January 13, 2014 • Winning Hoops

Opposition growing against ‘old school’ tactics

by Kevin Hoffman, Managing Editor

I never liked it, but I never dwelled on it either. But consider how people might react if a coach were to do that same thing today.

Times have changed. Athletes learn differently and society has become more sensitive to these “old school” coaching tactics: swearing, yelling, physical contact. Coaches that do today what my coach did more than 15 years ago run the risk losing their jobs.

For some, it’s hard to change with the tide. Their coaches were stern, authoritative teachers who believed tough players were born from tough leadership. That system may have worked, but when they try to use it today they’re confronted with outrage.

That’s not going to change anytime soon. Athletes have become less tolerant of what they consider abusive behavior, and behind closed doors or not, social media means anything you say or do could have an audience.

A number of coaches are vehemently opposed to this new era. I recently attended a clinic where one coach referred to today’s methods of dealing with athletes as the “feminization of America.” That opinion misses the target, but regardless of how you characterize this assertive style of coaching, there’s proof that it works.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article looking at the culture within the University of Oregon’s football program. Head coach Mark Helfrich and his staff refuse to yell at players, instead choosing a softer alternative that embraces the power of positive reinforcement.

“It’s not about who can scream the loudest, Helfrich told the newspaper. We have excellent specialists in their field, great leaders of young men that need to teach guys what to do, to show them and tell them and find a way to bring that home. There’s hopefully way more talking than yelling.”

Oregon played for a national championship this year, so it’s difficult to argue that his approach isn’t effective.

There are numerous studies examining the behavior of millennials, and most found that they learn and react in a way that’s much different than kids 30 years ago. Consequently, those in charge must be open-minded and flexible in their ways. Stubborn coaches who refuse to adjust to the needs of today’s athletes will be rendered ineffective, eventually coaching themselves out of the profession.

Relentlessly screaming at players or making them run ladders until they collapse from exhaustion is a thing of the past, but that’s not what this is about. Some “old school” tactics might still be effective in programs, but the coaches embracing them must understand what they’re setting themselves up for.

The question coaches must ask themselves is whether they’re capable of changing with the times. It’s not easy stepping outside of your comfort zone, but sometimes it’s necessary. If we expect our athletes to adapt to the program and the personalities of their teammates, it’s only fair that coaches do the same.