As a Marriage and Family Therapist and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve had the privilege over the years of working with high school, collegiate, and professional athletes who compete with focus and passion in their chosen sport. I’ve also had the honor of working with their coaches too. I’ve worked with tennis coaches, volleyball coaches, football coaches, mixed martial arts coaches, etc. In my work with these coaches, I’ve discovered that many of them are naturals at motivating and inspiring their players, teaching them about integrity, character, teamwork, partnership, etc. With my help and guidance, they are able to add new insights, tools, techniques, and communication skills to become even greater coaches. As importantly, the athletes they coach soak in their coach’s wisdom and compassion like sponges, and they in turn become better athletes as well as better people.
Great coaches that come to mind are John Wooden and Phil Jackson. John Wooden taught his student athletes about hard work, dedication, character, teamwork, game excellence, and seeing how what goes on in an athlete’s life between the lines is a microcosm of what goes on his life outside the lines. He led UCLA to countless NCAA basketball championships. Never the less, his players loved and admired him for his ability to inspire them and for his unwavering belief in their full potential. He became a mentor to many of his players and a father figure to many more.
From a Sports Performance Consultant’s point of view, Phil Jackson seems to be an excellent coach as well. I don’t base this assessment on the number of NBA championship rings he’s accumulated over the years while coaching for the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. I deem him an excellent coach because of his willingness and desire to encourage his players to grow and expand as people outside of basketball. Phil Jackson often encouraged his star athletes to read thought provoking books, practice visualization, practice meditation, and to put their egos aside for the sake of their team. He was often called the “Zen Master”, and this was because of his tendency to blend Eastern thought and philosophy with Western thought and philosophy. He also appeared to be a man of equanimity at times, allowing his players to make mistakes because he trusted that they would learn from them. As a result of his faith his players, he got the most out of them.
Unfortunately, for every great coach out there, there are countless others who emotionally, physically, and even sexually abuse their athletes. For Indiana University Basketball coach Bobby Knight comes to mind. He often came across as narcissistic, petulant, and entitled in press conferences, and on one occasion he was caught on video tape violently throwing chairs across the basketball court in front of his own players. Even more disturbingly, there was a time when he was caught on video choking one his players.
More recently, Scarlet Knight’s Men’s Basketball coach Mike Rice and his assistant coach at Rutgers, Jimmy Martelli, resigned from their coaching positions following a physical and verbal abuse scandal. A video broadcast by ESPN show Rice and Martelli punching, kicking, and throwing balls at players. In addition, the video shows them shoving and screaming at them, sometimes calling them homophobic slurs. I believe that what these men did was reprehensible and unconscionable. Rather than uplift and inspire their players, they chose to intimidate, bully, and abuse them.
Motivating athletes to perform better by instilling fear and shame in them never works. On the contrary, it only serves to erode their self-confidence. In addition, it teaches them that abusing and degrading others are acceptable things to do. As human beings, we’re unconsciously compelled to treat others the way that we’ve been treated. Hence, it’s highly likely that some of the student athletes on the Rutgers basketball team will mentally, emotionally, and/or physically abuse someone they know sooner or later in their lives. Thanks to Rice and Martelli, it’s very likely that one of the student athlete’s future son or daughter will be the recipient of similar abuse.
If you’re a coach and work with high school, collegiate, or professional athletes, I want to encourage you to consider meeting with a sports performance consultant/sports psychology consultant. Do do even if you’re already a great coach because you’ll learn even more about yourself and how to be an even better coach. I would especially encourage you to do so if you’re prone to hurting the athletes you serve when it’s really your intention to uplift and inspire them. If you’re reflexively inclined to belittle, shame, or emotionally abuse your athletes, it’s not because you’re a bad person. More than likely, you do this because you don’t know how of another way how to lead and motivate others differently. Fortunately, you can acquire these skills rather quickly. You can learn to offer your athletes words of affirmation, to praise them, and to offer them constructive criticism in ways that inspire them to change. You can also quickly learn how to improve your communication skills, foster team unity and cohesion, and mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare your athletes for competition in ways that bring out the very best in them. Finally, you can learn sports psychology tips, tools, and techniques that will help your athletes realize their full potential.
If you’re feeling inspired to up your game and be the best coach that you can possibly be, please call me so that we can visit in person and get to work on improving your coaching skills!! I look forward to partnering with you and helping you achieve this very worthy goal.
John Boesky, LMFT/Sports Performance Consultant