Accountability and Screaming

Last week, without comment I posted a foul mouthed blog by Deadspin writer Drew Magary to my facebook page. You can read that story if you can tolerate the language here.

Izzo’s reaction to one of his players, and people’s reactions to his reaction, then the reaction to people’s reaction to his reaction, set off a lot of discussion, particularly around coaches. It just happened to be one of those things that evoked a lot of passion on both sides of the debate.

Naturally, in the same way my 9 month old son cannot resist finding every electrical socket or power conducting cord in our home and going straight for it, I am drawn to write about “it”. However, rather than ranting about Izzo, I’m going to go a different direction.

A lot of the debate centered around whether Izzo was out of line or rightly holding a player on the team he leads “accountable”. I think that’s a false debate. Throughout this last year I’ve connected with a number of coaches who I think rate highly on the “accountability holding” scale as well as low on the “screaming at people” scale.

In the past, I missed the mark with more than a few readers when I tackled this topic. I ended up for more than an hour on the phone with a coach hearing him out about how he felt I was advocating that he totally drop a tool from his tool belt.

I have to acknowledge, also, that I have a different world view than a lot of what I see in this debate. I do not believe that kids are “soft” these days. I do think that they are under tremendous stress, which we often fail to recognize because of how many ways life is “easier” than before.

The higher level of sport you are engaging in, the more some of these stresses are magnified. Take it from me, I coached a high school team the past two years and they were nowhere near as stressed as the Division 1 athletes I see.

That raises the stakes when coaches and athletes interact. Coaches are not immune to the heightened level of stress. In the next couple of weeks I’m going to be addressing this very topic in a series of podcasts.

As far as I know, which is not very far, here is what you need to create an environment of accountability:

  1. Clearly communicated expectations

  2. Strong relationships

  3. A reasonably fair* system for dealing with when expectations are not met.

  4. A way for recognizing when things go as expected

You don’t need to scream to do any of those. Now, one final aspect involved here is that I recognize that I may sound like I’m denying coaches the right to be angry. Not at all. In fact, I think they should be allowed to fully express his anger. Modeling effective emotional regulation is a really important coaching skill.

Coaches should be allowed a full range of emotions, which is something I denied myself in the earliest days of my coaching. I’ve actually screwed up by denying that I was angry way too many times to count. This had the opposite effect to what I intended, and was arguably worse than screaming. People are not dumb, they could tell I was angry but without expressing it what they imagined was behind it was way worse than it actually was.

There are so many ways to express emotion that don’t involve screaming. Which reminds me, I need to have this talk with my 9 month old. Often when people fail to live up to expectations there is actually an opportunity for a shared emotional moment.

i told this story on a podcast a few months ago, but I have often had periods where I’m very forgetful, despite having an otherwise fairly solid memory. It took me until the last year to recognize the trigger: my own feelings of anxiety. And to communicate those to my spouse, who now often, instead of feeling annoying when I am forgetful, stops to ask me what’s going on.

That may sound too soft for a lot of readers. It may be hard to imagine many coaches using that level of empathy when it feels like so much is on the line. But I’m going to keep arguing for it anyway.