C’mon Coach!

It takes courage to coach.  Very few professions spend as much time doing their job in the eye of the public as a coach does and as all coaches know, this opens you up to criticism…unjust and just.  When you decide you want to put a whistle around your neck for a living then you must understand that criticism comes with the territory. However, just because it comes with the territory doesn’t make it any easier.  I don’t know of anyone if given the choice to be liked or disliked wouldn’t choose to be liked but as a coach, you must know that being respected must come before being liked. Being liked is nice but it’s not essential to doing your job and coaches who try to please everyone, in my opinion, do themselves and their players a disservice.

White Oak was the only school in which I ever coached.  It was my hometown, my alma mater, and the only place I ever applied.  When I graduated from SFA I was determined to coach there, fortunately God had the same plan in mind.  I never considered leaving no matter what the option may have been and it was truly a blessing. That doesn’t mean it was always easy.  Especially my first 5-6 years, I went through some very trying times and I was forced to get a lot tougher if I was going to survive. Without a doubt, I believe God placed many of those stepping stones in my path early in my career because He knew I had to get tougher if I was going to do His will here.  

When I became the head coach at White Oak, there were 3 former head basketball coaches in administration…Superintendent, High School Principal, and Assistant High School Principal and I had played for 2 of them.  In many ways this was a blessing but it presented its challenges as well. At one point early in my career, I could cross paths with the Superintendent and he would not even acknowledge me. I’ve had my mom say to me on occasion, “Well, I lost another friend today,” when parents or grandparents of my players started treating her differently when they weren’t pleased with how things were going with the team.  White Oak was good to me but it was far from easy.

I point these things out for one reason.  You’re not going to be the coach at 1 school for 25 years without learning how to deal with criticism. In this entry of Coach With A Purpose, I would like to offer some suggestions on how to deal with the criticism that all coaches at some point will receive.

1) Consider The Source

Throughout our dressing room, I would always place signs with inspirational sayings and messages for our players to constantly see.  I always believed it was important to feed the mind with positive thoughts. Along the same lines, I also put signs in our coaches office for our coaches, including myself, to constantly see…coaches need inspiration too!  One of the quotes I had above the door of our coaches office was from Adolph Rupp, “Never worry about criticism from the misinformed.”

As a coach, your perspective is going to be different from players, parents, and the community.  Most parents are concerned about their son and the community is mostly concerned with the performance of the team.  A coach must be concerned with the player and the team….as well as many other factors. So, with this in mind, when you receive criticism, first consider the perspective of the person who is doing the criticizing then consider if it is warranted.  If the criticism is from someone with a personal ax to grind then coaches must learn to dismiss it without letting it cloud their judgement. If it’s from someone you respect and it’s delivered in a respectful way, then take it under consideration.  Don’t limit your opportunities to grow as a coach by being too prideful or stubborn.

Early in my career, I received something in the mail that most coaches will get at some point and time in their career…an anonymous letter. The tip off to a letter being anonymous is obvious…typewritten name and address with no return address. I never had any respect for a person who refused to sign their name to their beliefs but I did realize there were circumstances in which someone could be warning me.  

So, when I recognized the letter may be anonymous, I opened it and immediately looked to see if it was signed.  When I realized it wasn’t, I handed it to my wife (all 3 pages) and asked her to read it. I then asked her if it threatened our family or if it had any pertinent information that I needed to know.  When she said “No”, I never read the letter and to this day follow the same procedure.

I could tell by the look on her face that she couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to read it, especially when I tore it up and put it in the trash.  If someone’s opinion is not worth putting their name on then it’s not worth me reading. Never entertain criticism from a coward.

2) Have A Mentor or Accountability Partner

Coaches are a tight knit group and for the most part look out for each other.  Without such a tight knit fraternity, our job would be overwhelming at times to say the least.  Everyone needs someone to vent to or bounce ideas off of and for me, this has always been one of the benefits of having my high school coach, Dan Noll as our High School principal.

