Coaches Need to Be Held to a Higher Standard

By Ken Reed

University of Hawaii football coach Todd Graham resigned Friday night following numerous abuse allegations from players.

A report that came to light a little over a month ago said current and former players claim the coach verbally assaulted and demeaned them regularly during his two-year run as Hawaii’s head coach.

“I would go as far to say it’s verbal abuse the way he talks to guys … It’s personal,” said one player. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, you need to be faster.’ He’s calling guys useless, jackass and a sack of s***.”’

Graham is the latest in a long line of abusive autocratic coaches who think they can best motivate players by verbally — and in some cases, physically — abusing players. This issue is much bigger than Todd Graham. It’s about the on-going prevalence of boorish, autocratic, “kick-‘em in the butt” style coaches in this country, especially at the college, high school and youth levels.

A lot of coaches have used methods similar to Graham’s through the years. Because of that fact, some defenders of this kind of coaching behavior take the “that’s how it’s always been; if it was good enough for me it’s good enough for today’s kids” position.

But research shows this isn’t the best way to motivate athletes.

In a study published in the International Journal of Sport Communication, negative tactics, including verbally aggressive language, were found to be less effective in motivating athletes than coaches with a more affirming style.

“This study shows that extra amounts of verbal aggression in the coach-athlete relationship is a negative thing — it’s not productive, and many athletes find it to be unacceptable,” says Joseph P. Mazer, the lead author of a report on the research.
The key finding from the study is that verbally aggressive language doesn’t work as a motivator, even in sports environments where athletes have been conditioned to expect it. Players said coaches who used profanity and other berating language went too far and were de-motivating.

“Coaches are psychologically frozen,” explains Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance. “They tend to coach the way they were coached and by the professional coaches they see on TV.”
Well, it is time coaches evolve as human beings and leaders of young people.

There’s no place for coaching styles like Graham’s. It’s time to hold our sports coaches to a higher, more “grown up” standard of behavior.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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