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We Need More Disciplinarians: Coaching Youth Athletes
Matt Foreman
February 11 2013

Do you want to know one of the things I find most pathetic in weightlifting, and sports in general?

It’s when coaches let their best athletes get away with crappy behavior, simply because they’re the best athletes.

This makes me want to puke. It’s even worse when the coaches make excuses for the athletes and their shenanigans, defending them and playing the “they didn’t do anything wrong” card.

It’s sad to say, but I’ve seen this more than once throughout the years. Most elite athletes are solid individuals with solid temperaments. That’s the norm. But occasionally, you’ll see ones who are like ticking time bombs of jackass behavior, always one step away from doing something embarrassing or, in some cases, illegal. Psychiatrists would call them “borderline personalities.” From what I’ve seen in weightlifting, elite athletes who are borderline personalities usually have an entourage of enablers around them. These enablers are the people who support the athlete’s conduct by trying to blame somebody else for what went wrong. The coaches and the parents are the biggest culprits, along with any other schmuck who wants to be seen standing next to the chalk box when this athlete hits big lifts on the competition platform.

According to Wikipedia (my favorite website in the world), “individuals who enable others have weak boundaries, low self-esteem, and have difficulty being assertive when they communicate with others.” Yeah, that sounds about right. And none of these are good qualities to have if you’re a coach (or parent).

These coaches always try to convince themselves that they’re laying down the law, talking tough around other people and making it sound like they’re serious hard asses. But their posturing is phony, because everybody else in the gym (or the sport) sees what’s really happening…an athlete is acting like a punk and the coach is letting it happen, making no effort to exert any discipline.

I’ve been on both sides of this. There was a time period when I was the top lifter in the program, and I was also very young and very stupid. I did a lot of dumb things, and my coach just let me get away with it. This went on for a long time. But then one day, an older veteran got sick of my attitude, and he just ripped my ass. This was a guy I had a lot of respect for. He gave me a verbal whipping that almost made me cry in front of everybody, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I cleaned up my act pretty quickly after he finished wiping the floor with me.

I’ve also seen team situations where a highly-ranked athlete was basically killing the group’s mojo through selfishness and pissy behavior, and the coach was just letting it happen. Everybody else on the team could see what was going on, plain as day. It caused resentment and loss of faith. There’s nothing worse than being on a team with a lot of internal division.

If you’re a coach and you’re guilty of this, you’re not doing the athlete any favors. You’re teaching them a lesson every time you let them get away with their little stunts, but it’s the wrong lesson. They’re learning that they can do anything they want and get away with it, which is setting them up for failure in life. There’s a chance they might eventually transition into breaking the law and committing crimes because they’ve been trained to believe “nothing I do is wrong.” These situations are rare, but we’ve seen a few of them. It’s not really all that surprising when they blow a gasket because they’ve been raised to think consequences don’t apply to them.

Plus, most athletes (especially ones who are young and/or new) will respond positively if you discipline them, just like I did when it happened to me. It might feel uncomfortable to get in their faces, but you’ll probably solve the problem by doing it.

And if the athlete doesn’t respond positively to discipline, then you’ve got a decision to make. Do you want to sell your soul to the devil and let this idiot keep screwing up with no penalties, just so you can add a champion to your coaching record? If you do…okay, whatever. You might get your champion, but it definitely doesn’t say much about the strength of your character.

Personally, I would advise the other route. Demand the same behavior…the RIGHT behavior…from everybody, regardless of how good they are. If it means you lose a talented whack-job every now and then, so be it. That’s better than developing a reputation of being a pusscake coach. Plus, I’ll let you in on a little secret. These whack-jobs usually don’t make it to the top anyway. Most of the time, they piss down their legs when the pressure is on. They act like morons because they’re missing something inside, and it’s probably the same thing they’ll need when their backs are up against the wall and they have to step up and perform.

We don’t need any more prima donnas or head cases. Our society is all stocked up in that department, and we all pay the price when these people get older and start screwing up all of our lives with their dysfunction. When French singer Edith Piaf died, her last words were, “Every damn fool thing you do in this life, you pay for.” We all lose when we don’t develop young people properly. So let’s make sure the way we coach is part of the solution, not the problem.
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leon chang
February 11 2013
Every school teacher and principal needs to follow this example as well. Good post.
Matt Foreman
February 11 2013
And by the way, the coach I was referring to in this post (the one who was letting me get away with crap) was NOT John Thrush. Just didn't want there to be confusion there.
Kerri Krasnow
March 28 2014
I don't think you could have written this any better! You hit the nail on the head exactly!!!
March 28 2014
Yes all people, regardless of talent, need to be held responsible for their behavior.