Move to have high school coaches lead by example is welcome

June 15, 2014 

Teachers change lives. And sometimes the teacher who changes a life the most happens to be a coach. Many’s the high school athlete who, later on as a lawyer, doctor, scientist or writer, remembers one coach as the person who taught not just athletic skills and discipline but hope, who offered comfort in a troubled family life or who became a confidant who lasted all through adulthood.

Typically, that kind of coach sees the job as being as much about teaching as it is about winning.

But there are other coaches who believe, perhaps because of their own training, that to be good coaches they have to play to the stereotype of yelling and screaming profanity, even in middle and high schools.

That, The News & Observer’s long-time high school sports authority Tim Stevens recently reported, is changing. And even some coaches who’ve followed those unfortunate customs recognize the need to do something differently.

Paul Dinkenor, a multi-championship soccer coach at Leesville Road High in Raleigh, earns some credit for self-awareness. Dinkenor started coaching with the methods he’d experienced as a player in England, where he grew up. European soccer is a tough game where fans are not afraid to take a swing or two at each other and where coaches are no-nonsense – to an extreme.

So Dinkenor was a yeller. “But then,” he told Stevens, “I had a very old coach call me aside and tell me that I was making a fool of myself and I didn’t know it. He helped me learn that doing all that talking and yelling does much more harm than good.”

Now, high school sports administrators on all levels are taking a more active interest in getting coaches to calm down and watch their language. While some veteran athletes might value the tough instruction they got as kids, the truth is that most students in junior high and high school will end their playing careers there. They don’t need instruction on how to hone their athletic skills as much as they need character guidance from experienced adults.

Coaches have an enhanced position from which to deliver that guidance. They work closely with kids and demand respect. Students sometimes feel more comfortable talking to coaches about family matters because they can do so when there are fewer kids around and in a more informal setting.

Through the N.C. High School Athletic Association, there’s an effort to see that coaches are trained to cope with the “changing culture” of coaching. Coaches now are dealing with a more diverse pool of athletes. And the coaching “society” in which they grew up has evolved into one in which their yelling and screaming and profanity are no longer tolerated. Far from it.

As Ray Stott, athletic director for Johnson County schools, said, “It’s a different world but a better world.”

Those coaches reluctant to change should consider that studies of the behavior of college coaches show that the screaming and the cursing aren’t really very effective anyway.

Wake County has a good policy, and it’s simple: Coaches are not allowed to use verbal derision or physical threats. Deran Coe, the senior administrator for athletics in the county, said, “The language they use to teach and motivate should be similar to what they use in the classroom. That is now the standard.”

It’s a good one. In the long term, more civilized, classroom-style behavior won’t simply be easier on athletes. Coaches who employ abusive tactics, even when such tactics are verbal only, these days run a legal risk when they step over the line. None of them needs the option of profanity and threats to succeed.

The coaches are teaching youngsters to play by the rules on the field and in life. They can lead with the example of playing by rules of civility.

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