Some coaches are screamers and intimidators. Others are teachers. Still others use a variety of motivational techniques.
Chances are you’ll find successful coaches who fit one of these styles or a combination of these styles. One size doesn’t fit all. I’ve long thought that a coach should be a psychologist to better understand how to communicate effectively with individual athletes and the team at large.
As a former high school and college athlete and long-time basketball official, I’ve witnessed many coaching styles. My personal preference is for a coach who combines teaching with motivation.
On the other hand, some athletes thrive under screaming coaches and a kick in the pants, so to speak, even if they don’t necessarily like it at the time. Being loud doesn’t have to translate to verbal abuse, although that happens on occasion.
As an official, I heard a coach verbally rip his players in the locker room at halftime, and I thought, “If I were a parent of one of those boys, I wouldn’t be too happy right now.”
Jim Thompson, who founded the Positive Coaching Alliance at Stanford in 1998, heard a great explanation from Debbie Colberg, the volleyball coach at Sacramento State.
Thompson says, “She said the reason coaches scream is not for the kids, it is for the adults. If a kid screws up, yelling lets everyone know that, ‘I didn’t teach the kid to do that.’ There’s a feeling that I’ve got to yell or people won’t think I am coaching.”
I understand coaches who occasionally yell out of frustration. I don’t understand coaches who constantly yell, because if a coach regularly yells, how does he or she get the players’ attention next time?
Bob Stein, a former professional football player with the Kansas City Chiefs, said this about Murray Warmath, his former college coach: “Murray scared everyone, but he also taught everyone the principles of life and that is attention to detail, preparation, physical and mental toughness and a fear of failure.”
Officials generally deal with yellers and screamers in one of two ways—tune them out or give them a technical foul or penalty, depending on the sport. I suspect some players tune out those coaches, too. You could make a case, though, that officials stay on their toes and concentrate extra hard when working a game with an intimidating coach.
When I was at Tabor, I had the privilege of playing soccer for coach Don Brubacher. It’s a good thing he was a good teacher, because very few high schools played soccer at the time, so most of us were novices to the sport. Somehow, he was able to take a group of players with a wide range of talent and ability and mold us into a competitive team. I distinctly remember how complimentary he was after a 1-0 loss against a more talented team. Although we lost, we had played well and generally frustrated our opponent. Brubacher was disappointed we lost, but clearly satisfied with our effort.
On another occasion, after we won a close game, Brubacher was clearly not satisfied.
He didn’t yell, because that wasn’t his style, but I do remember a rather lengthy postgame chat that let us know he was disappointed in our effort, and that if we wanted to get better, we needed to play hard every game.
In the book “Quiet Strength,” Tony Dungy shared what he said in his first team meeting as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: “I don’t yell a lot. In fact, yelling will be rare. When I get mad, I usually talk at the same volume I’m talking now. And when I get really mad”—he paused—“I whisper. So if my voice at this level won’t get your attention, and you believe you need someone to yell at you to correct you or motivate you, then we’ll probably need to find you another team to play for so that you can play your best.”
I know there are coaches of all stripes who win and lose, but wouldn’t you rather be associated with one who doesn’t have to spend time apologizing for his or her actions?