If there are legitimate concerns with the criticism you are receiving then all coaches need someone who will tell them their opinion even if it is not something we want to here.  For this reason, I believe it is important, especially for young coaches to have a mentor or a coach on staff that you can confide in. Someone who understands the challenges a coach faces and can give a well informed opinion.

All successful coaches are constantly looking for ways to improve so don’t be stubborn to suggestions that could be helpful.  Surround yourself with as many people as you can who have your best interest at heart and be willing to listen to constructive criticism.  This will help you grow as a coach.

3) Know Your Mission and Your Pathway

Having well thought out, stated principles and standards will ultimately make life as a coach much simpler.  Knowing who you are, what you want to do, and why you want to do it solves a lot of problems for anyone but especially someone like a coach who is constantly in the public eye.  Decision making is much less ambiguous under these circumstances and much more likely to lead to a good consequence. All coaches must know when to put their cleats in the ground and stand firmly for what they believe and the day will come when you must do things simply because you believe it is the right thing to do.

Early in my career, I was about to make a change in our starting lineup.  This decision was made after a Tuesday night game and would be implemented at practice on Wednesday afternoon.  Coincidentally, the parent of the young man who was about to be inserted into the starting lineup, requested a meeting on Wednesday during my conference period.  Of course, I knew it would be about his son’s role and playing time and I immediately knew if I made the change I had intended to make, that it would appear that I was catering to his request.

So I had to make a choice, stick to my original decision to insert the young man into the starting lineup or not make the change to avoid it being perceived I had catered to his parent.  I knew the right thing to do was to stick to my decision despite how I knew it would be perceived. I did and sure enough, I had a parent conference the next week where the following statement was made, “Everyone knows ________ talked to you last week and that’s why you put his son in the starting lineup.”

Coaches who spend time being concerned with how their decisions are perceived will never have peace.  I’ve never believed perception is reality, I’ve always believed reality was reality. Be more concerned with sticking to your principles than worrying about criticism from the misinformed.

4) Coach Your Family

I hate sitting in the stands.  First of all, I’m a combination of Baptist and claustrophobic so I prefer the back row on the edges with plenty of breathing room.  I felt the same way about the coaching box!

Secondly, having coached as long as I have, I just prefer not to hear a lot of the commentary on the game, coaches, or officials.  For these same reasons, I believe a coach’s family either has to have very thick skin or not sit on the home side. Fans and parents are going to say what they want to say and I believe they have the right to do this within the boundaries of UIL and school protocol.

If your family chooses to sit amongst the fans then they need to be coached on how to handle hearing derogatory things being said toward the coach or team….it’s just part of the life we’ve chosen.

5) Never Take It Out On The Player

To me, this is the area in which I was most concerned.  As much as a parent or fan might be a thorn in my side, I never wanted to take it out on their son.  As coaches, we get upset at times when players go home and tell things that are not true. Understandably so, but I believe we also must consider that many times this is a defensive mechanism for the player.  He may be getting hammered after every practice or game about everything that was done or said that day. Remember players are just kids and they have to live there….we don’t.

If I ever had continuous ordeals with the same parent, I would usually meet with the player to assure them that my dealings with their parent was separate to my dealings with them.  My only request would be having them be willing to deal with me the same way. By taking this approach, I had very few problems with any of my players despite what they might be hearing at home.

Finally, I believe most successful coaches constantly answer to the their toughest critic…themselves.  Personally, when things weren’t going well, I always looked at myself first. I believe this to be the correct approach because I knew if I was satisfied I was doing all I could do, then I could live with it.  No one would be harder on me than I would be on myself and I’d always make sure I had done my part…and a little bit more. My faith drives everything that I do, so if I was convinced I was doing my best to use my God given gifts and talents to the best of my ability, criticism from others paled in comparison.  I’m much more concerned with God’s critical analysis of my decisions than any others.

Being called Coach has countless blessings attached with it, especially in the form of lifelong relationships, but it has its challenges as well. Hopefully, some of these thoughts on how to deal with criticism will allow you to keep things in perspective….know who you are, know what you want to do, and know why you do it.   

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!  


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