaluate whether you are coaching for the right reasons.
    • There are also coaches who can’t move on, and therefore their kids can’t either. Kids follow the lead of the adult in charge. Think of how many times a young athlete comes back from a team meeting refuting a ref’s call or a score they received. They are more than likely adopting the attitude – and sometimes the obsession – of a coach (or parent!!) that cannot let go.


  • Fully understand the difference between RESULTS and REWARDS
    • It’s great to win and have a winning record. Those are the results of a game, a season or even a career.
    • It’s even greater to reap the rewards of building loving, lasting relationships with your athletes and their families. Relationships that take you through life with some very special people who become very special friends.


  • The more successful you are, the more others want to knock you down.
    • One of my favorite quotes is ‘blowing out someone else’s candle will not make yours burn brighter’. When I coached and my teams were winning back to back State Championships, it seemed like everyone around us became obsessed with tearing us down. That’s when I really understood the difference between rewards and results.
    • The best way to counter the efforts of those who want you to fail is to keep on keeping on! Love your kids, love your sport, and love your (superior) preparation.
    • And that perspective, as well as respect for and from your athletes – whether you are in the midst of a winning or losing season – should and can keep a coach from slapping a kid who isn’t ‘getting it’, is talking back or otherwise provoking a negative response.  


  • When success comes knocking, you MUST prepare for the pressure that accompanies it.
    • This is where everything written above comes into play.
    • Remember your roots and your purpose.
    • Remain the ‘Adult in Charge’ because your athletes are also feeling the pressure that comes with continued success or the decline of it.
    • All coaches must develop coping mechanisms for dealing with KIDS. I learned early in my career that no matter how much my team and I cared for one another, they were bound to disappoint me at times – just like my own son – precisely because they are kids! Great coaches (and parents) know that getting calm, serious and very quiet is much more frightening to kids than yelling and throwing a fit.
    • Once in a while, when practice isn’t going right, a coach might quietly send his team home early to drive home the point that if we don’t practice well, we don’t practice. There are dozens of techniques that leave everyone thinking about making things better – and of course, hitting isn’t one of them.



I don’t ultimately know why any coach’s emotions escalate to the point of physically harming a player. And in the case of our local coach, I don’t have the inside story or the knowledge to judge. From what I do know, this was a great guy and a great coach who was generally liked by his players and their parents. Something snapped in a horrible way.


Some surmise that the success of the previous season or years of winning can drive someone to a place others cannot understand. Others wonder if there was an underlying issue in the coach’s personal life. I don’t know – I only hope, like everyone else that he’s okay, the player is okay and the team is okay.


The year after my own team won our first State Championship back in 1987, I felt an immense amount of pressure. I wanted nothing more than to repeat. And so I built my team’s routine around my desperation to win. That means I incorporated components that were more difficult than their skill level. I kept them too long at practice. I lost my patience far too often. I forgot that student athletes were students first and asked them to live, sleep and eat their sport, instead of have a balanced life which I know now is much more conducive to a student athletes’ development.


Naturally that second year, we did not win…in fact, we crumbled onto the mat. Never had I learned a greater lesson and from that point on, coaching became a different ballgame for me (no pun intended). From that point on, rewards became much more important than results.


And as a result? Winning came right along with it.

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