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Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Coaches should show positive examples

By By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 13, 2013 at 5:13 a.m.


Sports teams require players to be tough and able to handle pressure. Players train daily for hours to raise their endurance and prepare for the competition. But every now and then, the line between pushing for improvement and bullying becomes blurred.

The report of a coach pushing a player at an Edna High School game coupled with the recent scandal involving bullying in the NFL brings to mind the importance of knowing the difference between tough coaching and bullying. While we do not know all the facts of the Edna case and cannot comment on this specific incident, the topic is one that has recurred throughout the history of sports in America. It is past time to take a look at what is and is not acceptable behavior from both coaches and players.

Coaches are the foundation of any sports team. These are the men and women who coordinate the plays, teach the game and push players beyond their individual comfort zones and limitations. A good coach knows when to apply pressure, when to step back, always teaches good sportsmanship and leads by example. But over the years, several coaches on national platforms have shown how not to behave. Earlier this year, Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for his bullying behavior toward players, including throwing balls at players and using slurs. Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight was involved in several incidents but is most known for throwing a chair during a game against Purdue in 1985 and for choking one of his own players during practice in 1997. In 1978, Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes punched a Clemson player then one of his own players during a game.

These are just a few of the most famous incidents of coaches - who are supposed to be the rock and stability of a sports team - losing control and bullying players and others. Sports are competitive and often aggressive activities that involve face-to-face confrontation with opponents. Players must be taught self-control in addition to the ability to push themselves athletically. Coaches who bully players are teaching their teams to bully their opponents and discard good sportsmanship.

This is especially upsetting in high school sports. Players in professional sports and even college have the option to transfer to another team or school when dealing with an abusive or bullying coach. High school students are often limited in their options. Some, especially in rural districts where only one school is available, must choose to either endure a bully or quit playing altogether.

Coaches have a responsibility to their players every time they lead a practice or coordinate a play to be strong, responsible leaders. In the past, there was a perception that players should be "toughened up" or should just take the abuse because it "builds character." The truth is, there is a line that determines what is acceptable behavior. Coaches, just like any other teacher or responsible adult, must abide by a code of conduct that respects the humanity of players, referees and anyone else involved in the sport. This line has always existed. It's time we follow it.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.

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