The Crazed Sideline Coach

“Simply put, we have to learn to become mindful of who we are and what we are doing. This development of mindfulness, the ability to perceive ourselves and others accurately, is the most profound journey a coach can take.” -Joe Ehrmann 

Since the first game I coached in Ireland 11 years ago I have been a polarizing coach.

People either loved or hated me!

My energy, passion, and intensity gravitated some people towards me and turned others away.

Well, a few years ago I was at a middle school basketball game with my wife and we sat behind the team’s bench.

The head coach was incredibly passionate and committed.

There was no doubt he gave his very best in coaching to the young men in his care and I had great respect for that.

However, I felt his sideline behavior was obnoxious, ineffective and not nurturing.

At times it became comical, as his yelling, jumping, and body language was so over the top!

I said to my wife, “Boy, is he annoying or what? It’s just a middle school game and he is acting like it’s the dang super bowl. The players are tired of listening to him and so are all of the fans.”

My wife with no malice or any intent just responded with, “That is how you look.”

Boy that comment stung at the time.

I tried to defend my behavior and convince her I wasn’t “that bad”.

Except, I wasn’t really talking to her, I was trying to justify my behavior so I could feel good about myself.

“Studies show that forming strong opinions causes activity in the reticular activating system, which is located at the base of the skull. This neurological activity produces a mental state in which one can see only what he or she has predetermined. Your mind selectively processes information that confirms your perception while ignoring data that is contrary to your point of view.” -James Richards 

I had spent years seeing myself through a lens that justified my actions.

It was time to see myself as I really was.

A New Lens 

What does it feel like to be coached by me?

I doubted any young man would openly and honestly answer the question for me.

I knew that I had to find the answers myself.

So I used my phone to record the audio from the next game.

Now I would spend the entirety of every game constantly calling out to my players, giving them direction and feedback.

Great coaching right?

Well I spent an hour listening back to everything I said.

And in reflecting I learned some important things.

I learned I was uncomfortable being silent for over a minute.

I learned the majority of what I said was unimportant.

I learned I said many things just so I could be perceived as “coaching” and feel I had some control of the game.

I learned the majority of what I said was actually demands: “Box out” “Hustle” “Shoot” “Pass”.

I learned if my players wanted to speak up as leaders it would be very difficult to do so with me talking all the time.

Probably the most important thing I learned was I didn’t like listening to myself talk that much, so I highly doubted my players enjoyed listening to me!

If my players were going to become better communicators and learn to think for themselves, then I was going to need to shut up!

The game after that I set up another video camera.

Aimed at the sideline, nobody directing the camera, and no audio.

After the game I tried watching myself!

Honestly, I didn’t make it through the first half.

It was painful and embarrassing at times.

My coaching hero was John Wooden, but I was nothing like John Wooden!

John Wooden was stoic and poised.

In reality I thought I was probably more like Shaka Smart.

Shaka is energetic and positive.

But I wasn’t even that.

My body language was predictably out of control.

I was energetic and positive when things went our way.

I was despondent and negative when referees messed up calls and players did not give their best.

The irony was that my biggest source of frustration was the body language of my players when things did not go their way.

The irony was I couldn’t stand the referees who put on a show and tried to draw attention to themselves.

The irony was I judged the parents who tried to coach and referee from the stands.

And I did all those things!

The Truth 

My body language stunk.

It set a poor example of how to react when things didn’t go my way.

I was more concerned with looking like I was coaching than doing what was most beneficial.

I tried to practically play the game for my players by continuously talking and yelling in their ear.

If a player looked over at the sideline he typically didn’t see someone in control or supportive, but a crazed lunatic.

I knew how much yelling and crazy sideline behavior could make the game unenjoyable, because I had gone through four years of it in high school.

My high school coach justified his behavior back than and I had done just the same.

We believe we are being authentic and passionate.

We believe this is who we are and that we can’t change.

We believe that if we stop talking nothing will ever get done.

We believe our players “need” us during the game.

The reality is much different than our perception.

Our players need the opportunity to be able to speak up and lead.

Our players need the autonomy to play the game themselves and grow through mistakes.

Our players need a role model who handles adversity with mental toughness and class.

Our players need a calm leader who helps them focus on the controllables when things aren’t going their way.

Call to Action

A few weeks ago I watched as the Dallas Cowboys lost a close game to the Green Bay Packers.

I saw Dallas’s coach just like the majority of the coaches out there lose his composure over a bad call by the referees.

He spent the next 5 minutes focused on arguing and reminding them of the bad call.

How can we expect our players to forget about mistakes or setbacks and focus on the controllables if we can’t do the same?

Can our super energized and hyped up sideline behavior be effective?

Yes, it can motivate our players at times, maybe scare a referee into making a call our way, and maybe it gets players to do what we are asking of them in the short term.

Is it beneficial?

No.

It simply is not what is needed for the long term growth of our young men and women.

So try filming or recording yourself on the sideline.

Evaluate everything you do and ask yourself: Is this beneficial?

Less is typically better.

Less talking and less “coaching”.

Great coaches have done their job before the game even starts.

-J.P. Nerbun

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