sportsvirtual children by Scott Warnock

Coach or fan? Make your choice

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Okay youth coaches, it’s game time. You have a choice to make: Are you a coach or are you a fan?

Too many coaches act like fans. A coach needs to think through a game and make decisions based on empirical knowledge and logic, not emotion. A coach doesn’t hang on every moment of every play. Instead, a coach often spends time during a game not watching the center of the action. Instead, the coach may talk with players on the sideline or watch players away from where the ball or the action is.

A coach reasonably assesses and interacts with the officials.

Sure, sometimes a coaches’ emotions can fire up a team, but in this very virtual space a few years ago, I mentioned a comment writer Paul Zimmerman (man Dr. Z, do we miss you) made about former NFL coach Tony Dungy: “I think the best motivation the players can have is to see their coach calm and in control, and most important, appearing to know what he is doing.”

A coach and a fan are different.

As I watch what passes for big-time sports nowadays, especially football and basketball, I do see why many youth coaches may have been conditioned to act more like fans, even performers, on the sidelines during games: Screaming at the officials, pouting, stamping their feet. The behavior of these big-time camera hogs may contribute to the terrible behavior you see on weekend afternoons in so many parks and middle school gyms.

In some ways, especially at the youth level, where games can be impossibly mismatched, coaches shouldn’t even be “rooting” for their team to win. I see coaches of little youth players pumping fists and leaping up and down. Screaming in glee. Hanging their heads in histrionic sorrow. Often, when groups of young kids get together to play, the winning and losing is not in question. But the development of a player or a team still is.

Also, coaches need to realize that fans often model their behavior after the coach. Alas, I have too often seen terrible fan groups, and, almost invariably, I see coaching behavior that is setting the pace. Those coaches are acting with braggadocio, pomposity, anger – yelling at the kids, yelling at the officials. Fans, even smart, veteran fans, often mirror this behavior.

Of course, the players do too. Again, big-time coaches are terrible role models, screaming at officials – which is funny today when replay, even at the stadium, shows how often they are flat-out wrong – but at least the stakes are high. I can kinda see how a coach is amped up at a Super Bowl-level game. That coach is working with million-dollar athletes who have trained for thousands of hours.

No seven-year-old is in that category. The stakes are not that high in any youth event. Coaches, wonder why your kids disrespect the officials? Look at thyself.

You can carry the big, foam “We’re #1 finger.” You can shake your pom-poms. You can paint your face. You can cry and scream every time a ref makes a call against you. You can fist-pump the thrill of victory and go into a fugue during the agony of defeat.

Or you can be a youth sports coach.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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3 Responses to “Coach or fan? Make your choice”

  1. Agree completely. Coaches prepare players for the game by introducing knowledge , discipline, and insist on improving individual skills and love of team. At game time , the coach can sit back and enjoy the performance.

  2. As always, great stuff!

  3. Sounds like there was a problem in PalRiv soccer….
    It starts earlier – with their schooling. I bet you could do a study and draw a direct correlation between the coach’s/fan’s behavior and the ranking of their schools in the south jersey magazine.
    Hillary will fix it – 4 MORE YEARS!

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