A couple weeks ago a video/picture of Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher grabbing a player’s facemask went viral. Let’s be real, anybody who has played football has been chewed out at least once. So Fisher’s actions look warranted or routine to us former football players. Here’s the catch though, grabbing a player’s facemask is not a bad or inappropriate thing in my opinion. I don’t see a difference between that and grabbing a player’s jersey to get their attention. Of course, considering personal space these things can be inappropriate depending on how it’s done but the action itself is not. What’s inappropriate is a coach that sacrifices his professionality for the sake of being an alpha male.
Let me elaborate. Most former athletes on any level know that coach who always has to be right, and thrives off of verbally abusing players because they think it motivates all their players. These coaches usually tend to identify themselves as “old school” coaches. In addition, they strongly believe in breaking a player before they can coach or build them. Bob Knight, the former Indiana head basketball coach is a prime example of this type of coach. In case you don’t know who that is he choked out his own player, and threw chairs out of rage during games.
If you haven’t clicked off this article yet, let me explain my athletic background before going further into my opinion. I played football in Texas. The stereotype is true, football is king in Texas. Everyone is crazy about football, and as a guy, it’s almost expected of you to play football at one point in your life in Texas. All of my coaches were very loud and authoritative but I wouldn’t consider them “ old school” coaches.
There are three types of coaching styles (cooperative, submissive, and command) that you can probably guess what kind of style it is from its name. I’d say most “old school” coaches, if not all, are command coaches. Most of my coaches were command type of coaches. I don’t hate command type of coaches though. You can still be a command type of coach, but there has to be some sort of credibility or willingness to continue to learn and adapt. That’s a trait all of my coaches had. In Texas, all of my coaches had experience playing college sports at the least as well. So as a player I had respect for all my coaches even with the yelling. It allowed me and my team to buy into the whole work hard and do your job thing. In addition, my coaches knew how and when to appropriately interact with their players as mentors and not just the authoritative figure. All of these things built a culture that all of the teams I played on bought into.
Then I moved to Colorado with less experienced, and arguably significantly worse coaches. They still yelled and did most of the same thing that my old coaches did, but had significantly less credible backgrounds. Not only were they not as experienced, but they just didn’t have the organization to efficiently run a team. In addition, their prep was sloppy and the communication between the coaching staff was just as good if not worse than their prep. I can’t even count how many times I got yelled at for performing what my position coach told me, but since the coordinator called something different I got yelled at for messing up. The thing is the command style of coaching only works if the coach is efficient. If the coach isn’t efficient then it’s absolutely the worst style to have as a coach.
Personally, I’m more of a cooperative coach, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know when to take control or that I don’t have the ability to do so. Coaches like Pete Caroll and Steve Kerr are also examples of cooperative coaching. This type of coaching is more fit for this age of sports in my opinion as seen by their success. Don’t get me wrong, Kerr has had some of the best luck by inheriting a great team and then going on to build easily one of the greatest teams of all time. Pete Caroll was also blessed with some great players both at USC and Seattle as well. Any team can have talent, but there are more ways to mess up a team with talent than to succeed.
This is a new generation of athletes that are being coached, which plays a big role in why it’s a new era of coaching. Millennials have a big influence on the change of coaching styles with them being the players coached by the likes of Pete Caroll and Steve Kerr. The cutoff point for millennials for the sake of this article will be 1997 as defined by Pew Research Center. Post-millennials are not too far off and they represent everyone born from 1998 and on. Technically this includes me, but I’m old enough to be classified as a millennial potentially. Anyways, the world is changing and so far for post-millennials, it’s being shaped by millennials. This is not a bad thing, because society is becoming more progressive as somethings are finally being addressed and solved. Older generations may call this “society becoming too sensitive or soft”, but that’s what every older generation says about the younger generation beginning to shape the world.
The thing is, the opinions of an older generation will not matter in the future. It’s the impact that some of those opinions may have on younger generations that will. Every generation has done its part to improve society in some way, and it’s hard to believe that there will be any generation that people can collectively agree did more damage to the world than help. This applies to coaching just as much as it does to the world. Coaching styles have naturally grown softer over the last century.
A lot of football coaches should know the story of the Junction Boys. The Alabama coaching legend himself, Bear Bryant, was coaching at Texas A&M at the time but the camp he set up would go down as a controversial yet respected event in football history. Bear Bryant would pretty much bring his newly acquired team to Junction, Texas where that region was going through the worst heat wave and drought in history. He did not allow water breaks in the already brutal conditions, and the days would consist of practice before dawn with a full day of practices/meetings until 11 PM. Many football teams at the time would do this, but this was one of the more infamous instances. After the grueling camp, they would still only win one game that season resulting in the only losing record Bryant had with a team in all 38 years of his coaching career.
Obviously, the practice of excessively exhausting your team in training camp is not seen as efficient or appropriate in today’s society. A lot of things aren’t seen as appropriate in the sports world now as it was back then. These examples are not only limited to football too. Coaching styles have always changed with the times. Coaching is a profession centered around the players, not the coach. That means as the players change (specifically in the ways they respond to certain situations as society changes), coaches will have to change in order to properly adapt, and get the most out of their players.
This era is no different. Yes, coaching, players, and sports have gotten softer over the years but it’s for the best. Everything in the sporting world changes for one main reason. That reason is to make that sport as entertaining as possible for the longest amount of time. This means everything from preserving the bodies of athletes for the longest possible time, to coaching smarter.
Oh, and don’t even get me started about the whole “If they’re not yelling, then they don’t care about the game” arguement. Or the “He/She’s just passionate/emotional about the game” argument. I can guarantee that it looks worse than better yelling at an athlete, and personally attacking a kid. In terms of professionality, that’s not exactly very professional either. How many CEOs yell obscenities or personally attack employees in public for messing up? Definitely not as many as coaches do. A coach simply can’t ask an athlete to all these things and be professional, when that coach is constantly disrespecting that athlete.
The era of yelling personal attacks at athletes and breaking them down is over. It’s simply not efficient. How can a coach talk about staying disciplined, having respect, and doing your job when they don’t even treat their players with respect or have discipline themselves? Too many coaches commonly resort to yelling or excessive discipline as a cop-out to actually coaching. In today’s world where there is an infinite amount of information at our fingertips, there are hundreds of ways to communicate and organize a team in order to get the results that you want as a coach. Every athlete is different, so I’m not saying accommodate to every athlete but finding a compromise can never hurt anybody. Changing coaching styles doesn’t mean not keeping athletes accountable or teaching them to be soft, it means changing up how a coach teaches discipline, accountability, and toughness. Those who won’t be able to adapt to the growing changes in society, simply won’t coach anymore. Sports are all about competition, and I can guarantee that for every head coach there is, there are at least 5 coaching candidates who want that same job. Blame millennials or whoever all you want, but that’s just the reality of sports. Sports mirrors how things go in everyday life while continuing to change just like life. The ability to be willing to change is what makes great coaches just that.