Sports Reform Organization Calls for More Coaching Education Programs That Promote Humanistic Coaching Styles

In the wake of the firing this week of Rutgers’ men’s basketball coach Mike Rice for abusing his players, League of Fans announced today that it is calling for more coaching education programs that promote humanistic coaching styles as an antidote to today’s autocratic coaching norm — which continues to predominate at all levels of sports.

“Unfortunately, there are other coaches out there using coaching methods similar to what Rice employed — even at the youth level,” said Ken Reed, sports policy director for League of Fans. “We tolerate behavior from our sports coaches that we’d never tolerate from high school classroom teachers or college professors. Why?

“The coach has a tremendous influence on an athlete’s sports experience – at any level. The leadership style a coach chooses to employ is a major factor in whether that experience will be positive or negative, satisfying or frustrating, fulfilling or miserable. Sports at the youth, high school and college levels are supposed to be part of the educational process for young people.”

Coaches need to differentiate between striving to win and attempting to win at all costs (WAAC). A WAAC mentality places values like fairness, justice and ethical behavior –in essence, sportsmanship — in a secondary role. The WAAC approach is to control and use individual athletes as a means toward winning ball games – the psycho-social ramifications for the athletes as human beings is but a secondary consideration.

According to League of Fans, the commonly held belief that coaches need to be the stereotypical no-nonsense, kick ‘em in the butt, drill sergeant type of coach to be successful is a myth.

“The research shows that if you find a task fun you’ll perform better,” says Reed. “Studies link happiness and satisfaction with higher performance. The belief that coaches need to scream at players and treat them in a degrading way to win is not true. Sadly, it’s an ingrained part of our sports culture. If coaches in this country took more of a democratic and humanistic approach to coaching we would have fewer athletes dropping out of sports in their teens and happier, more satisfied – and more successful –athletes at all levels.”

Reed said the problem of overbearing, sometimes tyrannical, authoritarian coaches is especially troublesome at the youth sports level where a WAAC mentality hinders the development of the whole child.

“Research has shown that a mastery approach to coaching gets the best out of athletes,” said Jim Thompson, executive director of Positive Coaching Alliance and author of the book, The Power of Double-Goal Coaching: Developing Winners in Sports and Life. “I am very supportive of League of Fans’ effort to eradicate win-at-all-cost coaching, especially for high school and youth athletes.”

As disgusting as the Mike Rice situation is, it can be used as a catalyst for change.

“Sports society has been conditioned in this country that coaches – from the pros down to our youth leagues — have to adopt a Vince Lombardi, or worse, type of coaching style by treating their athletes inhumanely and motivating them by force and fear,” said Ralph Nader, League of Fans founder. “That notion is archaic and inaccurate. Our sports culture needs to evolve from the dark ages and transition to more meaningful humanistic coaching styles that enhance the overall experience for athletes while still striving to win games. Legendary coaches such as John Wooden of UCLA, John Gagliardi of Saint John’s College, and Tara VanDerveer of Stanford proved for decades that winning teams and humane, wise coaches can go together.”


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