I was recently at a CYO basketball game for 11-year old girls.  It’s not that often I get to youth basketball games for kids that are below the high school level.

The coaching on one side was appalling.  The coach was angry with his players from just about the opening tip.  He was visibly frustrated on almost every possession and most of what came out of his mouth was a semi-controlled yell.  His intensity was over the top.

Did I mention the players on both teams were 11?  The game was 20-minute halves with a running clock, and the final score was something like 23-19.  There wasn’t a ton of stuff happening unless you enjoy traveling violations and jump balls.  Completing a couple of passes in a row was a small victory because the kids were trying really hard, and aggressive defense made just about every player on the floor nervous.

But this coach called timeouts to yell at his players.  He yanked kids out of the game for making mistakes.  He said dismissive things to his players as they walked past him like “You ain’t ready to play.”  He used intimidation as a tactic, as it was clear that the girls on his team were scared of him.  And he made one of his players cry.  Yes, she was on the court crying, trying to run around and play defense with tears in her eyes.

“I’m not bailing you out!  I’m not bailing you out!”  That’s what the coach kept yelling at this 11-year old girl who had tears in her eyes during a game.  I couldn’t believe it.

How did we get here?  This is a small CYO gym, with parents lining the court about 25 feet from where the coach was screaming and yelling.  And no one said a word, or seemed even fazed in the least.  Is this what it looks like at most 11-year old CYO games?

It seemed pretty much acceptable to everyone in the gym.  I couldn’t help but feel in a small way responsible.  Somehow this is what this guy, and these parents, think is coaching.  We yell and we scream, we embarrass and intimidate, all under the veil of “intensity” and “motivation.”  This is what we do to “get the most out of the kids.”  I think about the behavior of college coaches on the sidelines that you see on TV, and have to feel like this is some part of where young coaches get the idea.  They think that yelling and screaming and acting like a crazy person is, in  fact, coaching.

I’ve been to many a high school game where I’m the only college coach in the gym, and I can tell the high school coach is trying to put on a show.  He’ll argue a call or scream at his kids, then look up at me in the stands, almost as if to get a stamp of approval.  I’ve seen plenty of AAU coaches play to the D1 coaches standing on the sideline, turning a game into their showcase where they act like a fool because they think they are impressing someone.  I can’t help but think we, as college coaches, are unintentionally sending the message that this is coaching.

It’s just absurd to me that we think this is the best way to get the most out of kids, at any age.  I couldn’t believe that the parents in the gym would even stand for it.  It was not an environment you’d want your kids to be a part of, I don’t care how much they love playing basketball with their friends.  It was negative, and no doubt it could do damage to an 11-year olds mentality.  But pretty much everyone in the gym, on both sides, didn’t seem to bat an eye at it.  Screaming at and intimidating 11-year olds at a CYO game was normal.

We have to do better.  Coaches at the highest level have to be aware of their behavior and the impact it has on coaching at all levels.  Parents have to be willing to stand up to it, to make sure their kids are in comfortable, positive environments.  If I had any skin in the game, or I knew anyone associated with this guys team, I would have said something.  But I was there to watch the opposing team, and the game was pretty intense, so I didn’t say anything because I thought it would start a fight.  Maybe I should have.

By the way, the team with the crazy coach?  They won the game.  I’m sure he feels like it’s just another big win for his resume’.

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