If current or former players were asked, “Was your coach tough?”, what would they say? If they answered yes, what images would come to mind? If they answered no, would those images change?
I’m pretty sure those who have been away from the game for a while might see a tough coach as always demanding, relentlessly pushing, sometimes degrading and negative, and not very open to any excuse or sharing discussions with players on areas concerning strategy of the game.
On the other hand, if players answered no, thoughts might lean toward a coach who wasn’t firm when making decisions, rarely holding players accountable, over praising players and maybe being more concerned with not creating issues versus dealing with them.
This is not to say either style is bad or one is a better fit than the other. Many athletes perform better when a coach is more demanding, while others need a coach that is more nurturing.
I must admit that when I was growing up it was a different era because being a tough coach was the norm. My coaches were demanding, verbally abusive and never tolerant of mistakes. Any variance by a player was dealt with by punishment on the spot, in front of everyone. There was no transferring to another school to escape this treatment. The majority of coaches were cast from the same mold. As a player, fear was the prevalent emotion and the driving force to perform. I might add, though, that any compliment a player received truly meant something, because they were few and far between.
It is worth noting that many coaches' styles and demeanor are shaped by a coach they had in high school or college. Surprisingly enough, in many cases it is exactly the opposite of that coach when they were too easy on them or too tough on them. In my case that is true. I always knew if I coached I would always do my best to create a positive atmosphere with respect for my players.
So where would you place yourself on a coaching continuum with “Relenting” at one end and “Tough” at the other? Is it safe to say that a coach leans toward the relenting end on some situations and the tough end on others? Is that a true indicator of the coach’s impact by moving up and down the continuum, or is it required to coach today’s athletes?
Many would argue that today’s athlete requires a flexible coach. There are so many different personalities on the team and responses should be made depending on the situation. The shift seems to be for the coach to change to fit the athlete, not the other way around. How can a coach be so flexible and still earn the respect of his or her players?
Let’s look at situations where relenting might be the best fit.
When a player:
1. Makes a statement made out of character.
2. Stands up for a teammate in a heated moment or game.
3. Actions are out of character...walking off the practice field, confronting
4. Lack of effort due to physical or mental issues not conveyed to
Let’s be clear, “Relenting” doesn’t mean we won’t hold them accountable. It’s looking at some situations that aren’t crystal clear, taking into account the player’s previous history, circumstances and intent before making a decision. They will be held accountable, but we must decide how severely.
How about areas where holding a tougher line is imperative?
1. Program expectation violations…..
A. Blatantly and consistently undermining the coaching staff
B. Missing practice/game
C. Breaking curfew
D. Demeaning treatment of teammates
E. Unsportsmanlike conduct/ejection during a game
F. Unruly behavior on and off campus
G. Failing academic performance
2. Federal, state or community laws broken
Holding a “Tougher” line in these situations can bring your team together, or, if not addressed, can drive a wedge between different groups of players. If, at the beginning of the year, the coach and his or her team developed expectations with accountability for specific violations, then the decision is crystal clear and has to be made regardless of the player’s status.
The key to earning the respect of players lies in the ability to discern between being relenting and being tough. Let’s be clear, players expect to be held accountable, regardless of what generation they come from. They’re the first to know they made a mistake or violated a rule. When the situation is watered down, and the accountability insignificant, it disrupts the whole team. The guilty player thinks his or her actions are okay and the rest of the team thinks we’re playing favorites.
As the leader, coaches have to hold a hard line on certain issues, while others require that they gather more information to make a decision.
In the end some players will say a coach was “tough,” while others will say they were “relenting.” That vision is based on what they saw only in their situation or what they perceived. Players will never, at least while they play, understand what went on behind the scenes and the many considerations weighed before making decisions.
Fighting to establish a reputation as a “Tough” coach as opposed to a “Relenting” one isn’t worth the effort considering that at times we need to be both.
I wish you and your team the best!!