Photo Credit: www.thebiglead.com
Photo Credit: http://www.thebiglead.com


Coaching styles and behaviors in the United States need an overhaul. This may not be necessary for the most successful and experienced coaches that have been around for a long time. It is necessary for the new coaches that are trying to make a name for themselves, and that are teaching the next generation of athletes.

The mindsets of younger athletes are different.

We can even add that the criticism of early “specialization” of younger athletes in any particular sport should also be leveled at the type of mindset  they are being bred to have.

Last Thursday night, the University of Oregon Ducks beat the Duke University Blue Devils during the Men’s NCAA tournament. Much of the media coverage was not about how Oregon was the better team. Instead the focus fell on the post-game altercation between Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Oregon player Dillon Brooks.

Teachable Moments

 Photo Credit: https://sports.vice.com/en_us

Photo Credit: https://sports.vice.com/en_us

Great coaches look for teachable moments. We look for ways to connect our experiences through sport to our daily lives. On Thursday night, Coach Krzyzewski approached Dillon Brooks to deliver a teachable moment, and it probably wasn’t the right time and place.

There was another teachable moment. Duke player, Grayson Allen, was the player that Dillon Brooks scored the now infamous three-pointer over, and Allen refused to shake hands with Brooks at the end of the game.

It really doesn’t matter what side of the situation you happen to fall on. There are lessons to be learned by all sides:

  1. Do not be a “sore loser.”
  2. Do not be a “bad winner,” and run up the score.
  3. Do not coach another coach’s athlete.

“Life Lessons” are Lost

Photo Credit: www.foxsports.com
Photo Credit: http://www.foxsports.com

Coach Krzyzewski has already apologized for number #3 because he realized that it was not his place to offer advice to Dillon Brooks at that moment.

I do not blame Coach Krzyzewski for trying to teach Dillon Brooks a valuable lesson. He is a legendary coach, and wants every athlete that he works with to become successful. Unfortunately, he was upset that his team lost, and he wanted to give advice to Brooks about keeping a  level head before Oregon  went on to play Oklahoma.

I would like to offer Coach Krzyzewski and coaches in all sports a piece of advice:

Stop confusing the athletes.

As coaches, we are responsible for the behaviors of the athletes that are on the field, court, river, etc.  It is becoming more and more difficult for athletes to pull real “life lessons” out of their sport because coaches have trained the athletes to focus only on the sport.

In the single moment that Dillon Brooks shot that three-pointer, he was doing his job. He was uncovered, the shot clock was down to “2”, and therefore his job was to shoot the ball. He wasn’t focusing on the score of the game. He was focusing on executing the play.

In the single moment that the game ended, Grayson Allen wasn’t focusing on his respect for Oregon and the game they played. He was focusing on the fact that his season was over, and was trying to re-shift his focus back to being just a student.

I am pretty sure that in the preparation for the game with Oregon, there was not any focus on how to behave if Duke happened to lose. There weren’t any set plays  in which Allen had to practice shaking hands because he was never allowed to be in that “losing” mindset in the first place.

The Sport is the Focus

Photo Credit: www.washingtonpost.com
Photo Credit: http://www.washingtonpost.com

The sport itself has become the focus.

When younger athletes first play sports on their own, they learn what their strengths are, learn how to be good teammates, and learn to overcome failure. They experience this in the backyard and playground games where the score does does not matter. They have the freedom to fail without being specialized or trained to be in the correct mindset.

As soon as the sport becomes more organized the expectations for the athletes begin to change.  Coaches focus so much on athletes experiencing success that the  pressure at the high school level and collegiate level makes it impossible to extract any takeaways that apply to an athlete’s real life.  It’s a pipe dream that is ready to burst.

What lessons are coaches trying to teach with sports?

I am not sure that coaches even know.

A few weekends ago, one of my athletes won their first race in over a year. She was ecstatic. Apparently, her coach didn’t believe she should enjoy the moment for that long:

“…well, you could have been faster.”

Another athlete received an email from their coach. It indicated that the team needed to look inside themselves:

“…you have to decide how bad you want it.”

At the collegiate level, I was an assistant coach being reprimanded by my head coach after complimenting our team’s first victory:

“…it’s NOT great…they should have won by more.”

Please keep in mind, this is high school and collegiate rowing. I cannot imagine the pressure and stress that goes with playing in the NCAA Tournament. Or even the Super Bowl, as I wrote about Cam Newton a few weeks ago.

Moral of the Story

No More Mind Games

Photo Credit: NCAA and www.sacbee.com
Photo Credit: NCAA and http://www.sacbee.com

Who is the adult here?

I have personally watched coaches destroy  athletes by “bursting their bubble.” It has opened my eyes to how I need to take a step back in parenting my own children.

Protecting your child from disappointment by either training them not to fail or making them feel good about everything is only making them question which behaviors  are “right” or  “wrong.”

They begin to doubt themselves.

It is one thing to ask an athlete to fully immerse themselves into the sport. It is another to ask them to focus on the morals outside of the sport.

Wake up coaches; the “mind games” are getting old.

We attempt to impart the wisdom of our own athletic struggles onto younger athletes, but they have no frame of reference. We cannot get them to understand and appreciate what they are experiencing because we never allow them to. Instead we try try use old clichés and stories.

We are not martyrs.

Allowing athletes to experience both satisfaction and disappointment builds the confidence to face more difficult obstacles during their athletic career. At that point, they will go to you for help, and that is the point you really can coach them. Meanwhile:

“Winning is the most important thing…It doesn’t matter if you win or lose…”

“Do it for your teammates…Be better than your teammates…”

“Miles make champions…Train smarter not harder…”

“Don’t be a sore loser…Don’t be a bad winner…”

Photo Credit: www.hngn.com
Photo Credit: http://www.hngn.com

Ugh, my head is spinning…

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