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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Young Coaches & Critics

In real life Hoosiers, the coach was young.

I have found it wise not to read comments on the internet about our team, and for that matter I try to avoid reading articles about our team. It is not meant as anything negative toward the area reporters, I like most of them and when I have read their articles they are fair and accurate. I just don’t think in coaching you want to hear a lot of “voices” when you are trying to make decisions. My assistants provide the perspective I need and want, I don’t want in a game to have any hesitation because I am thinking about something a critic on the internet said.

This past week I did read some comments on one of the Knox men’s games and one of the GHS boy’s game. It got me thinking about internet comments I have seen in the past.

·      It is amazing the intense emotions some people seem to have. You really feel a huge level of hostility from some comments. Did they lose a bet? Is it because a family member was hurt? Professionally do they feel jealous?

·      I wish the paper did not allow for the anonymous comments. It opens the door for hateful, hurtful, unconstructive comments. In sociology class we do a reading that talks about the purpose of the KKK wearing the sheets. By being anonymous it is not just to allow you to “get away” with it. It produces an effect of making the victim think everyone they see could be the one who hates them. The anonymous comments have the same impact.

I have been very fortunate to not have to deal with lots of attacks. So as someone reads this don’t feel I am trying to tell you how tough coaching has been for me. Compared to the average coach, I have been extremely blessed to work with a lot of parents, players, and fans whom have been a pleasure to be around.

At coaching clinics veteran coaches warn young coaches, “Don’t go into coaching if you want to be liked.” Every coach has heard that, but most young coaches really don’t believe it. I was sure I would work so hard and would become knowledgeable- everyone would like me. Obviously that has not happened for me, or for other coaches. You are bound to make mistakes, which produces unhappiness and sometimes anger.

I was very fortunate that when I first started in girls basketball I had two things going for me. One, there was little community interest so I could make mistakes, grow, and not be under a microscope. And two, I had an AD who chose to shelter me from critics. Seven or eight years after he had retired, George Lundeen (my first AD), told me about an irate call he had fielded about me. When I was young and getting started, if I had to field many of those, I don’t think I would have stayed with it.

Some critics can be so off the wall that you really don’t feel hurt. One year when we lost in the Elite, my wife and I returned home to find seven new, blinking phone messages. It was the same husband and wife, whose voices were identifiable (even when drunk), who had called over and over to express their sheer joy in the fact my team had lost. 

Or back in the days when my wife and Mary O’Malley kept our team stats. They were verbally attacked by a player’s mother. The player’s mother accused the two coaches’ wives of fabricating stats to hurt her daughter. She claimed she had come to the game early to count the number of turnovers by her daughter’s rival. According to the angry mother, the other girl already had over 12 travelling violations. Sadly, the mother was doing the counting in the pregame warm up.  Not a criticism you really can address.

One comment I read last week complained that a team had too many coaches. I was criticized once because I only had one assistant coach. I wonder what number this particular writer thinks is too many and too little.

Another commenter said the boys were not playing tough enough teams. Then they beat the #4 rated team in AAAA. So immediately the criticism was that the other team did not get enough rest. One year in our King Tourney we beat a team in the 7:30pm game after we had played at noon and they had played at 1:30pm. The coach said it was not fair because they did not get enough rest. The next year I scheduled them at 10:30am and us at noon. We beat them again, and he complained they had too much rest and had to sit around too long that day.

For years people had complained in Galesburg that we had lost our Thanksgiving Tourney for boys. Now we have boys and girls tourneys for both Thanksgiving and King. Can you imagine how much work Coach Reynolds put in to make those tourneys come together? And with at least five of those teams spending the weekend, how much money do they bring into Galesburg?

Several years ago after reaching a win milestone I was interviewed about the achievement. I said while I got satisfaction, I had uncles and cousins who worked long hours and never got the recognition I did. Coach Harley Knosher told me, “It may be true your cousins worked very hard on the dairy farm but there are two big differences. Not everyone thinks they know something about milking cows but they do think they know basketball. And when your cousins screwed up, they didn’t have 2,000 people in the barn evaluating them.”

I have eaten a lot of pizza but I would not know how to run a pizza parlor. I have written a lot of checks, but I would not know how to run a bank. I have used a refrigerator most of my life, but I would not know how to run a refrigerator factory. But there are a lot of people who have watched basketball and are sure they know how to coach.

When you set up a last second play and it doesn’t work, the fan is not the only one who 2nd guesses the call. Don’t you think if the coach had it to do over again, they would pick a different play or a different shooter? I am not saying coaches should not be open to second guessing, but suggesting that a lot of the criticism of young coaches is not constructive for anyone. We need to allow young coaches to grow. Six of my first nine years were losing seasons, and I did not have a team win a Regional title until my 10th year. If we had had newspaper internet comments then, can you imagine the flattering things that would have been said about me?

When I was a child, I fantasized that my father would get back into coaching when I got to the high school. He had no plan to do that, and he died when I was 12 years old, so that fantasy never came true. I asked my mother different times about why my father had quit coaching basketball. She always would just say that he coached a year after my brother was born and decided he wanted to spend more time at home. But as I got involved in coaching, she admitted to me that although he wanted to be at home more, she thought two fathers on his last team just wore him out. Their negativism in a small town made coaching a chore.

Consider this, my father coached at Fulton and Savanna for 23 years, and had 15 winnings seasons with 5 Regional titles along with a trip to State. After my dad retired from coaching, in the next 50 years Savanna won only 2 more Regional titles and had a grand total of 11 winning seasons. 

I’ll never know for sure, but I hope my dad quit coaching to be at home, not because of those two dads. I’m biased but I know those two dads were wrong.

Young coaches, don’t read the internet comments (except this). Parents, administrators, and fans- once in awhile give that young coach a pat on the back and a simple, “Good job, coach!”

I hope there are a lot of young coaches who stick with it!!

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