Coach talking to group of kids in gymnasium
Culture Archive Youth

Culture of coaching evolves from authority to advisor

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For a group of 10-year old baseball players in the 1970s, the expectation was that their coaches were supposed to be mean.

The response followed Dr. Ronald E. Smith, a professor at the University of Washington, asking one boy what he liked and didn’t like about his coach.

“My coach isn’t tough enough or mean enough,” the boy said.

That stigma hasn’t gone anywhere. While there are examples of coaches who understand that coaching kids is about much more than the outcome of the games, plenty of others still embrace a more “old-school” approach.

In San Diego, four coaches at four different high schools were forced to step down over the course of three months. Each case consisted of either complaints of improper language, improper physical treatment, or violating concussion protocol.

“I was a yeller and screamer,” one unnamed coach told the the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I’d grab a kid’s face mask, berate him, then push him away. What I got away with 10 years ago, heck, even five years ago, I can’t do now. I have to control myself and my coaches at all times because you never know who’s watching.”

Is it possible for this deeply-rooted ideology to undergo an overhaul? If so, former Yankees manager Stump Merrill thinks it starts with an understanding that building a fundamental appreciation for the sport and providing a more positive environment is a coach’s responsibility.

This new-school approach deviates from the punish first, talk later ideology and fear of failure serving as a central motivator. Instead, a new-school coach would build a relationship with the player and take on the role of a trusted advisor – someone who expects greatness from an athlete, but also understands how to cultivate each individual’s unique skill set productively.

Some coaches are implementing this new-school mentality at the highest levels of competition, including the NFL. Before the Super Bowl, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio discussed Pederson’s final message to his team before the game on Feb. 4, 2018.

After expressing appreciation for his team’s journey, he said he wanted his team to have fun.

Before coaching some of the world’s elite on the biggest stage in sports – Pederson’s message was fun.

“I want them to enjoy the moment.” Pederson said to ESPN. “This is our opportunity. It's a great chance -- you're in the final game of the football year, and what a way to make a statement by finishing this game and finishing the season.”

Whether the new school mentality will trickle down and become the new normal remains to be seen. However, those who have adopted the new approach – coaches like Pederson and Merrill – have seen the fruits of their labor.

“Are all the players going to be professional athletes? No. Are all of them going to be college athletes? No. That’s not the point,” Merrill said via “The point is the game itself. What the game means, what the game teaches them, because it’s a lesson in life.”

Colton Dodgson is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University

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